“Place your value as a person above your size, shape, or weight. Your dress size is no more important than your shoe size.” -Julie Parker
Everyone has a story to tell, and I am a firm believer that our stories are not for us alone, but are meant to be shared with others, to help them with their own adventure through life. The unique set of experiences we encounter may show an easier route up the hill a friend is climbing, or, it may be a much needed handhold for a stranger. We just need the courage to share our imperfections and vulnerabilities. A smile, a conversation, a piece of yourself.
I’ve known Taylor for almost a decade, and she is still one of my favorite seniors I have ever worked with. We have kept in touch through the years, shooting for fun, shooting for special events. Last year we shot a simple, no frills, no makeup, honest session in celebration of her freedom. She’s a beautiful person with a story to tell, so I will let her tell it in her own words.
I sat there losing faith as I gripped my parent’s hands tighter. The beeping from my heart monitor had woken me up for the 6th time that week, as nurses came rushing into my room with warm blankets and concerned faces. I knew what the doctor would say, “JUST a few more days and you’ll be out of here.” He didn’t know. No one knew when I would be healthy enough to go home.
A bucket was my new toilet, a ‘toilet’ I couldn’t use until a nurse brought it in for me. I was forced to eat all of my meals with a mean nurse who micromanaged every bite I took. I brushed my teeth and spit into a cup. The amount of water I could drink was limited. Each morning I got my blood drawn, one of my biggest fears. I could hear the disapproval in the nurse’s voice when they weighed me every day, as she told me, “I probably wouldn’t be released that day.” They didn’t look at me with compassion. I did this to myself, and that is why I was there. I knew people I loved would feel that way, too.
How did I get there? How did the bubbly little girl I had always known disappear without even a goodbye? On the outside it looked like I had everything. I had great friends, and a great boyfriend. I had great parents, a great home, and our family never struggled financially. I ran cross country. I was on the dance team. I had recently been baptized at a church where I was treated like family.
I wish I could pin point the exact moment I took a wrong turn. Maybe I felt I couldn’t control my relationships, but I could control the amount of food I ate, and how much I ran? Whatever it was, something inside of me snapped, and I didn’t come back from it. I limited my food intake more and more every day. I never missed a run, even when I felt injured.
By the time prom came around, My Mom couldn’t even take pictures of me. I was so thin and fragile. I had been denying my problem to everyone, and when I looked in the mirror I saw someone who was healthy. I didn’t see sunken in yellow skin, bones, or a dark, hollow look in my eyes. In two short months I had lost 40 pounds. 40 pounds I couldn’t afford to lose.
I wanted help, but I didn’t want to ask for it. I didn’t want to give up the control.
I pushed every single person away. I was alone and scared. I told my mother, the one person I loved more than anything in the world, that I hated her, when all she was doing was trying to help me.
I often look back and think, if I wouldn’t have seen this, or done that, or been there, it wouldn’t have happened…but I truly believe this was the plan for me all along. I was meant to go through this to help other people. I was given this obstacle because it would change the way I see myself, others, and the world.
My mom tricked me. She told me we were going to get a physical for dance and track. I remember sitting across from a doctor as she took my vitals. A healthy resting heart rate for an active athlete could be anywhere from 55-70 beats per minute, and my resting heart rate was 34.
The doctor told my Mom she could either let me go, and I would probably die, or, I could be taken to the hospital immediately. The hospital was my saving grace. I had no phone, no TV, and no noise. Just me and my thoughts. That room was a huge turning point in my life. I remember feeling like those four walls were like a jail cell, and the realization that the way I had been living for months was the real prison.
I don’t regret my past. I have forgiven my past, and anyone who has hurt me. Most importantly, I have forgiven myself. I am proud of the person I am today, and although I am far from perfect, I am finally comfortable in my own skin.
I am almost 8 years recovered from an eating disorder, and I am still learning. I am learning that although some of our problems stem from the media telling us to hate our bodies if they don’t look like a supermodel, I can’t blame magazines. The media affected me more as I was trying to recover, as I saw females in magazines that looked just as sick as I was, but it was “ok” for them to promote that as sexy. I was hospitalized. It made me angry at the media; however, the actual eating disorder didn’t start for me as a result of the media. Although I strongly believe it could be the source for other people, it was not for me.
I remember sitting in the kitchen with my stepmom at 10 years old, listening to her talk about how flat her stomach was, as she was lifting up her shirt. I remember being 11 years old, making my Dad spend an hour with me in Limited Too, because everything I tried on made me look “fat”. I entered middle school and resigned to make myself the “funny friend.” I truly believed I was ugly, fat, and I felt so awkward, constantly comparing myself to other girls.
Entering high school, I felt like the curviest of my dance friends, once again the “funny one,” placing myself in the back row. It makes me sad when I look at those pictures, because I wasn’t fat at all. I thought I was. A lack of confidence, insecurity, and perception affects this issue 100%. How you see yourself, and what you tell yourself will find a way to manifest. Then you begin to believe it. You feed the beast every bit as much as the images you take in on a daily basis. You tell it what it wants to hear. I am fat. I am ugly. A Christian might say that the devil hears those things and preys on you at your weakest. Instead of saying “I am beautiful,” I agreed with the insecurities already inside of me, and they grew. The media didn’t create my disorder, but it certainly kept it fed, as I starved myself.
Finally, after a full physical, mental, and emotional recovery, I know what my purpose is. I am here to be a voice with those who have experienced what I have, and a voice to those who are going through it now. I am here, trying to help empower men and women to SHUT OFF THE NOISE that tells you that you aren’t good enough.
Just in case you haven’t been told recently, or ever, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. When you first wake up, when you’re crying, when your heart has been broken, when you’re so angry you could scream, and when you think you’re at your worst… ignore the noise. You are the most beautiful thing in the entire world. IGNORE THE NOISE.