I’ve spent so many years battling my body.
Let me put that another way. I’m only 28, yet I’ve spent more than half of my life critiquing the skin I live in.
When I type that out, it makes me so incredibly sad. Here I am, a strong, smart, kind woman—reducing my worth to the shell that holds it all in.
I’m obviously not alone. Negative body image is so pervasive in the culture we live in: from comparing ourselves to others on social media and magazine covers to trying workout and diet fad after fad, it’s ingrained in us from a young age. We’re taught that we should always strive for the “ideal” female body, whatever that is. And that’s the thing—even that is constantly changing. We went from craving stick-thin, waif-like figures to the voluptuous curves of the Kardashians matched with a “snatched” waist. It’s impossible to keep up…pun intended.
I fully admit that I feed right into the toxic environment I’m writing about. Take quarantine as an example. I’ve been feeling like I need to use this time—a freaking global pandemic—to lose weight and “improve” my body. I beat myself up mentally over skipped workouts. In my mind, working from home and not being able to go anywhere means there’s no excuse not to spend hours exercising and eating right. Umm…how about the fact that we’re living through an unprecedented time in world history? That my life is literally at risk as a chronically ill individual? That I also work a full time job, work a freelance gig, manage a disease, and started a side hustle for charity? But no…working on my “quarantine body” somehow made the top of my priority list.
Let’s run it back to that whole chronic illness thing. As I’m sure you all know by now, I am a Type 1 diabetic. I also have a thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The two of those things make me gain weight and make it extremely difficult to get it off. That’s just science. I can do double or triple the work of my peers at the gym and in the kitchen for a tiny fraction of the results.
But do I ever cut myself any slack because of that? Nope.
I often complain to my mom about not looking the way I want. My stomach is chunky from years of insulin use. My thighs have odd bumps and bruises from pump sites. My arms are thick and have weird tan lines from medical devices. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get that extra flab to leave my body. She’ll always say, “but you have a chronic illness! That’s the issue! Give yourself a break!”
But I don’t.
My response is usually something like this: “When people look at me, they aren’t going to say ‘oh, it’s ok that she has a big stomach—she’s chronically ill!’” Yup, I immediately go to what other people think.
Sometimes I fantasize about what I would look like right now if I hadn’t been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Shortly after my diagnosis at age 16, I gained 30+ pounds. Before then, I was a size zero. Of course I know that nobody should compare themselves at 28 to their high school body, but I also know that both of my parents were very thin at my age, so chances are I would’ve stayed that way, too.
I try to remind myself that if I hadn’t been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, though, the rest of me wouldn’t have grown, either. Yes, my body has expanded—but so has my independence, empathy and resilience. I’m intelligent and creative, successful in my career, live in New York City by myself, care deeply about the people in my life, and play the role of a vital organ all day every day.
My struggles have made me who I am. And my excess weight is the least important thing about me. As my mom also said, “there is so much more to Haley Brennan than being skinny.”
I’m trying to learn to accept my body as it is. Notice that I don’t say “love,” because I’m admittedly not there yet. The process of self-acceptance is difficult, slow and anything but linear. Some days I look in the mirror and think, “I’m a beautiful badass.” Other days those thoughts aren’t so kind. But I’m trying, and that’s what matters.
I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point in my life where I’m miraculously free of insecurity. I don’t think any of us really will. But I do hope to measure my worth not by the size of my belly, but the size of my personality, heart and brain.
Because when it comes to those, bigger is better.