Picture this: A pair of high school girls stand beside one another rooting around in their lockers before school starts. One says "Hi!" and other replies, "Hey! Oh my gosh, your hair looks so pretty!" Or this: An 11-year-old girl walks into her grandparents' home on Christmas morning, and her grandmother greets her with, "Look at you! Daisy, you are just beautiful!" These types of compliments are all-too-common.
There are many ways to describe someone's appearance -- heavy-set, dark-haired, Caucasian, muscular, scrawny, fit, blonde, skinny, fat, and everything in between. There are even more ways to describe elements of someone's personality -- strong, proud, funny, sarcastic, brilliant, charming, kind, genuine, witty. . . the list goes on. It’s up to us -- yep, you and me and that guy over there -- to decide how compliment others. Compliments are more than just words. They can impact a person in powerful ways.
In our society, we're conditioned to give compliments centered around appearance. This is both a symptom and a cause of our culture's continued obsession with appearance. While a compliment based on the way we look may bring us momentary joy, that feeling doesn't last long. Think about it. Recall a compliment you've received about our your looks and one about your character. Which meant more? Which did you remember longer? Compliments about our appearance are fleeting & lack substance. Consider also that our hair, the clothes we wear, our bodies -- they're always in flux. For example, a compliment about your sweater only sticks as long as it's in style. And think about young girls used to hearing comments about their bodies like, "You are so skinny!" In our culture, this is good thing, while being fat is bad. What happens when these girls fill out as they advance through puberty and stop hearing things like this about their bodies? If "skinny" becomes part of their self-concept, they will struggle a great deal with their changing bodies. In particular, compliments on thinness perpetuate a culture-wide pursuit of thinness that has damaging consequences.
Compliments about who we are -- our actions, values, and personalities -- really stick with us and serve as a reminder about what's most important about each of us. Personally, hearing that I bring joy to someone’s life feels way better than hearing that my hair looks best straight when I straighten it for picture day.
I want to present everyone reading this with a challenge. Give someone a compliment every day for the next week, but don’t mention appearance. Tell someone how you appreciate that they've stood by you through a difficult time, that their sense of humor always puts a smile on your face, or maybe even that you love having them in your life. You never know the impact that your comment will have on their day, even their life. Or here's another idea: Start a compliment train! The next time someone compliments your appearance, give another person a compliment about their character, and see where this takes you.
Remember, compliments carry power. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Good luck! You might just start a REbeLution in your corner of the world.
by Maya Bair
Sophomore | Notre Dame de Sion
Do you love your body? But. . . do you really love your body? At first glance, a lot of people might claim to or appear to have found what so many of us are striving for -- body acceptance. You've probably heard of these people, like a mystical creature we've heard about but don't really believe in, or seen their posts on Instagram. You may even know someone who would make this claim.
Let's focus on those shout-it-from-the-rooftop people whose posts we scroll by on Instagram who claim to love their bodies or who use popular hashtags like #bodypositive and #beyoutiful. Have you ever taken a few extra moments to examine these posts? I have, and I've done this with teens that are part of REbeL to teach them to be critical consumers of media and to better understand where we are in our culture when it comes to body image & self-love. When we zoom in further, what we often notice is what I like to call conditional body acceptance. Conditional body acceptance is a term describing acceptance of one's body that is not unconditional, meaning acceptance with certain conditions, meaning it's not true body acceptance. Are you with me?
Let's think of an example: Full make-up (fictional) fitbabe_521 snaps a mirror selfie at her gym striking a sexy pose in her patterned yoga pants & matching sports bra. The caption below the photo reads: "Progress, not perfection. Set goals & crush them. Love your body the way it is RIGHT NOW because it is amazing & strong & beautiful." What follows are 30 hashtags ranging from #bodyacceptance and #selflove to #fitmama and #transformationtuesday. We might scroll by this post and think, She really loves her body. I wish I could get there. [Side note: We might also have a fleeting thought that we need to look like fitbabe_521 to love our body. Not true.] But here's my question to you: Does this woman truly accept her body? We don't know, of course, unless we ask her. And even then, we might still not really know the full truth. But if I had to venture a guess, I'd say 'no.' Why? Well, I ask myself the following types of questions: Does fitbabe_521 really embrace her body just the way it is? Or is she ultimately striving to reshape her body? Do I believe she would post similarly after 3 weeks of skipping the gym & eating Cheetos for breakfast every day? And would she be as accepting of her body if she weighed 30 more pounds? fitbabe_521 may love her body or she may think she does or she may just want her followers to think she does. We really don't know. But from what I can tell, @fitbabe_521 appears to love her body only under certain conditions, so what we're looking at here is not true, unconditional acceptance.
So is fitbabe_521 a big ol' phony? I don't think of it in that way. What I do think to myself as I scroll by these types of posts on Instagram is this: Keep going. Your journey isn't over. I silently wish for these individuals who are outspokenly body-positive but not quite there to keep taking steps along the path to true body acceptance. Because fitbabe_521, this isn't it. There's MORE. There's more self-compassion, more freedom, and fewer boxes that have to be checked to truly love your body unconditionally.
So what is unconditional body acceptance? Unconditional body acceptance doesn't feel like a check list or a goal that always seems just out of our reach. Those who unconditionally love their bodies love them even on days they skip the gym, on days where the number on the scale goes up, on "bleh" days that they opt for loose-fitting clothes. They accept that their body is ever-evolving, and they embrace their bodies through those changes. They don't look at their bodies as objects to be viewed, rather as vehicles that take them through life's many adventures. They listen to the wisdom of their bodies and honor them not with rules & restrictions but by nourishing them. They view food as fuel & nutrients rather than "good" or "bad." They move their bodies when and because it feels good, not according to a schedule or to burn calories or to achieve a goal in the form of a particular type of body. Their bodies are part of who they are, but not a major aspect of their identity & self-worth.
It's hard to find those who love their body all of the time. For most, body image exists on a spectrum, and it's fluid, meaning it's ever-evolving, just as our bodies are. Accepting our bodies unconditionally is possible. I promise. And the work required to get there is so worth it. Is your journey over or is it just beginning?
by Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
Ahh, the holidays. A time to eat, drink and be merry.
And then the New Year. A time to make resolutions, usually resolving to make up for the ways we feel like we “let ourselves go” in the last year.
Meet these kids:
What do all these kids have in common?
Their parents' influence on their eating & exercise habits. Parents' New Year’s Resolutions and their own eating & exercise habits are a key part of the picture that is painted for kids regarding what it means to be healthy. Parents' behaviors shape their children's thoughts & behaviors related to food & their bodies. Kids also pick up on their parents’ attitudes towards their own bodies, which they internalize and apply to themselves.
OF COURSE these parents had the best of intentions and would never dream of causing harm to their children. I’m not trying to blame or shame these parents in any way.
But we cannot ignore an important lesson here: As parents, our behavior has a huge impact on our kids. And so does the way we feel about & treat our bodies.
Imagine for a moment what it might feel like for your kids to hear us say things like, “I’m so fat,” or, “This year, I'm going to lose 10 pounds?”
They probably think, and I know this through accounts of children I work with, I wish my mom could see that she’s fine the way she is. Or they might think, I must be fat too. I better lose some weight.
It's time we faced some hard truths:
Let me be clear. I don’t believe in any way that parents cause eating disorders. But what I do know is that parents have a profound impact on their children & the way they feel about their bodies. And this impact can be positive or it can be negative.
What if. . .
You didn’t set a New Year’s resolution this year?
You made a New Year’s resolution about something that has nothing to do with food, weight, or exercise?
You resolved to say one positive thing about your body each day?
You stopped trying to lose weight & ate intuitively instead?
Your kids grew up learning to love & treasure their bodies?
THESE are ways you can join the REbeL revolution -- by rebelling against the cultural standard of dieting as a New Year’s resolution. Not only will you be better off for it, but so will your kids. We owe it to this next generation & generations to come to help them embrace their bodies so they can focus their energy on making a positive difference in the world.
by Katy Harvey, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD
Katy is a dietitian and eating disorders expert in Kansas City. She is passionate about the work REbeL does to prevent eating disorders and improve body image & self-esteem in youth. For more information about Katy & her work, visit her blog here.
Arcelus et al. Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders: A Meta-analysis of 36 Studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry.
Dakanalis et al. Risk and maintenance factors for young women’s DSM-5 eating disorders. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2017;20:721.
Jemal et al. (2008), Cancer Statistics, 2008. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2008;58:71–96. doi:10.3322/CA.2007.0010
Neumark-Sztainer, et al., Family Weight Talk and Dieting: How Much Do They Matter for Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviors in
Adolescent Girls? Journal of Adolescent Health. September 2010;47:3 (270-276).
What has your body done for you lately? Take a moment. Take a handful of moments. Could you answer this question? Many cannot.
We Weren't Born Hating Our Bodies
So much of the time, we take our bodies for granted or tear them down. We view of them as something to conquer, a series of flaws to either hide from the world or correct. We weren't born this way. Maybe you can, but chances are, you cannot remember how you felt about your body as a young child. So look to the children around you -- your own children or grandchildren, cousins, nieces & nephews, or your close friends' children. Observe how they talk about food & their bodies. Do you notice any differences in the way you talk about your own body or how others around you talk about theirs? The next time you have a moment to chit-chat with a small child, ask them what they would change about their body if they could. Note how their answer differs from your own. As children are exposed to more & more of the toxic messages around them and soak up comments & behaviors like dieting from the adults around them, a significant shift occurs in the way they view their bodies. And we're seeing this shift occur among children at younger & younger ages. Don't you see? We are conditioned to hate our bodies. We've been brought up in a body-hating collective. And if something does not change, younger generations will follow a similar path. Day in & day out, whether we notice them or not, our brains are flooded with a barrage of messages that keep us stuck in seeing our bodies as problems that need constant fixing -- not just from the media, but likely from the people around us. That is, unless we choose not to be stuck in this rut.
Getting un-stuck & saying "peace out" to our apperance-obsessed culture is not as simple as flipping a switch. In fact, this is very difficult. But not impossible. It just takes work. Sound exhausting? Honestly, it is a little. But the freedom of seeing your body as a friend rather than an enemy is so worth the effort. Believe me. If doing this for yourself doesn't really motivate you, think about the younger children you interact with, maybe even your own. Through your words & actions, you have the power to model body dissatisfaction, and you have equal power to model the opposite.
One key way to be an active participant in opting out of our toxic culture & starting to shift the way we see our bodies is practicing gratitude for all the incredible ways our bodies serve us day after day. Let's try: Has your body recently recovered from an illness? Climbed a mountain? Lifted a heavy object? Comforted a friend with a hug? Allowed you to travel to far-away destinations? Brought a child into the world? Our bodies do so, so much for us. That's their job! There are so many reasons to be grateful for our bodies. It's recognizing them that is the challenge.
Setting an Intention
I challenge you to set an intention to practice body gratitude each day. Just once. When you have a moment to yourself -- on your commute, a break, or as you're brushing your teeth before you hop into bed -- ask yourself this question: What is one thing my body did for me today? If you need to, go so far as to pencil this into your to-do list. For most of us, body gratitude doesn't come naturally. And chances are, you may really have to dig to come up with an answer, at least initially. Just like any other task that takes effort or new skill we learn, practicing body gratitude sometimes requires setting an intention. Give it a try. Maybe even challenge those around you to try it too. It just might catch on.
Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD
From a young age, girls are given guidelines on having a voice and having a body, a firm set of “should’s” and “shouldn’t’s,” like there’s some published book of rules for girls & women.
Don’t sit like that.
Lower your voice. You’re making a scene.
Act like a lady.
Suck your stomach in.
Pictures? Skinny arm, pop a knee.
Boys don’t like a girl who swears.
Be active, but look presentable.
Be strong, but not too muscular.
Be thin, but not too thin.
Be curvy, but not too curvy.
Girls are constantly bombarded with these often conflicting rules. Some we’re told directly. Some we pick up by osmosis. We’re also assigned labels. Some we like. Some we don’t. Some we can change. Some we can’t. Some we can’t change but still want to.
Let me tell you about labels that have been applied to me.
I remember the first time I was called fat. I was in first grade. I was on the playground with my family. There was another boy there. I jumped off a railing and scraped my knees. This boy who saw me fall told me that the reason my knees were so scraped up was because of gravity — because there was so much of me pulling me toward Earth. Before that day, I hadn’t assigned any labels to my body. Nor had anyone else. This was totally foreign to me. Before that day, I had a body. It was just a body.
I also remember the first time I was called too skinny. I was 13 years old and being consumed by my eating disorder. My mom’s friend told me that I would make a good model. She praised how much weight I’d lost since the last time she saw me. Tip: Don’t say this to someone. Ever. You never know what’s happening in someone’s life. My mom shared with her friend the reason I’d been losing weight. And then the conversation changed. Suddenly my thinness was cause for concern.
I spent many years battling an eating disorder. I was controlled by labels, by numbers, controlled by a voice that would never let me win, controlled by a need to look to my weight, my body shape, what I ate, and my exercise routine to feel like I was enough.
I don’t remember a specific day or a specific period in my life, but gradually I started to realize that my body & any labels associated with it do not define me. I started to see the arbitrary nature of labels I’d assigned to myself or that had been assigned to me by others. I started to see that I was enough & that my “enoughness” was not contingent upon my weight or shape, rather it was innate. I realized that the size of my jeans won’t matter when I graduate college. It’s that accomplishment that matters. I realized that how much I weigh won’t matter when I get married. It’s that celebration & the memories that I take from this day that matter. I think we’d all agree with the logic in all of this — that these achievements & milestones matter more than how we look or what we weigh. But sometimes logic isn’t enough. Even if we agree that there are way more important things in life than our appearance, we still seem to get caught in this cycle of negative self-talk & this relentless urge to change our bodies. It’s hard. We live in a culture that keeps bringing us back to seeing our bodies as objects to be viewed, as problems to be solved. As far as I’ve come, I still find myself playing the “should” & “shouldn’t” game and riding the waves of my journey toward body acceptance. The key for me, and what I see as being important for others, has been developing a shield to help me fend off a culture that is out to bring me down. But what’s also been so impactful for me is seeing myself as more than a body.
I am more than a body. We are all more than our bodes. And we are capable of so much more than we realize. But we’re stifled, beat down, and utterly exhausted from the constant monitoring of our bodies & worry about how we are perceived by others. The guidelines we feel bound to hold us back from creativity, success & leadership roles, focus, and joy. Join me in tossing the rule book out the window. Join me in believing you are enough just as you are. Join me in being more than a body.
by Taylor Stout
Junior at University of Kansas – Major: Psychology, Minor: Sociology
I wish you could look into the mirror and see beyond your face, way past the surface to see more. More than what the world sees, more than what your friends see, more than I or even you can see. That is what you are. You are more than any label or stereotype, bigger than any first glance or expectation. You are more.
You are more than all that frustration spent on trying to live up to some ridiculous, unobtainable ideal. You are not your age, not your weight, not your eye color, hair color, skin color. You are much, much more.
You are more than your schedules & routines, habits, and compulsions. More than the chores & homework, more than the job and the role you play. You are everything beyond the impossible projects and all the conflicts you have.
You are more than all of your exceptional high points, more than all of the things that you never want anyone to know about. Anything that you feel ashamed about — you are more than that, more than those secrets you keep bottled up because you think you’d be bothering others if you shared them. You are more than any shortcomings you think you see on the outside, more than any kind of judgment you hastily cast on yourself attempting to be “enough.”
You are more than your place in your family, more than the position in your social circle you happen to fill.
You are more than angry outbursts, more than confusion about the future regarding yourself and the world. You are so much more than all of your nighttime unvoiced fears, more than the sudden tears, the sweeping highs, and rocky lows. More than all the roads you have to walk in between.
You are who you are, and you will always discover new layers, new mores. You are possibility, hope, and ability. You are destiny before it happens, a bird’s first flight before it plummets from the nest for the very first time. You are potential, and you can truly be anything you really want. You can do anything you truly want. You can accomplish things greater than you know. But you have to want to be more.
Because you are also worth more than selling yourself short, more than worrying how you’ll go about doing any one thing. By being who you are, you are already beautiful and special. You are more than beautiful and special.
Have faith. Forget the mirror. Forget what everything around you tells you to be. Be who you are.
REbeL had an incredible 2016 and we wanted to highlight our year for our generous donors in an effort to showcase the terrific outcomes that are generated through REbeL’s curriculum. REbeL truly is made up of a wonderful group of educated, determined students who are committed to redefining beauty for every body. Thank you for your contributions, which help REbeL continue to grow & spread this positive message to so many teens!
My tummy is so happy right now. Actually, my whole body is happy right now. Why? Because I JUST HAD ONE OF THE BEST DOUGHNUTS OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. I LOVE DOUGHNUTS, AND I LOVE NATIONAL DOUGHNUT DAY! (Seriously people, I have been looking forward to this day so much that I had a dream about doughnuts last night.) Except. . . shouldn’t I add a “but” statement to the end of that phrase? That’s what we do in our society, right? I should say, “I LOVE DOUGHNUTS, BUT I’ll have to make up for it in my workout later.” Or shouldn’t all of my food choices prior to and after consuming this doughnut be an intentional compensation for my “transgression?” Or shouldn’t I insert a sneaky face emoji that announces to everyone that I don’t usually allow foods like this into my diet?
Society plays the “good” and “bad” cards a lot, doesn’t it? The good foods are kale (Does anyone actually like kale? I mean, seriously?), fruit, vegetables, nuts, blah, blah, blah. And the bad foods — the ones that we should never eat (unless of course it’s a “cheat day”) — are fast food, fried food, anything that comes out of a box, and now really all foods that contain dairy, gluten, or sugar. Society teaches us that we should ride the “diet train” with a big ol’ smile on our faces and that if a “bad food” sneaks in, we have to qualify it in some way or explain ourselves, either outwardly or in our own heads. We blame our diet slumps on lack of self-control. But why aren’t we blaming the diets themselves or the food rules that bulldoze their way into our conversations and onto our social media feeds? The ones that tear us further and further from trusting our bodies and having a truly healthy and peaceful relationship with food. Every single day, so many of us keep this mental checklist of good and bad foods. The more good foods, the better. Those days we were “good.” Pat on the back, self! And, well, let’s just pretend the days with more bad foods or sometimes any bad foods didn’t happen and start over tomorrow with a clean slate.
Except, my dear friends, this checklist is arbitrary. It’s make-believe. It’s a manifestation of our need for control, to achieve a fundamentally flawed definition of health, or to squeeze into a beauty mold that too is arbitrary, and sometimes all of the above. The truth is that there are no good or bad foods. Well, let me clarify — foods that have fallen on the floor or that are moldy or otherwise poisonous to our bodies? Those are bad. Our bodies need ALL foods. It turns out that those cravings for a salad or sugar or a burger are really a proclamation of what our body is pining for at that moment. Our body is talking to us (How cool is that?!), and how dare we not listen! Shame shouldn’t have a seat at the table in feeding our bodies. Food is food. Think of your body like it’s a car. You “fuel” your car with gasoline because it needs it to run, to take you all the places you need to go. Our bodies (though seriously way more impressive than a car) work are the same way. Food is fuel. While foods vary in terms of nutrient density, this moral hierarchy of foods that we have created results in way more harm than it does good. So go eat that crisp spinach salad, or that mouth-watering burger, or that beautiful bowl of fruit, or that delectable doughnut. (Did I mention that I love donuts?) Because your body needs all of these things! The key is checking in with your body. What is it needing at this moment?
And you know what? It’s okay to have a doughnut any other day of the year too! A day set aside just for doughnuts is just one aspect of our culture surrounding food that is FUN. And further, it’s okay to love food.No, really! It’s woven into various aspects of our lives and our culture, it sustains us and allows us to thrive, and gosh darn-it, eating is a pleasurable experience.
Not too long ago, I let go of food rules, threw out my checklist, and stopped ignoring my body. And here I am, reporting back from the “other side:” I’ve never felt more at peace in my body.
Blogger, College Student, Eating Disorder Survivor, & Intern at REbeL, Inc.
I still remember the first time I heard the term, “Female Athlete Triad,” now termed “Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport” (RED-S) to be more inclusive of males. I was fifteen and had just been diagnosed with two stress fractures in my left leg. My doctor asked me how my eating habits were. Very confused, my mom and I both looked at each other and answered in unison that my eating habits were great. I was the biggest eater in the family. I left the appointment almost offended that he thought I had an eating disorder. I knew what eating disorders were, but I thought they happened to people much older than I was. I knew I had a thin build, but I never thought I looked like those I’d known with eating disorders. I later realized that this conversation was one of the most important conversations I would have as a teenager.
I was always very curious when it came to medical issues and injuries, so I hopped on my computer when I got home to learn more about this “Female Athlete Triad” thing. It didn’t take me long to realize how serious this issue was. While I was not experiencing disordered eating, I did fit the other categories. I was very active, I was underweight, and I was experiencing amenorrhea. I knew that my body was growing and changing and that I really needed to take care of it. I took a long, hard look at my eating and exercise habits and made some changes to ensure that I didn’t continue to follow the path toward developing a full-blown eating disorder.
When my stress fractures healed and I returned to my sports — gymnastics and soccer at the time — I saw things through a different lens. I started to see signs of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among my teammates. In gymnastics, our bodies were constantly on display in our leotards, which were basically swimming suits. It was not uncommon to hear chatter about how “terrible” someone looked on a particular day, how much weight someone wanted to lose, or even whispers about someone purging. These issues were compounded by the fact that our coach would tell certain girls that they could afford to lose five pounds, that it would improve their performance. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. So like so many of us do, I just kept my mouth shut.
As I transitioned to collegiate athletics, I ended up in another sport with a high incidence of eating disorders — cross-country and track & field. Again, I found myself among teammates who very clearly were engaging in disordered eating and other concerning behaviors. And again, I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed quiet. I wanted to tell someone, but I was fearful of betraying my friends and that they would be treated differently if others knew they were struggling. I was also worried about what this might do to our friendship. I did finally muster up the courage to talk to my coach about what I was seeing. He assured me that the best thing I could do was to be honest with my teammates about my concerns. He told me that opening up this line of communication and encouraging my teammates to talk about what they were going through might very well make a difference. I was nervous, but he convinced me that even the slightest chance that a conversation might lead to one of my teammates seeking help made it worth the risk I was taking. He reminded me that the sooner these sorts of issues are addressed, the better, and that the sooner someone gets help, the better. I chose to believe him, and I’m so glad I did. I found that sharing my concerns and shedding light on the issues I was seeing did make a difference among my teammates.
As I got further into my running career and also further into my pre-med studies, I realized that I had developed a passion for trying to understand disordered eating and for helping those struggling, and I was done staying quiet. I tried to be the best example I can be — never engaging in body-bashing, practicing balance and flexibility in the way I fuel my body and train — while also labeling myself as someone people could come to talk to about their struggles. I’ve never claimed to be an expert, but what I did and still claim to be is a role model, an ear, an ally, and an advocate. The world of collegiate athletics is a breeding ground for eating disorders. Change begins with speaking up about eating disorders. Change begins with providing support instead of staying quiet and letting the issues continue to fester.
by Courtney Rose Frerichs
Courtney is a 2016 Olympian and NCAA record holder in the 3K Steeplechase. She has a B.S. in Chemistry from UMKC and is a graduate student in the Community Health Education program at University of New Mexico. She’s an eating disorder community ally & advocate.
When I was 13 years old, I remember crying about my body for the first time. I noticed fat under my chin and that it made itself visible when I smiled or laughed or did anything other than staying completely still, facing straight ahead, like a mannequin. I remember saying to myself, “I have to stop eating.” It was almost automatic — my decision that because I had some extra “squish”on my face, that meant I was fat, disgusting, and needed to fix it fast. It was a feeling of true desperation. Even as a very little girl, I was very conscious of the fact that skinny was beautiful and that I needed to do everything I could to get there. I had no idea that these thoughts would manifest themselves into such harmful behaviors as I grew older, but they did.
Here’s a little glance into my eating disorder at its worst: I always had a BMI calculator bookmarked online, right up there with YouTube and my other favorite websites. Periodically I would type in my height and weight, making certain that I fell into the “underweight” category. I craved the satisfaction of knowing that I was, without a doubt, skinny. As I grew, I sometimes found myself in the “normal” category. When that happened, I would go into panic mode. I also used to do sit-ups before bed every single night. The number varied based on how “good” or “bad” I had been that day in terms of what I’d eaten. I used to blame every bad day, every fight with a friend, and every spat with my parents on me being fat. In my mind, it was clear — if I was skinnier, I would be happier, smarter, more attractive, and just better in every sense of the word.
When I was a freshman in high school, I started seeing a therapist. At some point, she told me, “These thoughts aren’t normal. You’re healthy. You’re beautiful.” That was the day she revealed to me that I had body dysmorphic disorder. Finally, after years of thinking that everything I was doing was in the name of health, I realized that I had a problem. Nothing was the same from then on. With time, I started to realize that my body was beautiful. I started to become more aware of all the amazing things my body could do. I felt and still sometimes feel sadness about how much hate I felt for my body — this beautiful creation I have been given and have the pleasure to live in every day — but I know that it’s all just a part of my journey.
I wish I could tell you that I’m free of all those thoughts and that I’m immune to triggers that sometimes cause me to focus on what I want to change about my body. I wish I woke up every single day and said to myself, “Wow, Natalia. You’re amazing. I wouldn’t change a single thing about you.” But that isn’t how life works, and that certainly isn’t how recovering from body dysmorphic disorder works. For me, staying in recovery is a constant work in progress. Every day, I make a conscious effort to thank my body for doing the fantastic things it does for me. I tune in to all of the muscles in my body, and I remind myself that they work so hard for me when I am dancing, running, teaching swimming lessons, or simply walking up a flight of stairs. There is so much more to my existence and YOUR existence than the amount of fat that is under your skin, the size of your jeans, the amount of weight you can lift or miles you can run, or what foods you eat.
I am proud of how far I have come. I am proud that I was able to combat the illness that has tried so hard to take me down and had access to the help I needed. And I am so delighted to be a part of REbeL, an organization that makes such powerful strides in changing the way young people see themselves. I am honored to be an agent of change in this world. I want nothing more than for every child, teen, and adult to love themselves relentlessly. I know that someday, this will be a reality. I have no doubt.
by Natalia Kidder
Senior | Shawnee Mission Northwest High School
Natalia is 18 years old and ready to make a change for her sisters, her friends, her future children and anyone in the world who has ever thought they weren’t absolutely dazzling.
Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website to learn more about eating disorders.
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