Body Acceptance?

Stylist Empathy Weight Gain

Stylist Empathy Weight GainSo, about 10 years ago (when I was 31) I weighed about 65 kilos, about 15 less than I do now. For most of my adult life, I had never found it hard to maintain a slim figure and be able to fit into pretty much anything I wanted. I ate well, was always participating in some kind of new sport, had a positive self-esteem and a rational view of my looks. My feeling was that whatever my looks were was was not something I can claim as being my highest achievement or a core part of my identity. My identity was shaped around who I was as a person, my personality, my purpose. I liked who I was, aside from my weight and looks.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years, it’s 2016 and I’m in the midst of a toxic work situation involving intense misogyny, bullying and exclusion. The perpetrators were members in my team who reported to me as well as by those I reported to. On top of a work schedule that involved 16-hour days and relentless project delivery, it was a horrific time and it took me about three years to escape. Throughout the ordeal and in traumatic stress phase I gained about 10 kilograms.

Looking in the mirror, it was like I couldn’t recognize my own body. I had layers of fat on my tummy and bum that just made me look fat. My boobs went up a cup size (not ideal to someone who is a runner). My face looked fat. Fat to anyone else? I don’t know. The point was that felt I looked fat and I couldn’t connect with the person in the mirror nor rationalize where the old me had gone. I was ashamed of my body, ashamed of the trauma I was going through and was suffering on a monumental scale.

Looking back, safely away from the daily anguish, I can now see that what was actually happening was an intense personality and programming metamorphosis. Whilst I was emotionally-eating to comfort my very sensitive nature from the crushing pain I was experiencing and gaining kilograms; I was actually shedding. Shedding behaviors that were no longer serving me. Shedding narratives that were destructive. Shedding programming that was keeping me in negative loops.

Before the experience, I was bursting with confidence, was an adventurous person and competent at whatever I turned my hand to. Deep inside though, I felt unworthy of love and acceptance. Being that I was raised in an extreme Pentecostal, born-again, word-of-faith almost-cult that weaponized guilt and shame; it’s no wonder. How can anyone be up to scratch when our benchmark is Christ? How can you really believe in yourself and who you are when pride is a sin? How can you ever truly live out your purpose when a life of servitude was encouraged? So many confusing messages that wreaked havoc with my inner dialogue.

Indeed, that dark time was my watershed moment. A turning point. It was a gift the universe offered to me by saying; “either you let go of those deep beliefs that you’re not good enough or people will keep treating you like you’re not”. It took being dehumanized and told that I was not worthy by people much less competent than me to realise that my inner life was destroying my outer life.

Today, with that chapter of my life 3 years in the past, I have re-written my programming. My boundaries are much clearer. The permissions I give myself and others have changed. I am my most fierce advocate and most importantly, I don’t allow bullshit negative opinions of other people to alter how I think of myself. For long, at least.  Being a highly-sensitive empath I feel the effect of their toxic energy, sometimes it takes me days to recover from an encounter with someone. But at the end of the day, I change nothing about my behaviour or belief system to earn their approval.

Approval of myself comes from myself. Notwithstanding, I am not a machine, and like anybody else I want and need the love of my friends around me. I want to be accepted by them and not rejected. However, I have developed a practice that rejection of others does not affect the approval I have of myself. Read that again. This is the power I needed to take back for my mental health and my successful future.

This brings us back to the story of my weight which, lets face it is an astonishingly identifying thing for most women. My weight hasn’t changed. I’m still almost 80 kilos. I wear mostly size 12 or 14 jeans, though I still have a pair of size 9s I hang on to for God knows what reason. Most people that know me now didn’t know me when I was 65 kilos, they only know me as they see me now. So, why should my current weight still matter to me? Because it does. I knew me. I knew my body then and I know the unbelievable pressure of societal expectations around what the ideal size is for a woman. It’s not an easy thing to organize in your mind.

Three years after the trauma I am still undoing fight or flight behaviors; including eating carbohydrates whenever I feel the smallest amount of stress. I can now participate in sports that increase my adrenalin whereas for years I couldn’t because it would tip me over into a panic state. But now, I don’t treat my body as a foreigner anymore, though it’s still a daily challenge to avoid wishing I still had that 65kg body. For one thing; it was a lot more comfortable and easy to move, to dress; but most importantly it was easier to have an almost untouchable self-esteem.

So, this post really isn’t about body acceptance at all. I’m not exactly sure where I’m at on that spectrum. What it is about, however, is the absolute acceptance I have of what I went through that triggered habits that caused weight gain. I have learnt more about life, people, human behavior and my own personality gaining trauma weight than what I ever did having a slim body. I am grateful for the trauma I went through, though said with a twang of gripping pain in my chest. I am glad for the lessons I was wanting but resisting. I am glad I had the opportunity to experience pain at the hand of others so I could learn a higher degree of empathy. I am glad I evolved to a place of being able to forgive them.

Maybe this post is more about recognizing the things in life that caused your shape to change and rather than wanting to hate yourself for ‘allowing’ your shape to change. Women can be punishing and tyrannical in their treatment of self. Perhaps reflecting on the situations in life that caused the change is more useful than just damning yourself because you gained weight. It could be age, hormones, babies, relationships, death, grief of any kind or conversely, it could be the good life, being comfortable and being happy. Either way, it’s probably more useful to view the weight gain and the experience that encouraged the weight gain within the same frame.

Having been an A-type personality and, once again, a woman I used to be so insanely harsh on myself I exacerbated my suffering and my weight gain. Now, I look for ways I can go easier on myself. I actively seek to recognize external factors that have had impact on me. I associate the state of my emotions and the impact it has on my body.

Whilst these changes haven’t magically reduced my size, I can say that I am a lot lighter than I ever was when I was 65kgs.

Much love, Adele



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