Considering I spent most of my life conditioned NOT to take up too much space, is it really surprising -- even after years of therapy and self-development -- that I still catch myself trying not to be too loud, too opinionated, too fat, too sensitive, too "much"...
A recurring dream that plagued me during my adolescence involved me standing in front of a mirror, taking a knife to my body, and literally carving myself into a smaller version of myself. There was never any blood. It more reminded me of carving a turkey during Thanksgiving dinner. This was my deepest, most desperate desire -- to be a smaller version of myself. Anytime I would daydream or imagine my future, I was always in a smaller body. Being stick thin was the pinnacle of happiness, success, and acceptance. Every aspect of our society told me so. From magazines to tv shows, doctors, family members, friends --eliminating all trace of imperfection (i.e. anything that jiggled when it wasn't "supposed to") on my body meant I could finally be desirable, and therefore, ultimately, loveable.
It was not about health for me, not really. It didn't matter if my body passed the blood tests with flying colors. My sole focus was a number on a scale, and for more than a decade of my life, not a day went by when I didn't fantasize about what my life could be like if I was a size 0. Instead, as a poster child for yo-yo dieting, I have fluctuated anywhere between a size 8-24 (US women sizes).
I once thought that if only I could not just lose the weight but also somehow keep it off, how different my life could be. How happy I could be. Maybe then I'd be loveable. After over a decade of sneaking, hoarding, restricting, and binging, I decided that the only solution to bypass my broken brain was with a Gastric Bypass. Countless diets, endless fads, numerous regiments, an entire summer at a youth weight-loss camp, years of therapy (albeit, none focused on eating disorder recovery at that point)....the only answer was physically preventing myself from using food as a coping mechanism. By surgically altering my body, I could "fix" myself and finally, once and for all, cut off this source of comfort, safety, joy, love.
Almost as if my dreams were premonitions, at 20 years old, I lay on a cold, unforgiving operating table while a surgeon carved out 80% of my stomach, removed it, and stitched the remains back together.
112 pounds later, at 22 years old, I lay on yet another operation table while another surgeon carved away the excess skin from the bottom of my stomach. You see, I had lost the weight so quickly that first year after my Gastric Bypass -- to the point where the Bariatric surgeon who had operated on me later congratulated me during our last post-op visit for being his most successful patient with some of the fastest results he'd ever seen -- that the elasticity in my skin did not have enough time to regenerate. Not only that, but for about a year after carving my stomach like a Thanksgiving turkey, because my body did not have adequate time to adjust to the drastic weight loss, I was occasionally unable to regulate my blood pressure and was susceptible to unpredictable fainting spells. Even after several times regaining consciousness on the kitchen floor or coming to completely disoriented in the bathtub while the shower was still running, it always took a moment for the fog to clear, the fear to subside, and for me to realize what must have happened - yet again. When I sought medical attention, I was simply told my body would eventually become accustomed to my new size.
My body was in fact eventually able to regulate itself but my body dysmorphia was alive and well. All of the insecurities and the desire to be desired -- which to me was synonymous with taking up less space -- did not disappear with the excess skin.
Considering I grew up in a world that taught me the most important aspect of my being - above all else - is whether or not someone else - finds me attractive, fuckable, desirable .... is it really that surprising that I internalized a deeply rooted need to be considered attractive, fuckable, and desirable? Am I compassionate, dedicated, and adventurous? ... How about curious, kind, and courageous? .... Or perhaps strong, confident, and capable? ... None of that really matters if I'm not also attractive, fuckable, and desirable? Ok, got it.
Loveable, to me, was synonymous with fuckable. If someone wanted to have sex, that was the pinnacle of acceptance. It didn't matter if I felt an emotional connection, physical chemistry, or even wanted to have sex. I had been chosen. I was meant to say, thank you for wanting me. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for allowing me to fulfil my one true purpose in life. But of course you may have access to my body.
And so the cycle continued. I would seek out situations whereby I ultimately felt used and objectified, but the desire to feel desirable was so strong that it overpowered any voice (internal or otherwise) telling me "you deserve better."
Now, none of this is to say I judge any person who chooses to have sexual relations without commitment or emotional attachment. As long as there is enthusiastic consent, clear communication, and the intention behind these actions is not born of a yearning for external affirmation, I say enjoy, use protection, and please be safe. For me, personally, I have discovered that I cannot in fact enjoy sex without a connection of souls. To be so utterly vulnerable and raw with another human being (regardless of sex or gender), I need to feel completely safe being both literally and figuratively naked with this person. I need to be seen and heard and I in turn want the same for my partner.
It has taken years of unlearning past conditioning and learning how to love and accept myself for who I truly am, but I am finally realizing that changing my exterior was never actually the answer. External affirmation was never the answer. Being desired is not tied to my self worth. Being considered "fuckable" is not the apex of all achievement, and it is in fact ok to be discerning with whom I allow access to all parts of me. Among other traits, being compassionate, dedicated, adventurous, curious, kind, courageous, strong, confident, and capable -- this is how I choose to define myself. Rather than a number on a scale or the way my clothes fit, I choose to focus on the empowerment I feel when I hike up a mountain or the energy I have to take full advantage of this amazing gift we call life. Never again will I prevent myself from experiencing all that life has to offer simply because I'm worried about the judgement of others. Their opinions will no longer concern me. Being a loving, good person; living a healthy, balanced lifestyle; trying my best to make this world a little bit better...that is what matters.