Beauty in Brokenness
Although I do not believe my story is exceptional, I absolutely believe it has significance because it has allowed me to connect with a number of girls and women who share pieces of the same struggle. It has allowed me to define, pursue, and obtain beauty.
My first concept of the term began as a young girl who grew up in rural Colorado and recognized the idea of beauty through television and magazines, realizing that it would be rather impossible to create this type of beauty through my own means. The body I was living in felt awkward, disgusting, and out of place. So I punished my body by starving it and began to realize that I would receive praise for thinness and the willpower to avoid indulging.
This began a 20-plus-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. It has been a constant and vicious battle within and against myself—this body that has carried two beautiful children and continues to move forward, despite my apparent hatred for its perceived betrayals. The reality is that my ongoing struggles with depression and anxiety created a heaviness that I could only conceive stemmed from an ugly form—I needed to be smaller, take up less room. In order to be happy, I would need to be thin and “beautiful”—desirable.
My efforts to achieve this concept of perfection and beauty compromised my body’s ability to continue a college volleyball career. The illness robbed me of my strength to hold my son and the energy to spend time with my family…all in the name of achieving and possessing “beauty.” It has complicated friendships, my marriage, and my ability to work as a mental health therapist. The truth is that I knew I had substance and could contribute to the lives of those around me; nevertheless, I also wanted to be BEAUTIFUL.
Even though I was able to obtain my master’s degree in mental health counseling and pursue a successful career in the field, I continued compromising my health because I feared a lack of beauty would keep me from demonstrating a worthiness to exist.
I spent hours talking to adolescent girls about their worth and inspiring them to pursue their dreams, despite the standards set for them. Ultimately, I entered eating disorder treatment as a 38-year-old wife and mother. The eight weeks I chose to spend in treatment were the most difficult moments, days, and weeks of my life. I woke each day to fight battles in a war that had held me captive for decades. It was an opportunity to question what had defined “beauty” for me, and it challenged everything I had decided to be true. It required that I risk all that had given me direction and an anchor to depend on, in order to create a meaningful existence…one free of body hatred, free of fear, free of our society’s definition of beauty.
It was as if I had to take this baggage, drop it off to a team of treatment professionals, and surrender to the possibility of something different, or better. There were so many moments I wanted to take the baggage back—run away and return to the comfort of the disorder. I was challenged to question whether or not I would ever hope for my 15-year-old daughter to adopt the perception I’d created of the world and how I believed beauty “fit.” It was as if I was being asked to jump into nothing…and I wasn’t sure I could do it.
As I neared the end of treatment, I was afraid of how I might re-enter my home and family with a different body—one that I would’ve considered repulsive and disgusting before. Would I be able to continue fighting these daily, often momentary, battles? I was confident of my strength to move forward the moment my son ran to me at the end of treatment, jumped into my arms, and as he realized I was holding him, whispered, “Mom, you can hold me now…it’s working!”