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The Mental Struggle With My Body - By Belen Torres

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    Ever since I was about five years old, I can remember always being the “gordita,” meaning “chubby girl” in Spanish. I started ballet classes at that age, and I was soon removed by my mom and placed into a different type of dance class. Not too long after the switch, I heard my mom telling a friend of hers she had taken me out of ballet classes because in her opinion, I was too heavy for that genre of dance. Althogh I didn’t think much about it at the time, I now realize that experience, along with many others, had a major impact on my relationship with myself today.

    All through elementary school and middle school, I was bullied for being fat. The most challenging school year was my 7th grade year. Jackie, a girl in my band class, who I never even had a full conversation with, would come up to me daily, to tell me how disgusting I was for being so fat. On one occasion, our school band was invited to join one of the high school bands during a football game. While the high school band was warming up, my friends and I were just having fun and dancing to the music. Jackie walked up to us and said, “Belen, you really should stop dancing, all I see is your fat hanging out everywhere.” Sadly, it was not just at school that I would be body-shamed.

    My mom most likely felt she was being helpful with the comments she would constantly make; however, she unintentionally taught me, my worth was defined by my appearance. I would constantly be told not to wear certain clothing because I did not have the body type for it. On many occasions even more recently, she would say, “Since you and I don’t have nice bodies we cannot wear…” and would proceed to say whatever she had to say in that moment. Good or bad, my mom and the rest of my family have made several comments regarding my body. I was constantly compared to my sister and cousins who were all thin. When I was only eleven years old, I began taking weight loss pills and would try different ones since that time, all through high school. My four years of high school I was no longer chubby but I was still extremely insecure and constantly wondering how big or small I looked to others. A year after graduating high school, and exactly one month before my 19th birthday, I had my first born, a precious baby boy.

    My body changed a lot after having my son and I had a hard time “snapping back” to my pre-pregnancy size. Not long after giving birth, my son’s dad and I met my family at the movie theater. The first thing my mom said to me when she saw me was, “I have told you so many times not to wear that shirt. It is very unflattering on you.” Any time my mom would make those types of hurtful comments and I got upset, her response was always, “I tell you these things for your own good.” Right before my son’s third birthday, his dad and I broke up and I started engaging in restrictive dieting and intense exercise for over two hours, five to six days a week. I was determined to get my “revenge body”.

    It had finally happened, I was the smallest size I had ever been, but the number on the scale just did not meet my expectations and that was my hyper fixation, the number. I guess it didn’t help that when I would get complimented for my transformation and would share that excitement with my mom, she would respond with, “Yes, you have lost lots of weight, and you could still lose more.” Oh how I lived for those compliments and the attention I would receive. Any time I knew a man found me attractive, I would feel like I was finally accomplishing something major in life. Even with all these compliments and attention however, I was still very insecure with myself and constantly worried about how I looked. I s1tarted restrictive dieting again and decided to hire a personal trainer.

    Working out has always been a hobby for me. I genuinely enjoy working out and feeling my body getting stronger and building endurance. I went to the academy in Tucson, Az to become a correctional officer where I ended up receiving an award for the female top achiever in physical fitness. While working with my trainer, I learned so much and built a lot of muscle yet I was still unsatisfied with that number on the scale. I would take tons of pictures and compare them to old photos of me. I would zoom in on every picture and if I saw any kind of flaw I would tell myself I needed to work harder and lose more weight. At one point, I posted before and after photos and one particular post I now regret, was a comparison of my toned body at that time, and a picture of chubby nine year old me. The caption I had written said, “I hate the word fat, but who is the fat kid now?” I always considered myself to be someone who was against bullying and I would never make comments or jokes about anyone’s appearance, except for when it came to me of course. I would always say I did not want to get pregnant again for fear of gaining weight and not being able to lose it.

    In 2019 I found out I was pregnant with my second child. During this time, COVID-19 had come and everything changed. The gym having to close was a bit saddening but I was not about to let that get in the way of my fitness goals. Every morning before work I would go to a nearby park to run and do some workouts with the equipment I had. I worked out my entire pregnancy expecting it to help me lose the baby weight faster. Friends and family would say that I was going to be back to my pre-pregnancy size in six months tops, with how much exercise I had been doing all nine months. In August of 2020, I gave birth to my precious baby girl.

    Only three weeks postpartum, I was getting impatient with the way my body looked and frustrated that none of my clothes fit. I decided to go to the gym which caused me some complications so I had no choice but to wait for my checkup and approval from my doctor to be able to workout again. Months went by, I was working out every morning and no matter how many hours of sleep I got, whether it was four hours or seven, I would get up and go. I became a stay at home mom and would wait to eat until my spouse got home. Before I knew it, I was heavier than I had ever been in my life. One day, I came across a post on Instagram regarding intuitive eating, intuitive exercise, and body positivity. I began following other influencers, dietitians, and trainers promoting that same mindset and lifestyle. I read books, would listen to audiobooks, and I would share on social media what I was learning, in hopes that others would find it helpful.

    Intuitive eating and exercise is basically about learning to listen to your body and its hunger cues, along with learning how to let your body rest or take it easy during workouts. I would share several posts discussing this and the benefits of this lifestyle. Some of the things the posts said were along the lines of allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you want and enjoy in order for it to lose its power over you in a sense, so eventually you no longer feel out of control around those foods. Some other posts talked about weight loss not being truly beneficial and I started to build a narrow mindset around weight loss. I wanted everyone to agree with me and no longer feel the need to lose weight. Although I never argued or said anything to anyone directly, I would get so upset when people shared before and after photos thinking of it as a bad thing and feeling like they did not listen to what I shared. I began telling myself I still wanted to workout but did not desire to lose weight or shrink my body. Deep down I knew I was lying to myself but I thought if I just continued telling myself the same thing repeatedly, I would eventually truly feel that way. There was so much criticism within the body positivity community when singer Adele and actress Rebel Wilson had major body transformations. So many got angry at them for losing weight and getting thinner, as if they were responsible for our insecurities and healing. This is a community that constantly preaches no one owes and explanation for their weight gain. That is when I began questioning what it is I was really advocating for. If I want to influence others to be body positive, shouldn’t that mean everyone should be allowed to do what they wish with their bodies without having to explain themselves? If no one owes and explanation for their weight gain, shouldn’t that apply for those who lose weight as well? I began to realize, I went from one tunnel vision to another and I needed to find a balance for myself.

    Friends would reach out to me and tell me how much they appreciated my posts. A lot of them would share with me some of their experiences with body dissatisfaction, or body dysmorphia and some would even open up to me about eating disorders they struggled with. It is important to point out the stigma with eating disorders. A close friend of mine struggled with an eating disorder known as, bulimia nervosa. Unfortunately, because of his larger body size and simply for being a male, he would get invalidated by the people he reached out to for help. Thankfully my friend was able to overcome his struggle with the eating disorder itself, but the body insecurities are still a struggle for him. Even though I was reading, learning, and sharing all about body positivity, I still felt like I did not recognize the person I saw when I looked in the mirror. There were so many days that I would just cry because I would see old photos of myself where I was much smaller, yet I never saw myself that way in that time. I could not stand the way I looked. I knew I did not want my kids to feel the way I did so I decided to seek help and started seeing a psychologist as well as a psychiatrist.

    I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and was prescribed medications for all three. The medication has definitely helped me however, I don’t think I could have gotten as far as I have without my counselor. Through my therapy sessions I have learned, my entire life I was seeking approval from others, especially approval from my mom. I always considered myself as someone who isn’t a bully, someone who does not judge or make fun of others for the way that they look, I never realized I was in fact being a bully all this time. I was so hateful and mean to myself. I spoke to myself in ways I would never speak to anyone, especially not the people I love and care about. I have learned that it’s great to have health and fitness goals, but I am so much more than my body. I have learned that there is a middle ground, if people do not wish to change their bodies that is perfectly okay and up to them, but I am not a hypocrite or a bad person for wanting to lose weight and change the way my body looks. I cannot say I never struggle with my self confidence anymore because I still do. It has been years and years of me struggling to accept myself, feeling so much shame I avoid socializing, miss out on making memories with my loved ones, and avoid going to the doctor for fear of judgment. I go to doctor’s appointments and because of my BMI (Body Mass Index), they tell me all my problems can be solved through weight loss. They do not believe me when I say I strive to live a balanced lifestyle. Because of my struggles through all these years, it will take lots of work but it is not impossible and it will get easier as I continue to work on it. I recently started consultations with a RDN (Registered Dietician Nutritionist), who is amazing and has taught me slow weight loss is much more sustainable and healthy than fast weight loss and it does not have to be a miserable journey of restriction.

    My RDN has advised me to add certain habits into my daily life that will help me but also reminds me at every appointment, not to hyperfixate on anything. Stress can really play a role in weight and obsessing over numbers and trying to be perfect every single day can be counterproductive. Rest is extremely important so I have really been prioritizing sleep, rest days from the gym, and just working on balancing everything out without beating myself up on the days when things don’t go as planned. I have learned all foods can be a part of a balanced diet and I do not have to restrict myself from anything to make progress. In just the short time I have been working on all of this, I already feel and see a difference. People still make comments that trigger me at times but I remind myself that we have been raised to think our bodies have to look a certain way and to moralize food. I remind myself of these things because there will always be people who disagree with me and no one is responsible for my healing but me. It is up to me to learn to love myself and break that cycle for my kids. It is up to me to stop living for approval of my size from others and learn to work toward my own goals and be happy with myself regardless of what others think or say.

    I hope my story can bring awareness and help anyone facing similar struggles. I hope anyone who recently gave birth can enjoy their precious baby instead of giving into the pressures of “getting their body back”. I hope we can all just let others exist in whatever size they are and know that it is okay to want to lose weight and set goals to look a certain way but it is also okay if people do not have a desire to change and are comfortable as they are. Bodies come in many different shapes and sizes. The health and fitness world is full of people in bodies of different shapes and sizes, we just do not see very much body diversity on those types of ads.“I chose to be fit, I did not choose to be obese” (Anonymous). Remember, you are so much more than your appearance or a number on the scale.

    The Mental Struggle With My Body - By Belen Torres is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Belen Torres at Pima Community College.