By Katlin Bole
Mirrors and I have had a rocky relationship since 2012, the year of “Call Me Maybe.” Since then the mirror has been the toxic significant other that I should’ve (could’ve, would’ve) dumped. But I was addicted. Addicted to control, to restricting, to binging, to over-exercising … most importantly to over-analyzing every part of my body. The mirror was my partner in crime. It rewarded me when I showed progress. It shamed me when I lost control.
A girl having a problem with body image? Tale as old as time, as my favorite childhood film, “Beauty and the Beast,” would say. Eating disorders in young women, at varying degrees of intensity, are sadly prevalent. A trend that is far from trendy. It’s a story you’ve heard before and a story you’ll hear again.
And if I’m being honest, that’s what has bothered me about this blip in my life the most. This struggle is “normal.” It’s nowhere near unique. And I have craved uniqueness for as long as I can remember. I grew up abroad — a fact I almost immediately force on people when I meet them, a fact I grasp onto as if to prove “I’m different, you see, I have something to offer,” and for a long time I believed that was all I brought to the table. My struggle with my reflection was more to do with my inability to accept my qualities and personality as “enough” or as “special” than it was to do with my physical appearance.
“A girl having a problem with body image? Tale as old as time, as my favorite childhood film, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ would say. … And if I’m being honest, that’s what has bothered me about this blip in my life the most. This struggle is ‘normal.’”
Thinking back, I wish I could pinpoint and tell you exactly what the reason was, or why my eating disorder came to a head that year. All I know is as I was simultaneously falling in love and stressed about the future (the latter a necessity at my pre-professional school). I constantly found myself wondering if I was enough and then doubting that I was. The obsessive behaviors that came with my ED allowed me to shut up my terrible anxious chatter, and because of that, it became necessary (in my mind) to my day-to-day survival, to my ability to make it to graduation day.
I graduated college weighing 92 pounds. Wet. Today, I have no idea what I weigh. I do know I’ve gained around 30 pounds in the last year and a half — a feat that seemed impossible a mere three years ago.
When my friend Sam came to visit Chicago early last year, I was word vomiting about my problems with food, my problems with myself — the frustrating loop that I felt stuck in. Two steps forward, three steps back. Sam sighed, looked at me and said the words I needed to hear (and most importantly was finally ready to really hear): “Then Katlin, do something about it.”
Cue intensive group therapy, the worst yet most wonderful thing to happen to me, the place where I finally made the choice to make an active recovery.
It wasn’t easy, and it won’t be easy. People aren’t kidding when they say recovery is an ongoing process. I’ve strained relationships that I will never be able to fix completely. I’ve lost some trust in myself. But I’ve gained self-awareness. I’ve gained the ability to eat a cookie and not freak out. I’ve gained an overwhelming appreciation of the people I have in my life and a thirst to move forward and live life to the fullest (cheesy lines be damned). One-on-one therapy, a body positive trainer, yoga teacher training … all were and are important steps in my life journey, and though sometimes I wish I could imagine all my past battles away, they are an integral part to the person I am today. The person I can finally make eye contact with in the mirror.
Today I’d say my relationship with the mirror is “on a break,” or maybe more appropriately, “It’s complicated.” I’m slowly coming to be comfortable in my body — to be proud of what it can accomplish, both inside and out, and to refrain from attaching too much to that image staring back at me.
Katlin Bole currently works as a strategic planner at an advertising agency in Chicago. Yoga mats, fancy cheese, and terrible pop songs are a few of her favorite things.