Taking Up Space

Below is the full piece I started to share on my Instagram today.

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with my body image for years. Between being a woman in today’s society and living in a chronically ill body that doesn’t give me much control over how I look or feel, my mind has become a minefield of negative self talk. Add in Instagram and TikTok and damn—it’s brutal out here.


I still remember my first fad diet. I was in high school. By that point, I had dabbled with trying my mom’s Slim Fast shakes and whatnot for years. But this time, I decided I would fully immerse myself in the Special K diet: one tiny measured cup of Special K cereal with skim milk for breakfast, one bottled protein shake for lunch, grilled chicken with plain veggies for dinner. It obviously didn’t work—but that didn’t stop me from trying all of the subsequent fad diets that money-hungry marketing teams introduced to insecure people like myself.


Why did I, a 15 year old, feel the need to restrict my food so drastically? I was active, thin, and healthy. It makes me sad to think of that young girl, missing out on social moments surrounding food because I was determined to take up less space on the planet.
Little did I know, I’d spend countless minutes, hours, and days missing out on things for the same reason throughout my life.


When people ask how fun going to college in Miami must have been, my heart hurts when I think about the pool parties they’re picturing—that I skipped or felt miserable at because I hated my body. The tailgates I would spend days “preparing” for by eating only foods that Weight Watchers deemed as “free” so I could have a couple of beers.


Fast forward 15 years from that little high school girl (eeek!) and I still find my thoughts consumed every freaking day with how to make myself smaller. It’s been years since I’ve purchased any milk other than almond because the calories are so low. Even then, I spent a while drinking my coffee black because god forbid I consumed that extra 15 calories. I haven’t chosen white bread or white rice over wheat or brown since probably 2006. I’ve long since replaced pasta with zucchini, chickpea, or tofu noodles. Real mayo? Don’t know her. Fake ice cream that doesn’t taste like the real thing but comes with “zero guilt?” I’ve purchased every variety.


Between apps and notebooks, I’ve spent long stretches of time tracking every morsel of food or drop of liquid that has entered my mouth. And in case I’m making it sound like those days are long past, I *just* threw out a notebook I was using as recently as last week to track my calories and exercise.


I’ve always felt that I’ve hid my disordered eating well. In fact, I hid it from myself for so long that it took two years of talking to the same therapist before she brought it to my attention. I’ve gone out to eat with friends and tried to bite my tongue to keep myself from making comments about how guilty food makes me feel. I’ve eaten the pancakes and cookies in front of everyone—only to berate myself for days in private afterward. Just last week, I was drinking with a friend and we decided we should have something to eat. I started to order a salad when my friend—who struggles with all of this herself—kindly pointed out that whenever we drink, I limit my food to offset the calories, but that I’m always left feeling sick.


I recently had a friend express how sad it makes him that I constantly compare my body to those of other women. That it seems that each week, I have a new part of my body or face that I attack and spend hours googling remedies or procedures for. He now sends me stories of plastic surgery gone wrong to keep me from doing anything drastic.


Recently, after a particularly rough bout of depression, I got back into a daily routine of working out and walking a few miles. It was helping so much with my mental health that I actually had a week or two of time where I felt content with my body. I thought, “look at what my body can do. The way she looks is just the way she’s meant to be.”


Then, one of my close friends posted a photo on Instagram. She was wearing a bikini that I own, too.


In that one second, my newfound confidence fell apart.


“I have to throw that bathing suit away now,” I thought.


Mind you, this is a friend who I bond with over our mental health challenges. A person that I know struggles to feel ok in her own skin. Yet in that second of scrolling social media, I reduced both of us to just bodies.


I don’t know if anyone is still reading at this point. I actually can’t believe I’m still typing! When I sat down after breakfast—proud of myself for making myself real eggs instead of egg whites and not tracking the nutrition facts—I thought this would be a paragraph at most. But apparently I had a lot inside of me.


All of this to say—none of this is easy. For any of us. Yes, my medical need to track what I put into my body complicates my relationship with food, but we all struggle in some capacity. So, I’m posting this photo of my bikini body. Some of you may scroll past and think “I wish I looked like that.” Some may do the same and think “thank god I don’t look like that.” Either way, I hope you give yourself a break and remember that you were not made to take up the smallest corner of the universe.


You are SO much more than that.


And so am I.

Colorfully yours,

Haley

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