A few years back, I read The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Hadley Richardson’s marriage to the famous American author Ernest Hemingway, by Paula McClain. I’ve been in love with Paris ever since visiting that magical city for the first and only time (so far) in 2010. Admittedly, I was much more interested in reading about Paris than Hadley or Hemingway. This book offered me an escape to the beauty, charm, and poetic existence I imagine of Paris. Never did I expect, however, to find the essence of what would become my personal “Recovery Call to Action.”
After becoming pregnant, Hadley describes her body in positively astounding terms. Full of pride, Hadley explains: “My middle thickened and my breasts grew fuller. I was tan and strong and content—more substantial, as Shakespeare had said—and began to believe that I’d finally discovered my purpose.”
I reread Hadley’s words in disbelief. Did she just call her body more substantial? I never heard a woman feel proud of or describe her body in this way. I wondered what it would feel like to be both proud of my body and welcome weight gain.
Without apology, Hadley was clearly at ease with her thickening, changing, more substantial body. Of course, pregnancy can be beautifully empowering, but the body changes that result aren’t always easy to accept. I speak from experience and share the voices of many women also in eating disorder recovery who gain weight from pregnancy and/or as a natural progression of the healing process. To become more substantial, to expand and take up more space, can be an intolerable feeling that requires perseverance and time to accept.
As I continued to read The Paris Wife, I obsessively flipped back to Hadley’s description of her body. I was compelled to make sure her words hadn’t disappeared, that she hadn’t taken them back, or changed her description from one of empowerment to disgust or shame.
To be slight, barely there, a whisper of a body passing through—that was my personal mission statement at the height of my illness. The quiet violence of anorexia starved out my substance—my goals, dreams, energy, and self-confidence. To be slight—small from every angle—was an all-consuming effort that stripped me to my bones and mercilessly dropped me to my knees.
Hadley’s declaration of pride in her growing and changing body inspired me to imagine what it means to be and live more substantially. Over the past several years (more than 20 to be exact), my return to substance—to become more substantial in mind, body, and spirit—has been my healing purpose.
To be of substance means to live in my body, fully in touch with its sensations, unpredictable changes, and the ebb and flow of emotions. To be of substance is to choose satiety instead of hunger, to taste instead of deny, to listen instead of numb. To be of substance means to stand tall instead of slouched, whole instead of fragmented. It’s a commitment to assert rather than abandon and to dream instead of despair. To be of substance means to live unapologetically for my body, my words, my achievements, and my choices; to be motivated by self-compassion and assured of my resilience.
In the past, I would have resisted the idea to strive to be more than slight of frame. I admit, the temptation to become small and quiet creeps up every so often, as does the urge to flirt with hunger. But my personal recovery call to action pulls me back on my path, and it’s not always a smooth transition. Still, the days of existing as a whisper are behind me. Now, I enjoy living a life of more substance in a body that is strong and capable, whole and alive.
I share this story with you, my friends, in the hope that you, too, will choose to unapologetically own your body and mind, your story and choices, and your gifts and passions by creating a personal recovery call to action. This intention of sorts will help you clearly define your own mission for recovery and allow your commitment to heal to take root. Doing so will also cultivate the beautiful gifts of self-reliance, resilience, and trust for yourself and the healing process. I truly believe we each have the right to become more substantial and experience what’s possible with deep and lasting healing.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT, is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder Recovery. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as a variety of publications, including YogaLiving Magazine, Recovery Warriors, Women For One, The Mighty, the National Eating Disorder Association’s blog, and several other influential online publications. Jennifer has been featured in the Huffington Post, Women You Should Know, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, and the DailyDot. Connect with Jennifer: ChimeYogaTherapy.com.