Perfection at Any Cost
And why health has nothing to do with size.
By Madelyn Moon, University of Texas at Austin
I wanted to look like the perfect female for many years of my life.
Whether I was doing a 30-day group slim down, a fitness competition, a paleo (or vegan) challenge, a photo shoot or a contest against myself, I was driven by the desire to lose weight.
My journey started somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10. I distinctly remember feeling less than the beauty of all the tall, lengthy women I saw in magazines or in my family. Somehow I started to pick up on the belief that your body can oftentimes determine the amount of attention you receive.
As I got older, I remember learning about eating disorders and how they are dangerous for people who want to feel “in control” of their life. Though the message was portraying the dangers of ED, all I remember learning was that there was a brilliantly concealed tactic for storing pain and stress by coping with a mechanism that nobody else would know about.
Throughout high school I would incorporate self-harming food tactics, whether it was not eating anything at all for a day or obsessively counting my calories to make sure that I burned off more at the gym than I ate that night. This cycle continued until I reached college, where things only got worse. I partied hard, fed my body less, ran more, lost my period, reached my “goal” weight, created a new “goal” weight, and started all over again.
That is, until I discovered fitness modeling and competitions.
Up until then, I felt as though my methods of disordered eating weren’t safe and that at any moment I would be discovered for how I was treating my body. Fitness competitions were the perfect method of concealing disordered eating safely because to all outsiders, you look like nothing but determined and disciplined.
“Wow, I wish I could do what you’re doing!” they would say.
“You’re so skinny, I just hate you. Teach me how to do it!” I would be told.
All of these compliments about my will power and discipline were driving me to go harder and harder. My masculinity overtook me, while what was left of my soft and sweet feminine nature silently slipped away. I was so driven to have a six-pack, to eat perfectly, to look perfectly, and to win my fitness competitions that I found myself in a place where…that was all I had.
I shoved away what friendships I had left. I stopped dating because my body wasn’t “ready” yet. I lost my period and created a wonky hormonal system. I was extremely undernourished and therefore couldn’t concentrate in either a conversation or a school class.
More than anything, I hated my body and I never felt like it was enough.
The scariest part about all of this is that there are people all around us that look fit and healthy because of their body, and so they automatically receive ample compliments from friends, family and social media followers about how fit and healthy they are.
On the contrary, it’s more times than not that those exact people are the ones suffering the most. Mentally and physically speaking, they can be at the unhealthiest point they have ever been in their entire lives.
If there’s one thing I want people to realize it’s that fitness does not mean leanness. Just because you see a woman with a six-pack doesn’t mean she’s fitter than you, and many times, it could just be that she’s using her six-pack as a way to cope with life’s stressful situations.
This isn’t the case for everybody but it certainly is the case for many. If you’re somebody with a six-pack and you don’t obsessed over it or control your food in an anal fashion in order to keep said six-pack, then good for you. But if you’re in the other group, whereas you feel that you are a prison to your body image, then there’s certainly more than enough hope for you to realign your life’s purpose and your heart’s greatest passion.
Because I was so intensely motivated to keep my body looking perfectly, I found myself with an eating disorder called orthorexia.
This is where one is so entirely consumed with eating pure or “healthy” foods, that they become obsessed. It’s a mental disorder that can completely overtake the mind and body of the sufferer.
So here I was, a 20-something year old, hiding indoors on a Friday night away from the rest of my peers, eating my special foods, doing my special workout and going to bed bright and early so that I could go to the gym again. My safe place.
And nobody even knew because to them, it looked like fitness.
If there’s one thing I want you to understand about orthorexia, it’s not that it’s just healthy eating. There’s nothing wrong with healthy eating whatsoever; the problem occurs when you obsess and validate your life by how “good” you were at eating your meal plan for the day. If you don’t feel like your food-eating-performance was stellar enough, you may try to compensate through exercise, or other obsessive habits such as OCD, anxiety, and maybe even substance abuse.
The desire for perfection is deadly. My body, the one I worked so hard for, eventually led me into more isolation than I ever had when I just let my body take its natural shape. I was constantly fighting against myself. I was always worried I wouldn’t look perfect through the eyes of others, or that I would slip up and eat something that would take my six-pack away.
That is no way to live.
About two years back, I let go of my desire to look perfect. I realized that I would rather use all of my time and energy creating something that would leave a lasting-impression on the lives of others, and even more, make me a happy person. I wanted happiness that wouldn’t dependent on my body size.
I knew that if I continued on the path I was on, when I died, people would only know me for having a “fit” body and being really good at working out.
That’s not the kind of legacy I wanted to leave.
Every since I made the decision to let go of my desire to look perfect, life has finally started to happen. I stopped using my body and food as a tool to validate my existence, and instead, I started to just live.
I no longer need to eat every three hours and workout out twice a day because I have better things to do with my time than worry about trivial concerns. When life stresses me out, I still turn to coping mechanisms in order to deal, but today they are positive and uplifting. I do things that make me feel authentically good for long-lasting periods of time.
I care for my body because I love her. I care for my mind because I love her.
The world doesn’t need more people with six-packs and a yearning for perfection; the world needs more people that love themselves and know that they don’t have to earn happiness in order to enjoy it.