One of my closest friends used to ask me, “How come you always compliment me and tell me I’m perfect? Can’t you see I’m far from perfect? My hips are too big. I have so much ‘fat’ I could hibernate like a bear!” My friend would always criticize herself in this way and obsessively examine her physical appearance in mirrors. No matter how hard she tried, she could not see the perfection I saw when looking at her. I didn’t see her “big hips” or the fat she claimed she had. I simply saw one of my best friends—one of my amazing, incredible, perfect best friends. After years of pestering me with “how come”s and “why”s, I finally decided to reveal how I, a 21-year-old college student (nothing special) could see perfection in every human being in my life. How I, a 21-year-old college student could see every females’ physical appearance as perfect.
I used to be on a journey towards perfection. This journey lasted for years. My journey towards perfection was filled with tears, numbness, hatred, anxiety, endless nights of screaming, and torture. But my journey is the reason I am here. My journey is the reason I am the way I am. My journey is why my eyes aren’t tainted with unrealistic images. Instead, my eyes are clear; my eyes are capable of seeing perfection.
It all began in high school. In my first year, I felt pressure to have the perfect body. I saw that adolescent girls in my grade kept food journals, plastered their lockers with pictures of models, and talked about how they hated their bodies. I secretly watched their behavior and noticed that I did not look like the women they wanted to be. Many of them had long flowing hair, a flawless complexion free from blemishes, perfectly shaped eyebrows, sea-glass eyes, a medium-sized nose, pink-petal colored lips, and a toned, petite body. These women were absolutely flawless, and I was in awe of their appearance. But, I kept quiet. I didn’t tell my mother, my sister, or my friends how the behavior and thoughts of a group of girls became trapped in my mind like my favorite song. Instead, I began questioning myself and my physical appearance. Am I ugly? Am I fat? These questions surrounded me 24/7.
My journey towards perfection then began—but really, it was my journey towards self-destruction and the beginnings of a war against my body. I began exercising excessively. My mother kept workout DVDs by the television and they became my best friends. I would pop in a tape and workout in the morning. Afternoon. Night. It didn’t matter what time. I finished sixty-minute tapes, feeling nauseous afterwards. My body ached, my muscles were sore, my head was pounding, and my stomach felt like it was doing somersaults; about to reject the food I had eaten. Over time, I grew accustomed to the crappy feeling I got after exercising constantly. I didn’t cry for fear of throwing up. I didn’t scream from the pain in my muscles every time I stood up or walked somewhere. The crappy feeling always remained with me, but my body wasn’t changing. I wasn’t getting the perfect physical appearance I desperately desired, and the hatred for my body began.
I spent hours looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you,” I would yell at my reflection. My hands touched my hips, my stomach. I saw and felt a handful of fat. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. Hot tears streamed down my face. I’d never hated anything with such a passion before; and now, here I was, filled with so much hatred for myself and my physical appearance. I tortured myself with what seemed like endless days of exercise, and the torture continued when I stopped eating. At first, I drastically decreased how much I ate while still exercising morning, noon, and night. Then, I stopped eating all together.
In school, it was easy to throw food away. No one asked questions. No one cared. I didn’t face the burden and the anxiety of having to explain myself, my thought process, my hate, to someone else. I was able to keep all my thoughts and my hatred inside. At home it was a bit more difficult and anxiety-producing. What would my mom think? My sisters? However, I soon became an expert at giving food to the dog. He deserved it more than me. He didn’t need to control his weight, to look a certain way, to be thin, to strive for perfection. He wasn’t damaged. But I was. I was damaged. I claimed warfare against my body on a journey towards perfection.
Once I started exercising a lot and starving myself, the torture continued, increased; it became like a drug to me. It was worse at night. In my dark bedroom, my protruding bones would jab into my mattress causing me major discomfort. My stomach would growl, gurgle, gnaw at my insides. The pain brought tears to my eyes; I would toss and turn in bed screaming. This was the torture I deserved, I thought, and it felt worth it once I fit into size zero jeans.
Sometimes I was forced to eat but the food wouldn’t stick. For me, this was just another form of torture. I’d run to the bathroom. The pain in my stomach was so severe I would struggle to breathe. I would get dizzy, sweaty, and my head would start to pound. I would lie on the cold bathroom floor holding my stomach. Then, eventually, everything I just consumed would be gone. I was now 90 pounds. I stopped menstruating. I was tired constantly. I had no energy and I needed to push myself to the brim in order to finish exercising. My hair started falling out. First some strands here and there, then in clumps. But that didn’t matter. Oh no. I was finally thin and pretty. So close to perfection. Thin. Pretty. But was I happy?
Eventually, I needed to get help. I wasn’t healthy: I was fading. Everyone around me could see it. I couldn’t hide things anymore. My exhaustion. My pain. My starvation. Once this realization hit me, I went to the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror and examined myself. This wasn’t the person I used to be, and this woman in front of me, looking back at me, wasn’t thin, wasn’t pretty. This woman in front of me was sick—so very sick, on the verge of hospitalization. I knew then that I was going to get help no matter what. My parents would force me. Other family members would force me. And deep down inside I knew that I would force me, too.
After I got heathy, it took me a long time before I was ready to look at my body in the mirror. When I did, I was surprised. Not at my appearance, because I knew that I gained weight, but at my reaction. I heard many stories that looking in the mirror after recovery is traumatic for some and that it may trigger disordered eating behavior again. But I surprised myself. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a healthy, peachy young woman. I saw a young woman with a fuller face, a radiant complexion, and sparkling eyes. I saw a young woman with shiny, long, healthy hair. I saw a young woman with gorgeous hips and curves. Yes, hips and curves!!! I saw when I looked in my mirror, PERFECTION. I was absolutely perfect in every way. I was healthy. I was glowing. I was perfect.
So, when my friends ask me how I can see perfection in them, it’s actually quite simple. Through my journey, I’ve realized that we are all perfect and beautiful. We shouldn’t strive to change ourselves and what we have. It leads us down dangerous paths; we hurt ourselves, we torture ourselves, we are cruel to ourselves, and we only experience pain and endless suffering. Attempting to change ourselves is what ruins our perfection. If you’re reading this, I want you to know that you should never, ever desire to change yourself. Do not journey towards perfection because you don’t need it: you’re already perfect as you are. Instead, take a journey towards happiness, laughter, adventures—because it’s so much more worth it. My friends may complain about their physical appearances, but they do not try to change their appearances. They do not exercise too much or starve themselves. Instead, they glow, they are healthy, and they nourish and nurture their bodies. When I look at them, all I see is perfection; and frankly, that’s the way it should always be.
Marisa Chiorello is a 20-something, in search of her path on the merry-go-round. English/Women’s and Gender Studies major, semi-professional advice giver on positive body image, self-love, and all things life related. Lover of tea, black and white movies, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. You can find on Twitter: @justmarisaxox