Author: Alyssa Renee Hardy
I weighed myself at my doctor’s office last week and realized something that would have been horrific to me in the past. I’ve gained forty pounds since my days doing freelance modeling in college. The crazy part is: I’m okay. Not terrific, not elated, but I am okay. I am trying to change my vision of beauty standards from that of being a rail-thin model to having curves. The modeling industry contorted my view of body image in ways that, to an extent, will never go away.
Bipolar has always made my eating disorder more of a challenge. I have a high-anxiety type of bipolar, and often that anxiety focuses full-force on my body image. I experience body dysmorphia, meaning I actually physically see myself as ‘fat’ even when I was a size 0. I used to eat two meals a day: shrimp and vegetables sautéed in olive oil for lunch and one medium-sized meal for dinner.
I used to get dizzy, confused, and nauseous. When I’d come home from college on holidays, my dad would tell me “You need to eat a burger,” and my friends would say they were so jealous. I would shy away from the conversation. What could they be jealous of? I had so much more weight to lose.
My goal weight was 120 pounds. At 5’ 9’’, this is just below a healthy BMI. It is important to note that some women are naturally that skinny. They don’t need to try: their bodies are made to have barely any fat. My adult body can only reach 132 under extreme levels of starvation. This frustrated and upset me to no end.
For the past three years, I have been working in therapy to try to let go. Now, I don’t mean let go as in gain so much weight that it’s unhealthy in the opposite way. I needed to let go of my desire to be a size that my body isn’t made for. I had to crack the illusion. While working on my body dysmorphia and bipolar, I struggled with accepting the weight I gained from antipsychotics and from lying in bed all day for months at a time. With all the focus on improving my mental health, I also lost the motivation to work out. These factors put together made me gain weight and I became extremely unhappy with myself. I stopped having my photo taken, and couldn’t stop touching and looking at my stomach.
Now, after years of progress, I look at my stomach in the mirror and I tell myself: I am healthy, and I am beautiful. I wear crop tops on purpose to take pride in my body. I restrict only when it benefits my health. I still think about my body, but it’s not a constant cycle of thoughts anymore. Through therapy, I have gained the skills I need to put those thoughts on the backburner and focus on something else. I still self-check in the mirror at least three times a day, but it’s certainly better than checking every time I walk past a mirror!
Something that has helped me a lot is looking at Greek and Roman statues. The women in these statues have real curves, and their stomachs have meat to them. If you can redefine your beauty standards with a figure, such as a celebrity or a musician, you can change the dysmorphic process in your head to fit a new standard of ideals. I’m not saying everything’s perfect now. However, it’s an improvement that I’ll take. Every day is a struggle to manage my bipolar and eating disorder, but I’m happy to be making steps in the right direction.