On Body Positivity

Yesterday, I decided to take a leap of faith. I posted a current picture on Facebook of me in a dress, juxtaposed with another picture of me, 20 lbs thinner, in the same dress, taken in March. My intent was to promote body positivity: the idea that beauty exists at any size. I also wanted to come clean, admit that when I was that thin, I was struggling with the throes of my eating disorder. I was working out for hours at the gym and taking diet pills to stave off my appetite. What I did not expect after posting was both the embarrassment and the overwhelming support that I would feel.

Although I received comments from people, stating things such as, “You are my inspiration!” and “You have always been beautiful inside and out,” I couldn’t help but prod at the way the picture looked. Thoughts like “I could have sucked in more, fixed the blouse part of my dress so the pictures don’t look so starkly different,” came to mind as I quickly racked up the likes on the picture. 160 likes, 20 love reactions, and no negative feedback, and here I am, still picking myself apart at a time where all I wanted to do was be “body positive.” I guess it doesn’t help that all of my recent photos on Facebook were taken at my most flattering angles. Was I a BoPo fraud? Were people proud of me just for gaining weight? Or were they grasping the message that I was getting at, being that all humans are lovable at any size? I never expected to get more validation than any other post I have made, even one about getting into graduate school or achieving that promotion I had been working toward for 3 years. What’s with this constant obsession that the world shares over looks?

It is too late to delete the picture now. The damage has been done if you will. “How will people still find me attractive? What will my old Tinder matches think?” All of these thoughts came with the unflattering photo, when my intent was to put out there what is realistic: that we can’t all be a size 2, and that it is totally acceptable to flaunt what you have, especially after all of the progress I have made. I guess I am just embarrassed that 160 people reacted to this because deep inside, I am thinking that maybe they knew I was sick all along and just weren’t saying anything.

Eating disorder survivors often suffer in silence. I decided to let it all hang out, and recognize the progress I have made in fighting ED. In the past, I have been very vocal about the fact that I used to have anorexia and otherwise unspecified eating related disorders. I guess it’s entirely different looking at a photo of me at a peak weight that I have not reached since 2012, right next to a point at my lowest health, both mentally and physically. I do have to say that I feel like I look healthier, happier, and more natural now, and people even tell me I look better in my new skin, yet those old thoughts that I just need to lose ten more pounds still creep in. This is a lifelong battle I have entered, and I have continued to go in head-first. There will be peaks, valleys, depression, joy, and all of the gray areas in between. The best I can do is stay strong, love myself where I am at, and be the change I wish to see in the world. At least, that was my intention.

Overwhelming affection from my peers won’t make me any more worthy, and since I have joined this “body positivity” movement, will I become more accepting of how I look? Or more obsessed with how different I appear?  Only time will tell, and I think it will vary from day to day, but I think that this is the last time I ever post a “before and after” shot of myself. I am just too perceptive and over-analytical to see the weight gain differences right in front of me, but I will never stop the fight of overcoming my ED, and supporting my peers, no matter the size.

Rachel Mandel Contributor Photo
Rachel Mandel: A graduate student and naturalist who hopes to help elementary students stay true to their creativity. She lives happily in her home, Chicago.