Poor body image plagued me since childhood. I’ve always been the big girl. In pre-school, I compared the size of my thighs to the next girl next to me. In middle school I was put on a diet. Finally by my teens, I discovered the miracle cure: drugs. For the next twenty years, I used drugs control my poor body image.

Restrict, lose weight, become popular and attractive to men, binge, gain weight and become unpopular/unattractive, restrict and regain control. I repeated this cycle for my entire teens, twenties, and early thirties.

I Felt Ugly And Huge From An Early Age

As a young child, I never learned to have a healthy relationship with my body.  I was taller than most of my peers, but like most kids, I didn’t want to be different. I just wanted to fit in. My peers did what kids do best; they pointed out my differences. Hence, I was nicknamed Big Bird.

I never received affirmation that I was: worthy enough, beautiful enough, or capable enough, and I never thought to question others perception of me. Instead, I accepted it as the truth. I learned that my self-worth and social acceptability depended on the image of my body.

A Dangerous Fix For My Poor Body Image

When I discovered that cigarettes, alcohol, and amphetamines enabled me to restrict my appetite, I was hooked. Inevitably, I lost weight because I’d starve myself during the day, eating just one meal in the evening. I wouldn’t eat at all at weekends. I watched with palpable excitement as I starved, lost weight, and suddenly became attractive to boys. Of course, that made the girls hate me even more—no news there.

As I gained popularity among the boys, I started hanging around with people much older than me. These teenagers and young men took heavier drugs. Before long, I was taking amphetamines on a regular basis, and becoming involved in increasingly precarious positions—like hanging out with a 36 year old drug dealer.

The puppy fat dropped off and I transformed into a young woman. For the first time in my life I felt a level of control. While I loved the newfound attention—that was nearly as addictive as the drugs—I still had a poor body image. I’d look at myself in the mirror with disgust. All I saw were my imperfections:

  • Too much fat on my hips
  • Too tall
  • My hair wasn’t straight enough
  • My skin was spotty.

Of course, as a teenager, it didn’t help that my perception of the perfect body was communicated via glossy magazines—of women who were stick thin, with airbrushed skin that glowed, and beautifully straight hair. If I can just lose another ten, or twenty pounds, I can be as happy as them.

Body Image Doesn’t Equate Happiness

Their image was no more a reflection of their happiness than mine.

An image tells you nothing of someone’s state of mind. I might have been thinner, with a modicum of perceived self-control over my weight, but I was always looking for more faults—and I always found them.

When I was two years sober, I woke up. I realized my self-esteem had nothing to do with how I looked. And how I looked had nothing to do with my self-worth. Recovery enabled me to see myself, and not the outer shell: the inner me. I finally saw:

  • The beauty in my talents
  • That I was smart
  • I had a dry wit that people adored
  • My warmth made people feel accepted and loved
  • My crazy talent for communicating my feelings on screen
  • An ability to connect to others innermost self
  • People told me that I disarmed their barriers.

Now that is true beauty.

The Root Cause Of My Addiction

The longer I’ve been in recovery, the more I’ve lessened my grip on controlling my appearance. As I worked on my desire to escape myself with substance, I realized food is but a facet of addiction. Food was another vehicle for my escapism.

By becoming present, and eating nutritious foods, I’ve stopped unhealthy and restrictive behaviors. I’ve finally fallen in love with myself. My life has shown me I had it the wrong way around: I had to start loving my insides first. After I learned to love my inner beauty, I was able to see my external beauty:

  • My height
  • The sparkle in my crystal blue eyes
  • The depth in my wavy brunette hair
  • The womanly curves that carry this beauty around all day

Today, I’m absolutely enough.


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Olivia Pennelle
Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is a freelance writer and the creator and managing editor of Liv's Recovery Kitchen: a website focused on the journey toward health and wellness for those in recovery.

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