Saturday, February 20, 2010

The ugly side of success

Something you may not know about me: I’ve lost 60 pounds and kept it off for 3 years. Wonderful, right? Sort of.

When I came to Canada I was very overweight. I knew that at some point, for the sake of my health, I needed to get in shape. I struggled for many years in high school, but I never had the perspective on myself to realize what a serious issue it was. Embarking on a new chapter of life gave me that power. Maybe if I had stayed in California that would have still been the case – I’m not sure.

It may sound foreign, but my weight loss (at first) was largely accidental. I don’t think I was cognizant of the changes I was making in my life. Sure, I started eating better, but I was also walking everywhere. My change of environment allowed me to lead a much more active lifestyle without having to really think about it. People around me seemed to notice the changes that I was undergoing more than I did. In a way I think that aloofness was a good thing. So often, people (esp. women) are consumed by dieting, healthy lifestyle, weight loss, etc that they obsess over it in a very unhealthy way and it begins to have adverse effects on their goals. But me, I didn’t really have a goal. I was preoccupied with being happy, enjoying a new life and taking on all the challenges it threw my way. A new figure was not in the cards.

But after about 7 months, I started to take notice. By then I’d lost enough weight to realize it. Since I didn’t own a scale, I was going on the fit of my clothes and they were all too big. Somewhere around this time, I also starting going to the gym. My dad was forever telling me about the benefits of a good workout, like improving concentration and stamina. It certainly did that for me. To this day, I always love getting out that excess energy and kick starting my day with a workout. Though I do it for the way I feel, and not for weight loss. By the end of my first year of University, I had lost almost 50 pounds. Such an accomplishment! I’d never felt better, but on the horizon what a more daunting task – maintaining it while living in the U.S. for the summer.

Up until about 2 years ago, I always considered myself to be unaffected by advertising and mass media propaganda relating to body image. I had accepted myself and didn’t let that get in the way of living my life. But a switch had flipped in my mind. I had lost weight; I was thin and suddenly was what society told me I should be. I was my own success story and was within reach of the pressure that I had evaded for so long. What was a personal victory quickly took a turn for the worst and took over my life. I fit in, though I never realized that I was on the outside to begin with, and wanted to keep it that way.

Being prone to societal pressures was a deadly state. I pushed myself to lose more until I was a size 4. Mind you, not even a year before that I was a size 16. I never paused to marvel at this accomplishment. All I could do was think about the “what ifs.” What if I lost five more pounds? What if I looked like Mischa Barton? I no longer read Vogue for the fashion. I read it to compare myself with the models. I also started to dislike shopping and hated receiving attention from strangers. But I felt that if I didn’t keep losing weight, I would gain it back. So I kept going. The essential problem was that I never felt bad myself, I was genuinely happy and felt great. But I took a dangerous step over the line. I stopped eating and started suffering from severe body dysmorphic disorder. My life was consumed by body image and I ruined so many good relationships because I couldn’t accept myself. I was so focused on the supposedly “bad” aspects of my physical being that I fully over looked everything good about myself. 2 years and my emotional rollercoaster has come to an end. I have shed the weight of an oppressive culture and my mind has never felt more free.

You might wonder why I would write something this personal. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve known for quite sometime that I wanted to give a voice to all this. But more importantly, I feel like now it’s a statement of empowerment not only for myself, but for all women. I hope that one day, we will be able to overturn the “norms” of ultra-thinness and move on to channeling our energy into better endeavors. We owe that to ourselves.

More generally what I hope to suggest with this post is that success is great but it is easy to be devoured by it. Success might help motivate us, but it's the little failures that keep us grounded.

1 comment:

robyn michelle-lee said...

beautifully written, v.

lovely to meet you this week!

thank you for letting me borrow the amazing cookie cutter... i made chocolate sugar cookies - so gorgeous. the trick to keeping their shape is refrigerating them for ten minutes before putting them in the oven!

i'll have to see you again soon to return your lovely kitchen gadget.