“You’re only popular with anorexia, so I turn myself inside out; in hopes someone will see.” -Tori Amos

There’s a societal problem that has become a virulent disease; a pervasive and detrimental ailment striking much our culture, specifically women. The issue at play here is that of body image. Our self esteems have become so intrinsically linked to, not only our appearances, but more accurately our perceptions of our appearances. I think we all know someone whom we consider to be beautiful who insists that she’s not. It’s funny how two relatively sane people can look at the exact same image and see two contrary things. I myself consider my viewpoint to be the tiebreaker and say so on more than one occasion.

It is estimated that one in four female college students engages in at least one form of unhealthy dieting including fasting, excessive exercising, self-induced vomiting (bulimia) and laxative abuse. As a conscience-driven human, this concerns me; as mother of a young daughter, it terrifies me.

I want to take this opportunity to provide a disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been anorexic. As I have a mortal fear of vomiting (God and I have a recently arrived at agreement that this will never be required of me again. I’ll let you know how that goes), I can also attest to the fact that I have never been bulimic.  However, if we’re being honest–let’s face it, I generally am on this blog–I definitely suffered from a recurring fear of weight gain. Not just a fear, rather a phobia. It becomes less and less severe as I age, but for all of my teen years (damn those teen years) and a decent portion of my twenties it was a haunting specter hovering in the rear portion of my mind, mocking me. “What if you become fat?” it taunted, bastard that it was.

In round after round I battled this ghost that seemed determined to get the better of me. Part of my awesomeness I attribute to being stubborn. While stubbornness has an ugly side known as being pigheaded, it has several other less negative adjectives that fall under its umbrella: driven, resilient and tenacious to name a few. It was these more appealing characteristics I endeavored to affect as I fought an exhausting battle to not give into this insidious little monster of poor self esteem. And then the Universe stepped in.

I was given the opportunity to work as a personal trainer and it was a phenomenally cathartic experience. It kind of reminded me of when Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas present go to visit people completely unseen. They witness the tribulations of people and the dire circumstances of lives to which Scrooge had never been privy. I served as a therapist of sorts to the women I worked with and became a spectator in the growth they each were endeavoring to experience, both physically and emotionally. I heard all about marital problems and issues with children as well as the day-to-day struggles involved in losing weight and creating a healthier existence for themselves. In case it wasn’t obvious, I love people and I’m very observant. I love the stories they tell, especially the inadvertent ones. This experience was like hitting emotional pay dirt.

The reasons for poor self esteem, especially as it pertains to body  image, are actually less clear than they usually appear to be on the surface. They often hearken to a time in a person’s past when they were abused, neglected or mocked. Or perhaps experienced a failure so detrimental as to damage them almost irreparably. Coping can take on the form of self-medicating through food and often times there’s an attitude of “I’m not worth being thin,”  or “I’m just fat and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

It breaks my heart that these are attitudes that some of our brains will accept as gospel; that there is anyone on this planet who believes she’s not worthy of being healthy. That there’s anyone who doesn’t deserve to look in the mirror and like what they see, is a sad and frustrating.

Karen Carpenter before (R) and after (L) losing her battle with Anorexia.

We all know the story of Karen Carpenter and her succumbing to the deadly disease of anorexia, but does someone’s suffering ever become cliche?

I have a high self esteem. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of my flaws, perhaps more than most. I just don’t care much. I still have this undercurrent of fear regarding weight gain, because I’ve seen some people very close to me succumb to it and acquire serious health issues as well as an abundance of low self worth. But, overall I”m pretty good at accepting Holl as she is. I work hard to make myself better, but there are days when, after the rituals of daily preparation are completed, I’m surprised when I look in the mirror. I’m surprised that I’m not the physically awkward girl from junior high. That I’m not a head taller than the boys sporting a mess of frizzy hair and a bounty of tiny red facial bumps that can only be attributed to the ever-heinous culprit: eczema. Another instance of not being fair to myself; of not giving myself credit. Of refusing to let go of past self-image issues and embrace my strong suits.

It doesn’t matter whether its our weight, our skin, our teeth, our cup size, if we stay mired in a place of insecurity that place eventually will become one of self-loathing and eventually self-abuse.

So maybe when someone compliments us, we should cleave to those things. Adhere to the good things about each of us. Put them in our journals and shoe boxes; create a life’s scrapbook of all of our successes rather than a tally sheet of failures.  Create a better world for ourselves, our mothers, sisters, friends and especially daughters. One woman at a time.



“Accept yourself as you are right now; an imperfect, changing, growing and worthy person.”  -Denis Waitley