Body Image Breakdown

September 6, 2019

This past Sunday, I stayed home. I could have been at the Labor Day pool party at my cousin’s house; a party that I had been looking forward to for weeks, but instead I chose to stay on my couch, and I’m pretty sure it was the best decision I have made in years. I honestly believe, that choice to stay home, will be the choice that I reflect on when I want to remember what it feels like to take ownership of my life. And yes, I am well aware of how dramatic that sounds, and I am Here. For. It! (Cue hair flip) Why so much drama around a seemingly ordinary moment? Because, it was the first time in my adult life, where I was completely rooted in doing what was best for me, and me alone. That is not an exaggeration, that was the first time that I have ever put my needs first, with complete awareness around the reasons why I was making that choice, as well as the ripple effects that would play out as a result of that choice, and I followed through, which for me, is huge.

Sunday started off super exciting. Ellie (Michael and I) woke up pumped! She was going to our nephews’ birthday party at an amusement park, sans parents, thanks to her incredibly sweet/brave/possibly crazy Aunt Erica and Uncle Mikey, who took her and 3 other toddlers on their own. By 10 am she was waving goodbye to Mike, Nova, and I, and we were left to figure out what to do with the 3 hours we had before the pool party at Kelsey and Dave’s house. I got busy making pasta salad, and then got real crazy and showered alone while my 7 week old napped. I can remember in the shower, feeling a little overwhelmed, mentally going over the short list of possible wardrobe options. I am currently in that limbo, where maternity clothes are no longer flattering but they are super comfortable, and pre-pregnancy clothes aren’t super flattering and aren’t very comfortable, but I don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe, and the thought of trying on clothes and accepting this new version of my body, it’s just too much right now. This mental warfare took place in the short span of lathering the shampoo. When I realized I was torturing myself I made the conscious choice to change my narrative and start saying positive affirmations. “You are going to find the perfect outfit that is both flattering and comfortable”, “your body just created and birthed a human, be easy on yourself’, “yoga pants are the Swiss army knife of clothing’… I stepped into my bedroom feeling more optimistic, and I was looking forward to taking my time getting ready, knowing everyone and everything, was taken care of. It was probably around the third outfit change that I began ripping the clothes off and throwing them on the bed, which of course is my first sign of a body-image breakdown.

As I am typing this I can put myself back into my body and feel all of the visceral reactions my body has when I am in that state of self-hatred. The elevated heart rate and shallow sharp breathes, as I scanned my closet and drawers for the impossible outfit that could both hide my body, while giving off the vibe that I don’t think I need to hide my body. The shame that crept in and turned my insides into a pretzel, every time I (accidentally) made eye contact with my body in the full length mirror as I was tossing yet another failed option onto my bed. The bullshit stories screaming in my head, telling me that all of the other women there will be in perfect shape, dripping with chlorine and confidence, while I come rolling in with a sheet-pan of pasta and a body made of post-partum pizza dough. And last but certainly not least the unsettling urge to pick a fight with Mike, mentally scrolling through the Rolodex of things I can blame on him, so that I could offload all of these negative emotions that were flooding my nervous system. It was all predictable, it was all too familiar, and it was all just too fucking much.

I could feel the tears creeping in, and the familiar burn in bridge of my nose before I am about to cry, but this time I knew the root of it was different. In the past, the tears were coming from my head, stemming from my thoughts and overwhelm, full of surface emotions like anger, self-pity and feeling like a victim of my body, as if it was separate from me. But this time, the tears stemmed from a very deep, guttural place. A place that I haven’t visited in a very long time. A place within me, where I packed away the 9 year old little girl version of me, who had no awareness around her body, outside of all the fun she could have because of its abilities. A version of me that I have very little memories of, and who I have blocked out, because remembering what it was like to just exist and appreciate my body, would feel excruciating, now that I have 24 years of hating my body as a comparison. Sitting in the reality of how much time I have invested in being my own worst enemy feels too big a truth to sit in, so I lock it away and stay as far away from it as I can. Which is why I voted my body off the island 20+ years ago, and made a home living in my head. I have lived the large majority of my life analyzing and creating stories, disconnected from my body and the intelligence it possesses. I have struggled with connecting with intuition and trusting my gut, because I had no point of reference. I didn’t like the way it felt to inhabit and take ownership over my body, and as a result I sacrificed the gut instincts and trust in myself, that comes along with it. But on Sunday, with my hips against my side of the bed, and my back to my newborn baby asleep in her bassinet, I reconnected with that 9 year old inside of me, and I crumbled at her feet.

I sobbed from a deep well that had been filling up for over two decades. I cried for all the years I have spent hating my body. I cried for all of the years I spent hiding behind throw pillows and purses and crossed arms, anything that could make me smaller and less visible. I cried for all the time I spent living in my head, believing the horror stories I had written around my body and how it has failed me, convincing myself that my body was shameful
and offensive, and had no value if it was not up to society’s standards. I cried hardest for my babies, knowing that they will face this same burden if I don’t commit to the work necessary to right this sacred and deeply scarred relationship. I cried on and off for hours that day. It was as if I had no control over when and why the tears would fall, and I just gave into it. I was grieving, and I allowed it for the first time in my life, and I knew that whatever was coming up, was meant for me to feel and experience, so that I could have a new point of reference. And what happened as a result of that allowing, was that I allowed even more. I allowed myself to be fully transparent. I texted my cousin who was throwing the party, my sister, and my mom who were both attending and expecting me to be there, and I did something that before would be been out of the question. I told them the truth. I told them that I was having some body image issues, and that all I knew was that I needed to give myself the time and space to feel and witness what was coming up, and because of that, I wouldn’t be going to the party.

I don’t want to put myself in the category of being a ‘liar’, but when it came to being transparent, especially about events or emotions that I was experiencing in real-time, I have never been comfortable sharing the honest details, especially with those I am closest to. I have always told myself, “that’s because I am the fixer, I’m just not comfortable with the roles reversed”. But the truth of it, is that I have never been comfortable being honest and vulnerable, because in order to do so, you have to be willing to be honest with yourself about how you are actually feeling, and give yourself the time and space required to get clear on what you need moving forward. I never completed that second step, because to get clear on what I need, I have to get in touch with my intuition, and that lives in my belly, and that wasn’t an option. But Sunday, it was an option, and it felt so clear and obvious and so freeing.

But before I sent out the texts, I had to tell Mike that I wasn’t going to be going to the party. And the hardest part about that, was knowing that he was going to have valid and likely uncomfortable feelings around going to this party alone. In the past this would have never been a real option. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it, I absolutely have been in this situation before, but I never got clear around why I always hated my body before an event; so I would just tell myself to stop being so dramatic, that not going to the event would be super selfish and it would only bring more attention to the very thing I was trying to avoid… myself. I would then throw on whatever I didn’t absolutely hate, likely be snippy with Mike the whole ride, get to the party, act (very convincingly) like everything was fine, and inevitably turn to my two favorite numbing agents, food and alcohol, to stamp out any lingering emotions that thought they had a seat at the table. And thus the cycle of self-hatred would continue and live to see another day.

It was an equally exhausting and exhilarating day. I was completely drained, but strangely so full of an energy that I haven’t come into contact with very often; pride. I was so proud of myself, and I still am. It’s not a boastful or ego-related pride, it honestly has the same energy that Ellie exudes when she tries something for the first time, and figures it out on her own. I know the little girl in me is jumping for joy that she once again has a seat at the table, and that I now have a story to reference when I need to remember what it feels like to get in touch with my needs. This may seem like a small victory, but I am fully aware of how monumental this is for my growth. It will take tons of awareness and self-inquiry to integrate this into my daily life, but I know I am up for the challenge. I am looking forward to a future where my auto-pilot is to nurture, rather than numb. I look forward to giving that gift of self-acceptance to my girls, once I know I have given it fully to myself.


All my love always,

Jess xo

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  • Reply Maureen Sharkey September 6, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    Absolutely loved this. You’re so raw and open and I could relate to so much of what you had talked about. Believe me i/ took me a long time to see myself as others do. I was and still may own worst enemy and being places weather with family or not if I wasn’t comfortable in my skin I felt like a nervous wreck the whole time there.
    I figured out how I see myself and the things I say to myself could run off on to my daughter and I surely don’t want her feeling like I have since I was in 9th grade maybe younger. So I have to look at myself as of I’m a hot mess sometimes because I’m a mom, and everything else for everyone and I have to give myself a break and when I feel like I look good I make sure to let myself know it. And if I am having a bad day then I find out how to get my mind set back to team Maureen. If anyone is allowed to say anything about your body it’s you but if you’re not able to focus on any of the beautiful and fantastic things about you at that time then cool off and make yourself find a way to compliment yourself and tell yourself “You are one heck of a wife, mommy, sister, daughter, Aunt, cousin and you are one person I am so proud to call family. You’re amazing and you have to learn to give yourself more credit and see how stunningly beautiful you truly are. It doesn’t happen over night bit if you tell yourself every day that you’re beautiful, smart and happy
    Eventually you will feel like that without having to remind yourself to help you get to a place where you are comfortable and happy with you, all of you.

    • Reply jessica kelly September 18, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you so much, Maureen. So grateful that you read this post and that you were able to see yourself in it. We can be so hard on ourselves as women, and it is time to change the narrative, for sure. Sending you love and so much appreciation. xo <3

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