Ask me what my top ten likes and dislikes are. Go on. Ask me. If you did, I might tell you all about my love for coffee, memoirs, bangs, and dogs. I might tell you about my distaste for traffic and slapstick comedy. I know I would tell you about jeans. Yup. Jeans.
This seemingly innocent article of clothing has crested the top of my “dislike” list for years and years. Why? I’m not so sure that there is a simple answer. But let me try to explain:
I struggled with an eating disorder for over ten years of my life. When I think about my late teen and early adult years, my most stark memories are not falling in love, getting into college, or landing that great job. Rather, I recall me-obsessively calorie counting, me-running in rain/snow/excessive heat, me-losing friends as I slipped more and more into my own little world- you get the picture. My eating disorder happened gradually and then all at once. What started out as a simple diet slowly but surely became an all-consuming illness, one that would take me years to disentangle myself from. And while much treatment has brought me to the realization that this was about a lot more than weight, poor body image was and continued to be a decidedly strong symptom of my illness for quite some time.
Flash forward to present day. I am recovered. I am a wife. I am a friend to many. I am an advocate for those who struggle with eating disorders. I am a psychologist. Meaning I not only pulled myself out of my own personal hell and demise, but I kicked ED’s ass long enough and hard enough for me to feel comfortable pursuing a career empowering others to do the same. And while I do not disclose my history of an eating disorder to all of my patients, the times that I choose to, I inevitably get asked the same question: Are you completely recovered and how did you do it?
I feel comfortable answering that yes, I am completely recovered, because I can be authentic and genuine when saying so. I am and have been behavior free, I accept my emotions, and the thoughts that once dominated every second of my day now come so infrequently that I can spot them a mile away. This is what full recovery means for me.
In terms of body image, I have worked long and hard to accept and cherish my body. Now does that mean that I LOVE everything that I see in the mirror every day? No. I’m human, and I was born and raised in a society that celebrates the thin ideal and promotes diet culture aggressively. Enter-Jeans.
Jeans are my Achilles Heel. Try as I may, I despise shopping for them. They just never feel like they were created with my body-type in mind. They are always too tight or too loose. I always find myself irritated when shopping for them, muttering to myself like a cantankerous old man- “Why are there so many damn washes? What even are jeggings? High waisted or low? How the hell should I know?”
This happened recently, and it got me to thinking- why do these stubborn feelings persist about this stupid article of clothing when I left my eating disorder in the dust long ago? After much contemplation- this is what I came up with:
I’M HUMAN! A recovered human, yes. But also a highly sensitive, introspective, and perfectionistic human. These are some of the personality attributes that made me vulnerable to the development of an ED in the first place. These things don’t just go away. I just learn how to work them. Years of progress in recovery allowed me to understand how to make my personality work for me, rather than against me. Like I previously stated, to me, full recovery doesn’t necessarily mean that you never have a disordered thought. It just means that they have no power over you anymore. A fully-recovered individual becomes a ninja at challenging and deflecting those thoughts. Yet even ninjas have Achilles Heels.
So rather than let this terrify me or make me question myself, I celebrate the fact that I still have a bit of work to do. Why? Because it is a great opportunity to catch myself getting a little too sure, or compliant. My jeans light-bulb moment allows me to continue to work on my own progress. I hope the day never comes when I decide I have done enough self-reflection and stop striving for more progress. Because there is always room for more. And the more progress that I make, the more personal mountains that I move, the more I can help to empower others to do the same. How great is it that I have such a clear understanding of what still gets under my skin?
So jeans, consider yourself my next Everest. I am comin for ya.