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.
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