The Exquisite Joy and Pain of Learning to Love Myself

Experts estimate that about 8 million people in the U.S. are currently suffering from an eating disorder—and that’s not even to mention the long, arduous process of recovery nor the rampant misunderstanding of these issues in our culture. As a nod to Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26 to March 4), we’ll be featuring some of our most thought-provoking content on body image, diet talk, and the stigma and shame that millions of women deal with on a daily basis. Above all else, know that you’re not alone—and if you need help and don’t know where to begin, reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at (800) 931-2237.

Body Acceptance
Photo: Paley Fairman

It’s January 2, and the tall windows of my local yoga studio are opaque with condensation, a signal to passersby that the room within is packed and sweaty with New Year’s resolve. Even I can’t help but see the joke in it for a moment as I stand shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors, stretching into Downward-Facing Dog en masse. We are, after all, a collective cliché—statistically speaking, the crowd will likely thin out in a matter of weeks as the idea of a fresh start begins to grow stale. But then I chide myself mid-judgment because I know that in dismissing everyone here, I’m ultimately dismissing myself. And the notion that brought me here is far more complicated than post-holiday pudge.

Yes, I’d like to see some changes in my body. I want to be stronger; I want to shift the stubborn five pounds that have taken up residence around my midsection since moving to Los Angeles from New York City. (If you ever want to gain weight, move to a city where everyone drives.) I’ve been antsy about it for a few months—antsy but terrified. I don’t just stand to lose an inch or two around my waist, but also gain love and respect for myself and my body, a sentiment with which I’m only just starting to get acquainted.

Those who have suffered from eating disorders might understand the distinct, disorienting pain of starving yourself so much that one morning you wake up and realize you’ve lost so much more than weight. It is at this precise moment that you understand just how much more you are than flesh and blood because you can’t find the rest of it. You can’t find yourself or your place in the world. You’re only bare bones, shivering with the echoes of that brutal voice that got you here. The voice that said that you were taking up too much space, so you had better make yourself smaller. And smaller. And smaller.

And that alone is the most difficult part of recovery: tethering your soul back to the shell from which you excavated it.

Now, the voice is no longer cruel but cautious. Anxious. Careful, she says. You know this slippery slope well—it only took you five years to climb out of it.