By Maria Mukhanova, a senior at Drexel University studying biology
Throughout my whole life, I have been looking at the skin folds on my belly and (sometimes not very) quietly hating my body. I could not find inspiration to lose weight in the success stories told by people I knew or from some strangers on YouTube. Instead, I decided to force myself to look at the least attractive parts of me over and over until I became disgusted with myself entirely, hoping that would motivate me to lose hundreds of pounds. Now, I finally see and admit that I did it not for the purpose of motivating myself, but rather to punish myself for “being fat.” The fact that I am not a supermodel who advertises panties for Victoria’s Secret made me choose a world of chicken burgers and chocolate buns as my source of pleasure, my favorite way of feeling happy (and feeling so only for a moment). This, unsurprisingly, aggravated my problem, and I got drawn into the positive feedback loop of intensifying self-hatred.
I rarely take pictures—I am terrified of seeing a second chin at the bottom of my face; and I am even more terrified of other people seeing this second chin of mine (even though I don’t have one). It is therefore unusual to see many pictures of me on my social network profiles. I postpone showers and I’ve acquired a habit of closing my eyes while taking them in order to minimize the chances of glancing at my naked body and thus getting upset for the day. I stay away from glass windows at night and perfectly clean cars — any reflective surfaces in which I can see myself — and thank my extreme nearsightedness when these objects are located far from me. Buying new clothes and makeup doesn’t help me feel better about myself; it doesn’t help mask the imperfections. It just reminds me of how many imperfections there are. I avoid looking at myself in the mirror, hoping I eventually forget how I look.
I used to weigh 150 lbs. I weigh 125 lbs. now, and you would think that I must feel at least a little bit better about myself at this point. But nothing, in fact, has changed for me inside. I am still a girl dissatisfied with herself. My attempts to change myself are artificial and superficially external, and this self-hatred lies too deeply to be uprooted along with those twenty-five pounds. This self-hatred can and should be battled by constantly reminding myself how beautiful I am, but it feels wrong for me to even type those three words next to each other.
I can say proudly that I am making progress in loving myself. I used to exercise for up to four consecutive hours at the gym, counting every calorie burned on the treadmill. I exercised to the point where I could hardly walk home afterwards; I felt so lifeless. Now, I try to stay active for reasons other than weight loss; my current goal is to bolster my health by building strength and endurance at the gym.
I used to exercise alone to avoid being shamed by others for my slow-paced progress. I have recently started to bring some of my friends along for a nice workout. They are, in fact, rare gym visitors and go there with me to support me in my endeavors, instead of to trample me because of my abnormal obsession with weight. This support encourages me to push my limits further…but in a healthy way.
For my enjoyment, I sometimes wake up early in the morning for a short run and admire the sunrise and empty streets. The views take me away from my fixation on body image and engender lucid thoughts in my head. It feels cathartic to be relieved of my unjustified worry about the number of pounds I carry. There is still more to conquer though, and I will conquer everything. But I will do it through self-love, and not self-hatred.