My body has always served a purpose. When I was a kid, my chicken legs and skinny arms grew stronger from days at gymnastics and dance practice. In High School and College at 5’2 and 110 pounds, my strength, my “thunder thighs” and “Brazilian booty,” helped me earn spots on competitive cheerleading teams.
But after those ended, then what? What purpose did my body serve past an athletic career?
For a while it served other people – other boyfriends. Then it served no one. Not even myself.
For the two years following my athletic career I was horrible to my body. And not in the way that people might think. I didn’t hate every part of it. I didn’t pinch my sides and wonder how much fat I’d gained from eating a pound of bacon at the Omelet Shoppe with friends that morning.
Instead, I continued to eat poorly and rarely exercised. My body went into shock and my self-confidence did too. I’d suddenly gone from 4-5 days of 3-hour practice and gym sessions to almost zero activity. I drank often. I almost never purchased vegetables and I found myself binging on white processed carbs after 3 am twice a week, and most often, more than that.
In less than four months my body went from a machine with a purpose, to almost 40 pounds heavier with no purpose except to go to class, work, study, and go to sleep. I felt sluggish. My clothes no longer fit. My pant size went from a 4 to almost a 10. My breast size went from a B to a D, and all of my shirts clung too tight to the extra weight that lingered around my waistband.
The Purpose of MY Weight Loss
I’m not sure what finally pushed me to lose weight. Perhaps it was my inner athlete needing to emerge. Then again, maybe it was the coworker who told me I should “go to the gym instead of study.”
Whatever it was, at the end of my 2nd to last semester of college I started going to yoga and the gym again. Then followed running and eating a healthy diet, which meant I finally learned how to cook. By the time I graduated college I’d lost all 40 pounds and was stronger than when I was a collegiate athlete.
During my journey, I kept telling myself I’d be happy once I lost the weight. That I’d be “there.” I remember repeating the same sentence over and over. We all know the one. “Once I lose weight I’ll…”
Truth is, I was wrong. Once I lost weight I felt, well, the same.
I remember the first time a friend asked, “Did you lose weight?” I should have felt happy. Perhaps blissful. Instead I felt disappointed. Them asking felt like an affirmation that I had gained weight, something I’d tried to ignore for years.
Even worse, I couldn’t see my new body the way others did. I felt stronger, my energy levels were higher, and I was consuming almost an entirely raw diet. But when I looked in the mirror I still saw the fat around my mid-section, the cellulite under my butt and thighs, and most of all, I hated the way I looked in photos.
Doing The Mental Work
That’s when I realized there was no happiness prize at the end of my weight loss journey. Yes, I was thrilled I’d lost weight and built a healthier lifestyle. But I didn’t find purpose in my body or life from weight loss.
To this day, I continue to battle with body dysmorphia. I still see myself as 50 pounds heavier on occasion. I still feel like I should be changing into loose clothes that cover my uncomfortable spots instead of showing off my hard work. Most importantly, I still fear every day that I’ll suddenly wake up in the body I’d worked so hard to change and make healthier.
So, after years of hard mental work, I’ve found some peace with my body. By now, I love cooking and planning meals around what’s in-season. I weight lift two days a week, coach cheerleading, teach barre, and exercise almost every day. I love my strength. But I also love beer and goat cheese and enjoying a glass of red wine after a 50-hour work week.
One night while writing this article I stood in front of the mirror and thought about my bodies purpose. Who does it serve?
For now, it serves me. I need my body to be energized to get me through my handful of jobs. I need it to be strong enough to coach athletes yet gentle enough to hug and love on my family. Perhaps one day my body will serve the purpose of a home and security for another life. And then my strengths will change and shift in new meaningful, beautiful ways and I’ll find peace with where it’s at again.
Kelly Brown is a writer, marketer and egg eater living in Grand Rapids, MI. Her work has been featured in the 3288 Review, Solace Magazine, Fishladder, Brazenhead Review, online at Talking Soup, Gone Lawn, Awesome Mitten and more. Learn more on her website.