As someone who spent a decade of her life battling disordered eating and vacillating between hating my body and wishing it would bring me total fulfillment, I can speak to the complexities of body image and fashion. A main influence in my personal story was around my identity as a ballerina, and believing that the only beautiful or acceptable body type was a thin one. While giving corrections at the barre, the guest instructor sharply poked my stomach and loudly declared that if I didn't want people to think I was a marsupial I should get rid of my pouch. I was 13. I didn't eat dinner that night, and from that moment on I was no longer concerned with what my body could do or how I treated it. Only with how it looked, and what others thought of it.
Many other pieces of my beliefs were formed by media and culture. I bought into the lie that I would be good enough when I hit a certain size or weight, and anything other than that magic number was futile and lacking. I also believed that I was somehow more important or desirable if I was wearing one label over another.
Now I see it all so differently. If I jam myself into a smaller size dress because I think that makes me more valuable or “attractive”, I’m not honoring my body as it was created. If I obsess with staying up with the latest trend or only buying that certain brand because of how it makes me feel about my own identity, I am finding too much satisfaction in letting others define what beautify is. This is especially true if this fruitless search is at the expense of another’s dignity and compromises ethical values.
This complexity doesn’t mean we should resign ourselves to wearing burlap sacks. It calls for authenticity. It means we can choose to take care of our bodies and how we display them. We can make choices based out of love, not fear. I can choose to wear the size dress that I actually comfortably fit into, not a different size I deem more “worthy”. I can choose a certain style dress because it accentuates my awesome waist, not because I’m trying to hide some perceived flaw. I can be confident in my choices, but not consumed by them. I can recognize that while my identity is not found in being physically attractive and fashionable, I can still enjoy my unique beauty and bring it to life through the clothes I choose to wear. I can make clothing choices that align with my personal values that bring dignity to myself and to the hands that made my clothes. I can focus more on the things that matter and choose to love my body, not fight it.
Ten years ago, when I entered the recovery process for my own disordered eating and body image issues, I never would have believed I could ever be satisfied with my appearance without constant striving. Now, almost a decade into a recovery, I know the truth. I don’t need to live a fearful war with my body. I can relish unearthing the unique beauty that lives within me.
Christine is the Executive Director of Rock Recovery, a nonprofit supporting the journey to freedom from disordered eating. She is pictured with Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008, a special guest host at Rock Recovery’s Building Bridges annual celebration.