Growing up as a first generation immigrant is complex. Your parents are adults who are relearning things they learned in childhood while simultaneously trying to keep you alive and teach you life lessons. On TV you see these perfect, straw-haired, pale-skinned kids, speaking English and eating mashed potatoes for dinner and you look down at your plate of rice and squid, while your mom is yelling at you in your mother tongue and you wonder why your life is so different.
“No, I would never want her body. She’s in shape but she is way too muscly.”
When I was in grade four it was mandatory to be in the choir. Although I was no "diva" I enjoyed the camaraderie of the choir and felt participation was what mattered most. However, moments before a special performance, the music teacher pulled me aside and directed me not to sing: “Sarah, why don’t you try to lip sing for this concert.” This experience greatly affected my ability to find my voice and to express myself.
As a personal trainer I spend a minimum of 30 hours in a gym every week. People of all different fitness levels, abilities, and body types surround me. Unfortunately, my industry is one that is often driven by a certain set of stereotypes around what fitness is. Magazines, posters, and commercials of fitness models drive a message that being fit and having a very certain look go hand in hand.
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The weigh in has to be, like most things in my life, perfect. I walk to the scale, carefully being watched by the nurse assigned to observe. I pull in all my breath and step onto the scale, eyes glued to the numbers facing me. I needed a perfect number to get weekend pass. I needed to leave this place. I needed perfection. The number reached its stopping point, one pound short of my goal for that day. Ms. Perfect on my one shoulder leapt forward, screaming failure, while Ed on my other shoulder jumped for joy at still having control.
Does anyone else remember learning the “golden rule” in elementary school? It was in my second grade classroom written in yellow cursive, on royal purple card stock. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you”. Yes, this is an extremely valuable lesson to teach young kids because the human nature of adolescents is more concerned in doing things that benefit themselves over classmates, siblings and parents.
People are usually their own worst critic. This is because we live in a culture that breeds constant competition by encouraging people from a young age to be “the best.” This often leads to our self-worth being determined by how we rank in social comparisons. We compare everything from education, grades, jobs, incomes, partners, houses, families, clothing, popularity levels, to appearances.
Talking to a friend recently about what it means to have an interior life, I realized how seldom this phrase is heard nowadays or used outside of clinical circles. Yet, having a rich “interior life” may be key to finding meaning and happiness in our existence and undoubtedly promotes emotional health and “normal” eating.
All survivors have their war stories and I am no exception. In my case, the battlefield was my body and the enemy was the bully in my head, the mean girl who told me I was fat. Today she is known as #Mia – Twitterspeak for bulimia.
My eating disorder wasn’t a phase. It was a disease born in the corners of my mind that caused me to cycle through endless episodes of bingeing, purging and starvation. I could talk to no one about Mia, because the injurious words that she could wield were still better than the label I would be assigned if anyone knew my secret.