The Story Space
What is body image? If you ask 10 different people, you will likely get 10 different responses. The fact is that body image issues affect all of us differently, and the Story Space aims to highlight that diversity through the sharing of our experiences, both good and bad. No judgment, just mutual acceptance, resonance and support.
What can I share about?
There are no rules about how and what you choose to share about, but here are some ideas to get you started:
What has your relationship with your body been in the past, and what do you hope for it to become?
How does the way that your body looks/feels/behaves affect you and your life?
If you could make the rules about our relationship with our bodies (that is, instead of emphasizing external physical features as a sign of worthiness), what would they be?
Ready to share?
If you have an experience to share (video, written piece, artwork...), please fill out this google form: https://goo.gl/forms/zdPItfvFMEDW0cPz2
I can’t read. I mean, I can read. Obviously. I’m writing this. But I can’t read like you can. I’m dyslexic. Excluding other dyslexic people, I can’t read the way you’re reading this blog post right now, like you read every other thing you’ve ever read since you were five or six years old, all day, every day. For me, this has always been the most unnatural thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I wrestle with every word I ever come across. When I was young and struggled with writing papers, my parents just told me to work harder. Find another way to get it done, and get it done. I could do it, I just had to find the way that worked for me. And that was great, except I never knew what was wrong with me. I never knew why the things that worked for literally everyone else in my class didn’t work for me, ever. I didn’t know why I always, always had to find another way around everything. But I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t fix something I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know I had dyslexia.
So, I tried to “fix” whatever I could. Anything else. Everything else. I obsessed over my grades; I needed every teacher I ever came across to like me. They just had to. I was every teacher’s pet. By the time I was in middle school, I obsessed over makeup, my hair, my clothes. By the time I hit high school, I found myself obsessed with exercise. I had to make my body perfect. Every inch of it. Every morning I’d pinch and poke at every loose bit of myself and tell myself I needed to work on it that day in the gym. Every night I’d beat myself up over all the things I hadn’t “fixed” yet. I was purging by the time I was 15. The more I struggled over reading nutrition labels and keeping track of every calorie that passed my lips, the more I needed it. I needed to have control over something. I was on the road to something dangerous.
My senior year of high school, a professor found me struggling over my textbooks. I said something about being sleep deprived so that’s why I was struggling to “focus.” Instead of accepting that answer and going about his day, he took the book from me that day and read it to me.
I can honestly say he probably saved me. He never knew I lived with so many eating disorders, but through a conversation one day in the beginning of the year, while I was explaining to him all the “alternative” ways I got through school throughout my life, he blurted out “Are you dyslexic?”
After a moment, I responded, “I think so? I’ve never been diagnosed, but my mom and dad both are, and so is my brother. I’ve never thought about it though. I just accepted that some things are hard for me, so I find other ways around them.”
He made it a point to talk with me regularly after that. Explained to me that some of the smartest people in our history have been dyslexic, and that while it does make life much harder, it doesn’t mean you’re worthless. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart, or not capable of complex thought. He encouraged whatever interests caught my attention, including various topics in quantum physics. No, that’s not an exaggeration. We actually talked about quantum physics. And the Big Bang Theory. And black holes. And ballet. And Hamlet. And furniture construction. And tiny seeds with filaments that help them float when a breeze hits them.
Through all this, I began to heal. I began to see that I didn’t have anything to fix. I didn’t have anything wrong with me. It was just me. It was just the way my brain worked, and there was nothing wrong with that. And there was nothing wrong with my hips, that’s just how my body was made. There was nothing wrong with my nose, I was born with it. There was nothing wrong with me. It was just me.
And I was not and will never be under any obligation to change things that I simply cannot change.
It’s crazy to think that an undiagnosed learning difference could be the reason I suffered through years of depression, body dysmorphia, exercise addiction, bulimia, and anorexia, but it’s true. And sadly, the truth is, it will never go away. I still get nervous when I feel just a little too good while running. I still have intense anxiety when I realize I ate just a little too much at that last party. I still struggle over nutrition labels, but this time, to make sure I’m getting enough protein, vitamin C, and iron in my body, the three things I was always told I was low on at doctor’s visits.
I can never make this go away. But I can work to help others never have to go through it.
If you ever have kids, ask their schools about how they screen for learning disabilities. If you’ve been having trouble with your classes or at work, find a psychologist that works with learning disabilities. They can test you. If you have a friend who seems particularly stressed over school or particularly obsessed with going to the gym three times a day, genuinely ask them how they’re doing. Ask “If you could wave a wand to make one part of your life easier, what would it be?” You might be surprised what people are dying to talk about, they just need permission to do so. Give them that permission.
My professor knew I was struggling. He didn’t have to ask. He just told me what he knew I needed to hear. I was extremely lucky for that. Not everybody gets to be that lucky.
So talk to someone. Save yourself. Save a friend. Save your child.
1 in 5 people are dyslexic.
My Body is not your Body
Poems by: Phyllis Lam
Bodies. There are different shapes and sizes - some bigger than others and some
smaller than others.
Yet our bodies are shamed
a figure that is not so skinny,
a face that is not so pretty,
a stomach that is not so flat, and thighs without a gap.
Our body is not everyone else’s body, What’s healthy for you
May not be healthy for me
My body is unlike any other body.
It may not be the most ideal, but I know that it’s the right body for me.
Shamed for being too fat, shamed for being too skinny, shamed for being too fit,
and shamed for being too pretty.
It almost seems impossible
to keep up with society’s beauty trends and ideal looks. For even what we see
in magazines, websites and billboards
have been edited to fit
society’s unrealistic beauty standards.
So instead of chasing what society wants, use that time to love yourself.
I banter because...I want to help change the public perception of the ideal body image.
Talking about our bodies can be a sensitive subject for everyone. Fostered by overly sexualized advertisements and unrealistic standards of having the “perfect beach body”, people have begun to reorient their way of thinking into what society deems as “acceptable” or “hot” -- but most of these claims are made by photoshopped models and airbrushed magazines, which make the standards essentially unattainable. Through emphasizing standardized appearances, society is inadvertently placing large amounts of social pressure on young boys and girls who feel like they need to resort to harming their own bodies because they want to “fit in”. If we all stand by and allow the destructive cycle to continue, we are ultimately perpetrators of this issue. I believe that this is a conversation that needs to be addressed across all ages, cultures, and organizations. People are harming themselves and others for it, and fuels other unhealthy conditions such as bulimia and depression. The only way to create a unified front against body image expectations is to create a broader platform of discussion so others feel like they are not alone in the fight.
Letter to my body
Why don’t you like me? Why does my size bother you so much? What is it about me that confines you and makes you feels so insecure? Is it really about people looking at me and making judgements? Do you think that if I’m not perfectly flat you won’t be loved or be able to find someone to love? Would you really want to be with someone who wouldn’t love you because I’m not perfect? Do you think that this one aspect of you will really change the way people look at you or change the way you look at yourself? Why do you let me hold power over you? What do you gain from it? You obviously feel worse about yourself and less willing to wear certain clothes or even do certain activities if you know I’m going to show – how does that support you and make your life more wonderful? Do you think that it makes your life more wonderful? What pleasure do you get out of it? What story have you told yourself about me that makes this worth it for you? You know everything happens for a reason so the fact that I hold the power in our relationship is not accidental, but why does holding onto me serve you? Why can’t you just let go your obsession with me? What lesson or skill do you still need to learn from me? Do you really think this is a skill that you need to learn over and over again or will once be enough for you?
I understand the discomfort my presences has for you and I can see and feel how much pain you’re in, and I just want to support you in recovery, but you won’t let me. When you see me growing and changing, fear builds up in you about not beings seen as attractive or not being loved. Then, your ex’s keep popping up, and you wonder if they would ever have loved you or even cared about you if I had been bigger or different. Don’t you see that your beauty surpasses the physical and that the reason people are drawn to you is because of who you are and that isn’t dependent on your physical body? Wouldn’t it be easier to love yourself fully and to see yourself as beautiful and not need the external recognition? Do you understand that it would be easier for people to love you and see all of your greatness if you first saw and experienced it yourself? And why do you fear getting to a place of true self-acceptance? Where does that fear of feelings like other people will view you as arrogant and selfish come from? Feeling good about yourself and who you are as a person is a healthy and wonderful way to feel. Embrace when you feel those things, especially when you feel that way about me.
I cannot disappear, I cannot leave you, I cannot morph under your willpower like every other aspect of your life. No matter how much you wish I will change when you’re eating, I will always be what I am meant to be, and that is part of who you are. Unlike other people and things, I will never leave you, I will always support you in the way you need even if you don’t want my help or presence. I am here to keep you alive and to keep you from disappearing. Why do you need to make me small to feel like you can live? I am here to make sure that you survive, and my size doesn’t change that.
When you starve me you feel more confident, when you feed me you feel diminished and less loveable, but when you find someone who does love you for who you are, don’t you want to be healthy for them and the future lives that you will spend together? I know that you feel embarrassed and insecure about how much you let your happiness and confidence be determined by an external source, such as by the men in your life, but you are just trying to survive and you will find your power when you learn what you need to learn from this. Don’t be ashamed of how you feel. It doesn’t matter how others feel about you and this certain situation even if they feel the way you fear. You are allowed to be the only one who struggles with this and you don’t need to feel like less of an independent and strong person because of it.
You grew up believing that you were in charge of your emotions and the way you view yourself, so now you struggle with the fact that you feel like you are choosing to feel this way, and feel embarrassed that you can’t just change it. Don’t fight yourself and me so much. The easier you make accepting your challenges, the easier it will be to overcome them. I am ready to give you your power back, but you need to be ready to receive it.
My request is that you look at these questions and understand where they are coming from, and why. Really explore these questions and you may be able to take your power back from me and understand your greatness and strength that has always been there. There is a gift I am supposed to give you and a lesson you’re supposed to learn, but learn it when you’re ready to, and don’t be afraid to let me go.
I banter because... it's a way for me to share and accept my experience and story, and because not enough people understand the effects of an eating disorder and the journey a person experiences with it.
The story of telling my mom about my eating disorder:
The smell of hay and sweat mingled in the still air surrounding us. I sat uncomfortably, pushing my crossed legs against the door of the convertible. The seat belt tightened across my chest as I inched further away from the center of the car. We sat parked a few meters away from the gate to our housing complex.
I could feel her stare piercing through me, begging for some sort of expression she could hold on to. My hand gripped tighter around my horseback riding crop as I absently glared into the vacant night street.
The unfinished conversation hung over our heads, heavy with anticipation and uncertainty. She wanted some answers, she wanted something that could help her make sense of what our relationship had turned into. Anger and resentment filled my chest, and all of the unspoken disappointment and grief that I had kept from her, caused of the past few years, were finally boiling to the surface. I knew it was unfair of me to expect her to know or understand without me explaining it to her, but it was easier to blame her for this instead of accepting what was happening. The second I shared this with her, everything would change.
Profound guilt began to linger through my body, I had been so cold and disconnected for so long, it didn’t feel safe to open up again. It was too painful. I knew she loved me and that nothing would change that, but I was her perfect daughter. I was the perfect daughter that was about to crush her soul.
“Mom, there is so much you don’t know and so much you will never be able to understand,” I said as I continued to look blankly ahead of me.
She sat silently, the only evidence of her presence were the sounds she occasionally released as she wept. It was too agonising to look at her when she was like this. Her eyes red and pleading, her skin blushed and splotchy, moist from the residue of tears cascading down her face.
“These past two years have been so hard and you were never around to see it or offer support. You were so involved with your own life, it was like you forgot you had children. Your friends became your family while your family became dispensable.” I knew my words had cut through her as she attempted to hide her sobbing.
Again, the car filled with uncomfortable silence, and not even the sweet hum of traffic could penetrate the seemingly disconnected world we had created.
“When I tell you what I am about to tell you, I need you to not touch me.” For the first time in an hour, I turned my body and faced her. The shock of my direct action was painted across her face and she knew the only appropriate response she could provide was a nod. I could feel tears welling up behind my eyes and I felt like my throat was going to shut. Don’t cry.
“Over the past year or so…” My heart began to race. I can’t say it out loud. I can’t do this. I returned my gaze to the road ahead of the car. I didn’t think this was going to be so difficult.
“...I have struggled with an eating disorder.” As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a pang of sharp pain, then the feeling of powerlessness wrapping around my neck to suffocate me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her hand timidly approach me. I recoiled deeper into my seat, hoping it would eventually shield me from this conversation.
She could no longer hold back her emotions and began to openly wail, the sound breaking the barrier we had established from the rest of existence. Guilt overwhelmed me as I sat and saw the deep regret and blame my mom had been holding in her heart. Yes, she had fucked up in the past, but these past few months she had been trying to reconcile things and I had used every opportunity to push her away. To get back at her. She may of been unintentionally absent, but I had been purposely cruel. I reached my hand out and placed it on her shoulder, shifting my legs to face her.
“I’m sorry that I blamed you for this, it wasn’t your fault. It isn’t your fault. It’s no one's fault. I was in so much pain and it was easier for me to paint you as a bad guy than to accept reality. I should have been honest with you. I should have been vulnerable. You had no way to know. I forgive you and I hope you can forgive me.”
The Young Girl's Burden
I banter because... it matters and needs to be talked about. Nothing has ever been solved by sweeping it under the rug. By opening up this conversation, we open up a healing process that is long overdue.
Who knows the young girl’s burden?
I bet you’d be impressed,
She wears a smile so often,
You never would have guessed.
Her comfort with her image
Is something she has lost,
She yearns to be perfection,
But with it comes a cost.
Who knows the young girl’s burden
Of pleasing everyone?
And skinny being pretty,
The struggle’s just begun.
The grumbling in her stomach
To her is a good sign,
It proves that it is working,
But she won’t turn out fine.
Who knows the young girl’s burden?
She’s carried it for weeks,
All’s left of her is bone and
Her sallow, sunken cheeks.
Surrounded by her dearest,
Who try to change her fate
And try to make her better,
But is it much too late?
Who knows the young girl’s burden?
They urged her to stay strong,
“At last,” they cheered, “she’s healed now!”
They’d never been so wrong.
The nightmares will still haunt her,
It never ends you see,
But don’t ask how I know this,
For that young girl is me.