National Eating Disorders Association
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Recovery

When I was younger, I knew I was different from other people. I never understood why, and this led me to try to amend myself to “fit in.” I mirrored appropriate reactions and behaviors and ended up trying to “look like” everybody else. I changed my appearance in ways involving weight and style, becoming obsessed to a level where I made myself sick, counted calories extensively, and exhibited restrictive behaviors. 

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Once a year, the grocery store checkout magazines come out with their “Half my Size!” issue, featuring people who have dropped a significant amount of weight. They stand in one leg of their old jeans or flex in trendy athletic wear, smiling like “happily ever after” has finally arrived for them. 

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“Monthly Matters with Melody” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Melody Moore, a clinical psychologist, yoga instructor and the founder of the Embody Love Movement Foundation. Her foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to empower girls and women to celebrate their inner beauty, commit to kindness and contribute to meaningful change in the world. Dr. Moore is a social entrepreneur who trains facilitators on how to teach programs to prevent negative body image and remind girls and women of their inherent worth.

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Often, stories related to recovery and self-acceptance, whether it is about eating disorder recovery, dealing with trauma, or body acceptance, focus on the individual. These stories often celebrate the individual actions and decisions a person has made in their journey. While recognizing individuals for their actions is important, I believe that these stories often erase the importance of community. 

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"Dear KJ" is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012).

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I don’t do things halfway (read: I often take things to the extreme). So, if you’d have told me even three years ago that I would be shopping for a bikini to wear in San Diego this summer, I’d have laughed in your face. Impossible. 

See, I believed perfection was possible. When it came to eating, fewer calories were always a little more perfect. When it came to exercise, more was always better. And when it came to physical appearance? Nothing represented my desire for perfection more than my desire for the elusive six-pack abs. 

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I was 11 years old when I started struggling with my first eating disorder. I did not know what anorexia was, nor did I know that the pinching of skin folds between my fingers, under my arms, and on my stomach, was symptomatic. I did not know that it wasn’t healthy to obsess over my reflection in car windows or to hunch over to keep my waist “tucked in.” I thought it was normal. But I wasn’t always this way. A once-expansive childhood had, somehow, collapsed into a labyrinth of dietary rituals and superstitions.

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The family story about me that has enthralled me most has to do with my thighs. My mother says that the nurses who cared for me in the hospital nursery would pick up my newborn legs and laugh about the immense size of my thighs--far too big for an average-weight baby, they chided. Eventually, this disproportion led to body-shaming nicknames, like Thunder Thighs and Drumstick. On the one hand, I embraced their abundance. They were thick and powerful and helped me easily press double my weight in the gym.

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In college, I found comfort in something I could control. I found comfort in something that allowed me to get on a higher platform in running. I dropped my time by four seconds in one year and for the 800 meters, that was a lot. I was on the record-breaking DMR team that went to nationals. I was working out with the best women. On the outside, I was the “perfect” athlete. I was overly-committed and working out all the time. I gained momentum from all the comments on how “good” or “lean” I looked. I was definitely in denial and I hid it well to those on the outside.

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I was born 3 months pre-mature, weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces. As a result of being born pre-maturely, I have mild cerebral palsy that affects how I walk. Growing up with a physical disability was very difficult; every day at school I was verbally and physically bullied. This bullying took a severe toll on my mental health and affected how I felt about myself. I was very depressed, I didn’t like myself, and I believed that no one else liked me. I didn’t really have any friends, just “acquaintances”; I felt very lonely and I often dreaded going to school. 

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