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When I was about 12, I discovered a hobby called self-comparison. This meant magazine clippings and a subscription to every health and women’s magazine that offered any insight on staying in skinny. At the time, my body was naturally changing, but instead of embracing my entrance into womanhood, I began my descent into my teenage years of thinspired self-obsession.
I started a goal of achieving the perfect body the summer before I started high school.
Considered to be a healthy weight, I convinced myself 10 less pounds would make me even healthier, and better yet, look even better. My days consisted of exercising for hours at a time under the hot sun and monitoring every calorie I put in my mouth. Every morning, I would have exactly one cup of cereal with one cup of almond milk, 11 pretzels and 2 tablespoons of hummus for lunch and a sad mix of some kind of protein and vegetables for dinner. Only if I had done all my exercises, I would allow myself to have fruit for dessert.
After I had lost my goal of 10 lbs, I thought five more would help me tighten up. When I lost that, I pushed for another five. The cycle kept going until my body couldn’t take it anymore and surrendered itself to episodes of binge eating. I had lost control and by the time I graduated high school, I had gained nearly 40 lbs through inconsistent starvation diets. For a long time, I lived in insecurity up until I started college when I decided to shift my focus in a new direction.
While my friends’ biggest fear was gaining the Freshman 15, I wanted more than anything to leave behind that part of my life, so I took a new route. I sat up front for all my classes and found comfort in books instead of food. I traded all of the time I spent researching new diets and workout routines for history, politics and science. Because I was starting to open my eyes to issues that ran far deeper than Vogue, I understood how damaging my vanity was.
To make up for all the time I lost focusing on myself I started volunteering at food pantries, charity runs and in hospice work. It was through giving back to the community and focusing on issues that go on around me that I was able to see how unimportant my looks are compared to the strong and resilient people I met who struggled with illness, poverty and wondering when their last day on Earth will be. I felt as if I had been motionlessly going through life blind at the world around me.
My focus on my eating habits switched from only eating foods that met a caloric quota to fuelling my body to become healthy and strong in order to get the best out of my volunteer work and my studies. The more I tried to put others before me, the better I felt about myself.
It was only through knowledge that I liberated myself to blossom from a broken young girl stuck in a world of fake images into a strong and confident woman. I’m proud of my body and what it’s been through because above anything else, it’s healthy and able. Unlike the repetitive and repressive world of diet culture, I know there’s so much more to discover that’s not limited to my reflection in the mirror. No matter your beliefs, we’re in a changing world, and whichever way we swing, there’s always something to strive for that’s beyond ourselves.