By Mia Findlay - Butterfly Foundation Ambassador. In honour of Love Your Body Week & being a voice for change our Ambassador, Mia Findlay has written a piece highlighting the importance of genuine self-acceptance.
Before I went into recovery from my eating disorder, my relationship with my body was tricky to say the least. If I’d been asked to sum up that relationship in Facebook terms, it undoubtedly would have fallen into the ‘It’s Complicated’ category. Put simply, I hated myself for a very long time. Hated my height, my weight, the thickness of my eyebrows, my asymmetrical nose, the scar on my right cheek. If you pointed out a feature, I could instantly tell you five things which were wrong with it. Too big, too small, too stubby, too lumpy, too ugly. The other kids planted those body image concerns in my head, as they yelled cruel fat shaming taunts from across the playground. My body was too much of everything, yet somehow, never enough either.
It’s no wonder then, as my teen years and early twenties unfolded in front of me, that I was taught a very clear, if not flawed lesson. There was only one way to be acceptable, lovable and to avoid the ridicule of others. I would need to make my exterior acceptable, loveable and impossible to ridicule. My emerging eating disorder took hold of that supposed truth, driving my mental and physical health into the ground. Over the next six years I berated and tortured myself into a smaller size. I did things to my body which I would surely be in jail for had I done them to someone else. And yet, the more I obeyed the eating disorder, the further my body image crumbled. There was no size, weight or shape which could bring me to my acceptable and lovable goal. I woke up to this devastating reality just in time and was fortunate to begin the long road to recovery.
Now that I have been recovered for six years, I truly know that my body image is much more than what I see in the mirror. It is a story I tell myself; a composite of compliments and cruelties, my experiences, traumas and influences. Body image is an enormously important part of our identities and how we see ourselves in the world. For so many of us, that identity is hijacked by bullying, social pressure, physical illness, self-hatred and eating disorders. My body image story started at seven years old in the playground, defined by cruel taunts from my peers. I was too young to determine how the story began, but I can choose how it will end.
I choose whether I am acceptable and lovable. I choose to respect my body, even on the days when I cannot love it. I choose whether I value myself for my character, humour, brains and quirks over my appearance. I can choose which influences to welcome into my sphere, in person and online. I choose to see the unwelcome opinions of others as a window into their own traumas and broken belief systems. Whether I leave those opinions at the door or invite them to take up space in my home, head and heart is also my choice. I choose to see my body as the vehicle by which I can live my one extraordinary life; a vehicle which allows me to wrap my arms around my loved ones, board a plane to see the world and make a difference where I can.
I can also choose to see beyond my own experience. I am a young white woman in a body which is conventionally accepted, who is often asked to speak about that experience. I can choose to remind you that body image concerns and eating disorders don’t discriminate. To tell you to seek out people whose body image stories are more complicated than mine - who are not socially celebrated despite going down a similar recovery path.
Those who have recovered into larger bodies, people living with disabilities, people of colour, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and across the gender spectrum. These are the people whose voices Butterfly are making space for, elevating and validating this year. If we truly believe that all bodies are worthy (and they are), then we need to see and celebrate those bodies – living full, brave and unapologetic lives. The more voices we hear, the more we can make true and lasting change to the wider impact of body image issues and eating disorders in this space.
Everybody has the right to define what loving their body means to them. It’s your story, don’t be afraid to tell it. Especially if it’s a story you haven’t heard; it is valid, valuable and important to those who need to see an experience just like yours. Choose to be a voice for change today.