If you asked me to pick my favorite physical feature, aside from, like, vital organs, it would always be my legs.
I have body dysmorphia, and while I struggle to see most of my body objectively, I’ve always loved my legs. As a teenager, I was aware that they jiggled when I walked and spread out when I sat down, but I didn’t care. They were long and relatively slim, and looked good in denim miniskirts (which I wore, proudly, all the time).
When I was 24, I developed anorexia.
My reflection showed bones and angles where once there had been gentle, rounded flesh. I knew that I was dangerously unwell — but losing weight, pushing to see how far I could go, became an obsession.
I’d never aspired to get a thigh gap, and I certainly would never have encouraged anyone else to try. But we’re often so much kinder to others — so much better at seeing how they’re hurting themselves — than we are at identifying our own harmful attempts at meeting a standard that society has created for us.
My legs — which used to wobble gleefully when I ran upstairs to grab something, when I sat cross-legged on my bed, when I strutted down the street to my favorite song — became frail, spindly sticks, bowing at the top.
As I got dressed one day, I put on a pair of skinny jeans several sizes smaller than anything I’d ever owned. I looked in the mirror. Even though I now had the kind of thin body so often celebrated in the media, I didn’t look like a sexy supermodel. The tight cut of the jeans, sadly baggy on me, made me look like a child. I stuffed them at the back of my wardrobe. I was ashamed. I was lost.
The only time I’ve ever cried in a changing room was when I was anorexic. I looked in the mirror, illuminated in that clinical fluorescent glare, and no longer recognized myself.
Luckily I was able to get help. I slowly started putting weight back on. Now, I had to deal with seeing those empty spaces filling out again as those bones disappeared under a healthy cushion of soft flesh. It was scary; the curse of anorexia is that when you do manage to start fighting it, the bit of your brain that has driven you to lose all that weight tells you that you’re failing, that you’re quitting, that you’re losing control. But actually, you’re taking back your right to have a body that is free to bounce and jiggle and eat and take up as much space as it needs.
Gradually, my body came back to life, and I came back to it. As I explored all the things I could do again, I noticed my legs getting bigger. I still didn’t covet a thigh gap, not out loud, but I was uncomfortable. I felt like my slim legs were the things I could turn to for a confidence boost when I didn’t feel so good about any other part of my body.
By then, however, I was exhausted with hating myself. I was tired of constantly picking apart how I thought I looked. If I couldn’t get an objective perspective on my own, I would find it from other women.
I found blogs, Instagram feeds, books, and articles by body positive campaigners, like the fantastic Jes Baker, Lindy West, and Megan Jayne Crabbe; women who had decided to rewire their minds instead of bullying their bodies.
With their words in my head, I faced my growing anxiety directly. I looked in the mirror. I looked at how my thighs touched. How strong they looked, and how they jiggled. I looked at my cellulite. And instead of conjuring up a comparative image of what my legs “should” look like, I just looked.
And I realized that when I shoved all the “shoulds” aside, I liked them. I liked that they jiggled. I liked that they touched. I loved that they were strong.
Whether or not you have body dysmorphia, everyone has struggled to reconcile what they’re seeing in the mirror with what they’ve been told they should look like, and how they feel on the inside. You can’t turn these voices off — but you can choose which one you want to listen to.
Choose a voice that loves you.