Healthy emotions come in all sizes. Healthy minds come in all sizes. And healthy bodies come in all sizes.
~Cheri K. Erdman
The number on the scale plummeted yet again, and with it, my confidence. Yes, you read that right; unlike what society preaches, losing weight isn't always a good thing. Less of ourselves is not necessarily better.
As my curves melted away, my body was sending out the message: "Help!"
I had fully recovered from anorexia over a decade earlier and had learned not to give the scale too much power. I'd even written three books on the topic and given hundreds of talks on embracing a strong, healthy body. Society tells us that being thin makes us happy and successful but I knew this was a big lie. At my thinnest, I was miserable.
And yet, when I unintentionally lost weight due to PTSD, my doctor congratulated me during a yearly exam.
Why was I getting complimented for having a mental illness?
It happened when I had anorexia, too—I received accolades for having a life-threatening psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Recovering from anorexia, I had learned to think of gaining weight as gaining pounds of happiness. Now, I was in recovery for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being raped in my late twenties. The accompanying depression and anxiety had killed my appetite, the stress had caused havoc on my thyroid disorder and my weight was going down again. Importantly, it wasn't just my body that was shrinking; PTSD itself disintegrates self-esteem.
I wanted my life back. I wanted my curves back.
I come from a family that is naturally thin, so some people might not have considered me curvy in the first place. But I feel that curvy comes in all shapes and sizes because it's not so much a body type as it is a state of mind. To me, curvy means striving for balance, authenticity, and mindfulness. It means listening to and nurturing our bodies and not betraying our souls to look a certain way. It means letting go of shame—something that people battling eating disorders and PTSD know a lot about.
I knew from my eating disorder recovery that our bodies talk to us, but we aren't taught to listen.
Our society says, "Eat, eat, eat… but don't look like you eat," and we are encouraged to ignore our hunger and fullness cues. We eat based on what we see and hear, not what our bodies desire internally.
But, what do our bodies want? Only they carry the truth.
In the case of PTSD, our bodies also hold our pain and trauma. The body is a brilliant work of art and it won't be ignored forever. Sooner or later, it will get our attention through aches, illness, or changes in weight.
In this way, our curves talk to us. For women who have been sexually assaulted, their bodies may gain or lose weight as a form of protection to fend off unwanted attraction and their bodies are saying: I'm here to protect you.
Perhaps my own weight loss was my body's attempt to shrink my hips and breasts and divert any male attention?
Maybe. But I knew that wasn't the kind of "protection" I needed to get better. Healing from PTSD means that we must stop hiding behind our curves or lack thereof, and face our fears head-on. Often, this requires professional help.
This is the first time I've written about my rape in a book. That's authenticity—that's curvy.
I know that I am more than what has happened to me. Getting dressed today, I felt my jeans slide over what I know to be my strong legs and hips.
I am back to me. I am back to curvy.
Cover image via Grisha Bruev I Shutterstock
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body © 2016 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.