Previously, in Chapter One:
Sarah nibbled at her breakfast, using it as Play-Dough rather than sustenance, and told me of her latest diet. With searing shock, I recognized the hunger in her eyes she wouldn’t let her body satisfy. And then although Sara was sitting in front of me, I saw her standing in front of a mirror, scrutinizing, punishing and hating everything that made her breathtaking.
And a voice whispered, “Her life is supposed to be so much bigger than she realizes.”
The whisper washed over me.
The problem was not about trying to be skinnier.
The problem was not her unhappiness with her body.
The problem was she saw her life to be much smaller, much less important, much less purposeful than it was meant to be.
The second she left our coffee shop, my mind whirred until I could capture it all on paper: the image I saw of her, and my desperate need for her to see what the rest of the world sees: beauty beyond the mirror, beauty beneath her skin, beauty that radiates from deep inside.
And yet, telling her all of this wouldn’t be enough. She had to know what I’d kept secret for so long. And out tumbled a messy mass of a story I’d wanted to remain unspoken. A story that now was too important to keep in the dark. The story of my struggle with an eating disorder.
“Although it was so long ago,” I confessed on paper,
“It never really goes away. It haunts you and demands its part in every food or exercise decision you make.” I spilled my mess onto the page and prayed that she wouldn’t feel alone, wouldn’t feel that she needed to hide anymore.
When I finally scribbled the last word onto that letter, terror settled in. I’d said too much. Too much about her, too much about me. And then the familiar enemy slithered in with his go-to doubting phrase, “What if?” What if she would be offended? What if she would want to throw our friendship away? What if she judged me for the ugliness I’ve always disguised as “having it all together?” But that “what if” lost its battle when I used it this way: “What if I don’t give it to her?” And I knew that keeping the letter from her was not an option. I needed to put her above my “what if’s.” And so with shaky hands, I surrendered the gift that could be salve or poison, praying for the former. She had the letter. Now, I had to wait.
A few days that felt like years later, we hid from the sweltering summer sun under an umbrella outside our favorite coffee shop. She handed me a letter of her own, stitched together with brokenness and raw honesty.
“When I first read your letter,” she wrote, “I was hurt. How could you think this of me? But then, I stood in front of my mirror, and thought about what I liked about myself.
I couldn’t find a single thing.
Then, I asked myself what I’d like to change. And the answer was ‘everything.’
I’m not okay. I thought I was, but I’m not. Everyday, I compare myself with whoever is around me. I realized that I say mean things to myself as I get ready in the morning. I don’t think an hour goes by when I don’t think about it.”
After finishing the letter, I looked up into the face of the friend I’ve cherished since pre-school. For years, my sweet friend had been held captive and silent, totally alone. My whole being ached not only for her, but for myself. Her letter opened my eyes to the ugly truth that although I was far more healthy than I’ve ever been, I was not as mentally healthy as I’d like to be.
Why had we never shared the raging battles that we were losing? What had kept us, both of us, silent?
1. Shrugging it off like a war with our bodies wasn’t a big deal.
We accepted the lies of, “It’s our cross to carry, our burden to bear. We’re artists; our bodies are our business. Everyone has things they want to change about themselves.”
2. Shame kept us silent.
Shame swears that no one will love, respect, trust, or accept us if they truly know. But speaking our shame sets us free. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown declares, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” The key to the door of freedom is to give shame a run for its money by speaking that shame out loud.
There, in the blazing heat with our melted coffees, we declared, “No more.” Together, we brainstormed two ways to begin the journey to a healthy mindset.
We dare you to join us.
1. Writing on our mirrors.
As mirrors often prove to be the perpetrators of 90% of body-bashing, we decided to write on our mirrors. We each had to send each other a message to pen on our mirrors to remind each other of true beauty.
This one was for Sarah, but it’s for you, too:
“Girl, this is the body with which you will move, face, and climb mountains. Those are the legs that catapult you toward your dreams; the eyes that find the good in this world, the hands that help those who need love, the mouth that sings beauty into being, the hair that whips back and forth as you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Thank your body for sleeping. For waking up. For fighting your battles and not giving up on you when you forget to love your body back. Be good to this body today. Because if you're still here, it’s good to you, too.”
2. Texting each other every time we had a negative thought about our bodies.
Every time. Whether it was, “I feel fat in these shorts,” or, “I compared myself to the girl in my class,” or, “I’m not getting popcorn because it’s bad for me,” we made a pact to text each other.
It was shocking how much awareness this brought me. I have grown so much in my journey towards loving myself just as I am, but I have been blinded to the negativity I still whisper to myself whether through observation or comparison. Having to keep myself accountable to someone was at first embarrassing, then humbling, then encouraging, as she would respond with words of life and love.
My friend and I are still doing this, and we invite you to join us. As this new month begins, take on this fresh mindset. Have the conversation with the mirror you’ve been putting off. Think of that person, whether friend, mentor, sister, brother, neighbor or grandparent who won’t mind your barrage of text messages, and who would walk alongside you in a journey toward healing.
Let’s become more aware of the conversations we unconsciously have with our bodies. Above are two small, simple, free ways to do it. Let’s do this together. Join in the story by leaving your comments on how these two strategies work for you, as well as your own battle strategies, so that we might learn from each other.
Join in on the conversation with several storytellers on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights. We’ll be here, ready to break and cry and laugh and dance. Waiting to be real so we can move forward.