Why I’m stronger than my 20-year-old self.

By Isabelle Duffy

Like most people, being a teenager was rough. My home life was rapidly falling apart, I wasn’t getting good grades, I had dropped out of my intensive dance program and had the ever so famous boyfriend woes. But there was one thing that was always good; food. Oh how I loved food. The only time I ever felt happy and like things were going to be alright was when I was eating something incredibly indulgent. Burgers, pizza, burritos you name it. Needless to say, I was eating all the time. It filled a small hole in my heart. Possibly literally.

This, of course, caused my weight to increase a significant amount. I was unaware of any weight changes mostly because I was in a relationship for most of High School and didn’t really consider if people were attracted to me. But after we graduated, my boyfriend and I split ways and I was ready to approach the single life with open arms.

Yet I got no nibbles. I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t rushing up to love me the way they used to at the beginning of High School, the way my boyfriend did. It took about six months for me to realize why my other friends were getting attention.

They were skinny. I was not.

I wanted to be loved and desired the way they were. I was envious, jealous, and full of self-hatred. I tried changing my clothes to be more revealing, less revealing. I indulged in expensive makeup. Anything to be more desirable, but to no avail. The only thing I could think of was to get skinny. Fast. My need for the male gaze was so overwhelming that I let it take over my entire life.

I just stopped eating. Full halt. I’d spend my days off in bed, fighting the stomach cramps and hunger pains and going in and out of sleep. I would aimlessly scroll through my phone, constantly googling new diets to try, looking at skinnier girls for inspiration to remind myself why I was doing this. I could go up to 3 days without eating and would order clothes I knew were too small so that I could be motivated to fit them later. The times that I’d indulge in food, it would be quickly followed by self-hatred. I was even afraid to take a shower most of the time out of fear of having to look down at my body. To see my collapsed belly button, the stretch marks on my thighs, the curve of my hips. It was debilitating and all around claustrophobic.

The worst part was- it worked. For the most part. I got people to desire me, but no one really liked me. I couldn’t maintain anything because I was starving all the time. My emotions went haywire, I was exhausted literally all the time and always found myself crying. I was so consumed with my own body that I became a terrible friend and honestly a terrible person.

If you ever feel your friend may have an eating disorder – reach out to them. A close friend of mine did and it changed my life. they will push you away, I know I did. I pushed her away because I feared she would snap me out of it. I got angry. I feared that I wouldn’t be as “strong” when it came to food. But she did the right thing. It made me realize people could see what I was doing. And it saved my life.

Slowly, over many years, I changed my environment and with a lot of self help and a LOT of love from others I began to change my habits. I eventually got into a healthy loving relationship and found that I loved cooking, especially with him. Every so often I would find my self slip: the temptation to starve your self can be overwhelming sometimes.

Earlier this week I stumbled upon a dress I had been holding on to from that period of my life. I then came up with the worst idea ever which was, “Let’s see if this still fits. You know, for fun.” I’ve been working out consistently for months now and thought I’d give it a shot. Of course, it didn’t even slide over my hips. Panicked, I booked as many work out classes as I could fit into a week and started to plan out how I was going to diet so I could lose weight. I felt that I had lied to myself, that I had been disillusioned with the idea that I was skinny and desirable.

I took a class this morning and I felt strong. I was able to hold every pose, I never took a break and I pushed myself harder than I had in months. After walking out of class, wiping the sweat from my brow, I realized something important: 20-year-old Isabelle, would have never been able to do what 24-year-old Isabelle just did.

She was weak and tired and unmotivated. She wasn’t a “better, more disciplined, more attractive” version of myself. She was a weaker version, a hurt version. Someone who needed healing. I don’t want to be that again.

I came straight home and threw out that dress. After dusting my hands clean and feeling proud, I noticed something. I had a whole drawer full of “things to wear when I’m skinny again” without even realizing it. I guess I had been keeping them for some semblance of motivation, but in turn it had become a punishment. Something that was haunting me reminding me I could always do better, I could always be skinnier. I went ahead and chucked those out as well.

I am nowhere near perfect.

I have long term stomach issues due to consistently starving myself and yet there are still parts I desperately wish I could change about myself. I still grapple with the battle of being healthy vs being skinny. My eating habits can still be sporadic at times, and I’m not completely in love with my body, but I’m ready to start. To love my body and my own new version of myself.


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