I’ve had body issues since I was kid. No matter how many diet plans and crunches I do, genetics beats me. In third grade, I weighed more than double the average Filipino kid that a teacher assigned me the role of a pig in a school play – pig mask, twirly tail, pink tights and shirt, the whole shebang.
I would spend the next decade on on-and-off crazed diet formulas and extreme exercises, swinging from thin to ultra-heavy. In college, 5’3″ and 145 pounds, with a waistline that spanned 34 inches and fed up with people calling me “fat Buddha” and “gross”, I bought a pair of jeans with a 27-inch waistline and vowed to never stop exercising and dieting until I’ve downsized to that frame.
But I didn’t stop at 27 inches.
I stuck photos of people who teased me on our ab roller – an hour every morning, plus an hour biking in the afternoon and two hours on a Sky walker until 1 to 2 am. I kept a calorie journal, eating only a piece of Oreo or saltine biscuit or two leaves of bland lettuce or a few pieces of tomatoes or carrot sticks daily. During occasions when I had to eat normally to avoid being discovered, I’d run to the restroom and ram my fingers down my throat, expelling everything I ingested to the last grain of rice.
During this time, I also discovered pro-anorexia websites that taught about “control, control, control”. In one, I met Toni, a half-Italian, half-American teen who became my “ana buddy” – a fellow anorexic who you help motivate to curb eating and vice-versa. In one email, I told her, “Do you feel like you want to change? That you want to start eating normally again, because what you’re doing is wrong? That’s how I feel. But I can’t stop.”
She ghosted me after that. I never found out if it’s because she felt disgusted, if she started eating healthy, or if she died from complications. Up to 20 percent of people who suffer from anorexia do.
Within months, I weighed a mere 97 pounds. My waistline was only 25 inches. I’m fairly big-boned, so even then, I didn’t appear to be textbook anorexic. I loathed myself for still looking the way I did. It wasn’t about appearance anymore. It was about having control. Because at 18, I felt I had none in in my life. I had a goldmine of deep, unresolved issues, from feeling abandoned to sexual abuse. My body was the only thing I had total control of, so I tried to control it in every imaginable way for more than a year.
I kept that affliction secret. Until now.
This imperfect body that I have is a result of decades of one-woman work. It took me this long to be this bold enough to finally share it and say I am no longer ashamed of this body. This body is a map of my history. It shows me where I’ve been; where I’m going. It was the crucible of a new life – a life that took me out of the pits. It’s not perfect by a long shot (the doctor says I am actually a bit overweight), but it’s the only body I will ever have.
I am fortunate to have women in my life who empower me by loving what I have and seeing beyond how I look. Friends who don bikinis despite glaring imperfections and never engage in toxic and conformist views of how a “great body” looks.
But not everyone is so lucky.
Nobody wants to talk about unsightly imperfections. Everybody wants to show perfect lives on social media. But don’t flaws and scars also make up the sum of who we are?
There’s a huge difference between criticizing to encourage improvements and tearing down one’s spirit. If we truly want to empower our kids, our women to love themselves, we have to start with our own perceptions. Surround ourselves with non-judgmental people. Watch what we say about other people’s bodies and our own. Dare to see differently than what we’ve grown accustomed to as a society. Stop seeing all flaws as negative. Sometimes, when we dig deeper, we’ll find that flaws and scars actually tell pretty amazing stories – some worth keeping for life.