I Am My Own Worst Enemy
by Colette Coughlin
When I was a seventy-pound twelve year old, my dad used to call me "Thunder Thighs". His intentions were not to feed a future eating disorder, he was just teasing, that's who he was. But I put it into my emotional backpack and consciously or unconsciously, pulled it out later to flog myself with it and affirm my physical imperfections and overall unworthiness. Until I had enough of that crap...
Worse, a friend of mine confided that his ex-wife, who had been sexually abused by her father, and naturally had issues with intimacy, could get mean and even violent with him sometimes. Once, in a rage, she told him he had the smallest penis she had ever seen (how many she had to compare to, we don't really know...). Although he didn't let this get in the way of future relationships... do you think he ever discussed this openly or forgot about it? Probably not, but fortunately he didn't let it stop him from loving other women.
These are the tiny little things that great big wars are built on. Wars with others, but worse, wars within ourselves.
I can't blame my dad for the way I feel about myself. His choice to tease instead of to compliment certainly didn't help during my insecure pre-teenage years, but it is not a cause and effect equation, nor was it a perpetrator-victim event. It was his way of expressing himself to me at the time based on his own "stuff"... whether that was discomfort with seeing his little girl grow into a woman, or an honest preference for really thin legs... who knows? It doesn't matter. I'm the one who has to live with my thighs, not him, so how I treat them is one hundred percent my business.
But I admit it took me a long time to figure this out. I was my own worst enemy for far too long, and still, if I let things go a little bit, the nasty voice can still slide back into the unconscious sound-track of my mind. It's like record that skips, which is annoying enough, but worse, it's lyrics are awfully repetitive, even if they vary occasionally to try to fool you. Basically, it's a song of lack that says I'm not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, thin enough, too this, too that or too the other thing... blablablablablablah.
I tried to drown it out with food. With sex. WIth exercise. With studies. With sleep. But no one of those things could be practised non-stop in order to keep the noise quiet 24/7. So I tried to change the music, focus on my success, my qualities, my hopes. That helped, but it can't quiet it completely either, it's just too ingrained, and it's like I identified with it for so long that I almost, no, actually... truthfully, I think I took pleasure in putting myself down. It made me feel like somebody, it gave me a sad story to focus on. What a horrible thing to admit to.
But like I said, I've have enough of that crap. It's just not true and I don't want to waste any more time playing that game. Life is too precious and too short! Now when I hear that damn song starting up inside my mind again, I try to accept it, acknowledge it... yeah, yeah, the pain-song is starting to whisper seductively... So now I listen, I recognize it, but I don't bite. I don't sing along anymore, but I know I can't fight it so I let it be there and carry on, careful to not completely ignore it so that it starts to screech. I do my best to focus on the many other things I love to do, which of course include but are not exclusive to food, sex, exercise, studies, and sleep. What works best is a gentle combination of all of the above, which the mind wouldn't have before... it was all or nothing; gorgeous or ugly, perfect or hopeless, worthy or useless.
Someone who helped me alot with this is another woman who has been around the block with eating disorders and body image issues herself and continues to work on them with others, Jessica Weiner. I have not met her, but reading her books made me feel like I'd found a soul-mate, and this chick really walks the talk and fights for this cause!
I find it sad that there is still such a minority of people helping each other to work against these inner demons that our idealized North American lifestyle creates with it's promises of dream-come-true relationships and material comforts if we look like a celebrity. And I say that because I am convinced, through doing this work on myself and with others, and by reading Jessica's books that give testimony to the same inner struggles in herself and countless others across the country, that we're still buying into an illusion of perfection that is more destructive in our own inner dialogue than the actual physcal damage caused by any form of outer surgical improvements.