By Jennifer Ann Butler
Hi, I’m Jen. I weigh around 160 pounds and am 5’4″. This is me today:
And this was me at my skinniest, 50 pounds ago: (I weighed about 110 pounds and wore a 00 and was excited about having to shop in Abercrombie Kids upon losing more weight.)
You’ll notice a cane and a bandage on my foot/ankle in the first 111-pound pic.
That’s the injury that saved my life.
At that time, I was only ingesting 1100 net calories a day, and that was including my alcohol intake (which was substantial). I ran a 5k (3.1ish miles) at least 5 days a week and worked out some way or another every single day. If I ever took a day off from exercising, I further limited my food (but never my alcohol) to make up for it, and constantly berated myself for being “lazy” by not exercising.
Oftentimes, I would get on Instagram and look at pictures of beautiful skinny women until I felt ugly enough to work out, no matter how exhausted or sore I was. I chewed pain pills and regularly took Midol and Goodies powder to numb myself.
My workouts were never good enough unless I worked out harder or ran further than I had the day prior. I was constantly competing against myself and this unattainable ideal of perfection. I kept running, running, running.
I made the decision to get breast implants, telling the doctor to, and I quote, “make them as big as my body can stand.”
I went from a 32A-B to a 32DD-32DDD. My boobs looked like balloons.
Since I’d had malignant melanoma removed from my right breast, I told everyone I had gotten reconstructive surgery. But I hadn’t. (At least not this time–an actual reconstructive surgery manifested itself later in life.) I just wanted the attention and approval.
I loved my boob job. Thigh gap plus unnaturally big tits? I was certain that I was winning at life.
And yet, I was still miserable. It was never enough.
One day, I went for a run after a shitty day at work. I felt angry, which I labeled as unacceptable, and told myself I’d run until the anger went away.
The anger didn’t give way; my body did.
I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. I still didn’t stop running. I limped around the track at Swift Cantrell park until my shoulders and face were sunburnt and my clothes were soaked with sweat.
After a week or two of pretending the injury didn’t exist and wearing 6-inch stilettos and continuing to run (sometimes in the stilettos, and no I’m not kidding), I finally went to an orthopedic surgeon. I remember a small part of me hoping I was injured, so I could have a viable excuse to take some time off from exercise.
I had a stress fracture, a stress reaction, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, a bone spur, the beginning of a bunion, and an ankle sprain.
I was put in an air boot cast for 6-8 weeks and was given crutches. I was to put no impact on that foot.
My ankle and foot clearly said to me: “Stop running.”
I was literally forced by my body to stop running. Stop running from my emotional pain. From my repressed past. From the truth about incompatible relationships and jobs. From my demons and skeletons and my shadow.
Within a few weeks, I ended the incompatible relationship I had been in for 3.5 years. Soon after, I left my job. Without the outlet of running, I could better hear what my emotions were trying to tell me. (I didn’t know this at the time, though. At the time my misery and discomfort became too fucking much, so I anxiously made the changes in order to hopefully feel less like dying.)
As soon as the air boot was off, I went back to running every day.
And ever since then, five years ago, my foot, ankle, Achilles tendon, and shin on the right side have been re-injured countless times.
Stop running, they said.
But I didn’t hear them, you see. I cursed my lower leg. I blamed it for my weight gain and for limiting my ability to do the exercises I most love (running, hiking, rock climbing, etc.).
Two months ago, I had gotten into a good walking habit. I was going for 20 minute walks each day. I was doing yoga a few times a week. I felt balanced.
It wasn’t long, though, before the old pattern kicked in. Walk the whole neighborhood, it would say. And I did. You walked the whole neighborhood yesterday; you should run half of it today. And I listened. You ran half of the neighborhood yesterday; you should run the whole thing today. And I listened. You should do yoga every day. So I did.
At that time, I was dating a man who was very physically fit and I was mortified that he weighed less than me. My goal suddenly went from “self-awareness and self-love and bettering the world” to “be skinnier than my boyfriend.” The addiction for perfection had taken over, yet again.
Thankfully, my ankle stopped me. Without any specific moment “causing” the pain, I awoke one day with shooting pain in my foot and ankle and shin. My old limp had returned.
The last two months has consisted of me being begrudgingly gentle on my lower leg. I took a lot of Epsom salt baths. I stretched. I did reiki on myself. I’d ice it sometimes.
I gained weight, making it to my highest ever of about 165 pounds. This infuriated me. After all, I ate no processed carbs and no sugar. I limited my fruit intake to low-sugar fruit only (and only occasionally). I drank no alcohol (and hadn’t in 2.5 years). 80% of my diet was organic vegetables. And still, I gained weight.
And I fucking hated myself for it.
My clothes were all too tight, but I refused to go shopping. I didn’t want to condone my weight gain by rewarding myself. And I most certainly didn’t want to buy anything bigger than a size Small. That’d be a panic attack waiting to happen. And certainly an admission of failure.
Even with a new book in print and getting great reviews. Even being in the healthiest relationships I’ve ever had. Even while making a living through writing, painting, and intuitive communication. Even with talking to my therapist about how I only exercise from a place of love rather than lack. Even with helping others sort through their inner landscape, offering ideas on how to be more loving to themselves. I constantly thought about food, about my body, about how my clothes fit, and about how much better I used to look. I remained angry at my body for betraying me. Pissed at my injuries. Confused how this could “happen to me” when I “do everything right.”
Two nights ago, I was looking through old pictures. (This is something I typically do about once a month to judge myself on how I’m doing by comparing to when I was skinnier.) (Yes, I realize how irrational this is.) But THIS time in specific was to send old pictures to someone I’ve grown close to, because we yearn to share everything with one another. And this was something I was ready to share.
I had no idea how warped my mindset was until going through these photos. Most pictures were of me naked or close to, or drinking alcohol, or showing off how skinny I was. It was a deep-rooted obsession. I also had no idea how emaciated I looked until peering back at these photos. It was shocking.
While scrolling, I found this picture and another like it. It was after I had put on a little weight (and was still thin): (I’ve censored it because, while I don’t mind showing my ass on the internet, some may take offense.)
The other pic like this one was also focusing on [what I used to consider] my “problem area” of my ass/thighs and said “Work out. Or drop the carbs.” And get this: MY hind-end LOOKED FINE.
But even if it didn’t look “fine” or “good” or “fit” or “lifted” enough, it doesn’t fucking matter. This isn’t healthy, loving motivation; this is abuse.
I sent the pictures to my closest friends with a caption along the lines of, “Wow! I was so mean to myself!” They all responded with similar horror, unable to imagine that who I am today would have ever treated herself that way.
I thought, I would never even dream of speaking this way to another; why did I speak that way to myself?
And then I started to feel irritable and discontent without knowing why. I now see in hindsight that my body was screaming “YOU STILL TREAT YOURSELF THAT WAY.” But I didn’t listen. At least not yet.
After an Epsom salt bath, I found myself sitting in my backyard under the night sky. I was wearing boxer shorts (which is rare due to having nearly always disliked my legs, but all of my sweat pants were set aside to be packed for a Europe trip next week) and a t-shirt. I stared at the earth in front of me.
Then, my attention was drawn to my right foot and ankle.
And in this moment, I felt as if they had their own personality. I felt a tenderness toward them. I was inundated with visuals and sounds and a knowingness of all the times this sweet personality begged me to stop pushing it, only for me to ignore and push harder. As I moved my awareness up my body, the same thing happened at my shin and my knee. I made it to my thighs. I was shown a visual projection of a sweet, five-year-old Jen. (She’s the one who first dealt with sexual assault. She’s the one who became disconnected from her body. — This is something I’ve only recently learned.) Then I saw different adult-Jens saying “you should work out” and “why the fuck did you eat that?” and “she’s skinnier than you” to this adorable curly-haired baby Jen.
No! I thought. Don’t talk to her that way!
But I did. I already had. As my awareness moved throughout my body in an upward motion, I saw the corresponding negativity I’d previously spewed at myself. My younger self. My sweet, tender body. My heart. My soul.
All I could do in this moment was watch. And feel.
I started to cry. When I made it to my chest, I felt such a fondness for my natural, smaller breasts. Then I was shown knives slicing into them. I felt them screaming. I watched as past me ignored and marveled at the surface beauty that had come as a result of ignoring these screams. I wept.
This continued through each body part, ending at my skin in regards to my acne.
“You shouldn’t go out without makeup. Your face looks awful.” Adult Jen said to Little Jen.
I began sobbing. I physically felt pain in my heart as this awareness integrated into my system.
I held my legs in close, but not in a fetal position or hiding kind of way. For the first time ever, I held them. I embraced them.
“I’m sorry,” I said through tears. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Without thinking, I continued to repeat those two words over and over. It became a mantra. A repeated chant. It poured out of me. And then, without any conscious plan, another set of words began coming out.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I I’m sorry forgive I’m sorry you I’m sorry I forgive I’m sorry you I’m sorry I forgive you I’m sorry I forgive you I’m sorry I forgive you I forgive you.
“Why?!” I screamed back. “Why the FUCK do you forgive me? I’m been awful to you!”
I forgive you.
That hurt more than anything.
Because in order to accept that forgiveness… In order to accept that love… I had to let go of a lot of pain. That’s the only way to make room.
And so I wept. I wailed. I’m talkin’, snot-bubbles while heaving.
After a while, my legs stretched out in front of me. I watched as my hand slowly moved to my leg. I marveled as my fingertips gently caressed my thigh in the way I’d do for a loved one or hope they’d do for me. I felt tingles as the nerve endings registered the act of love.
I touched myself in that gentle, loving, appreciative, respectful way, all over my body.
By the end, I was smiling. I was laughing. I was beaming with joy because, for the first time ever, I could really feel my body. After a lifetime of separation, my body and I made amends.
The next day, my mom took me shopping.
While bloated and on my period.
Which every woman knows is not the best time for clothes shopping.
Guess what? We had an amazing time. I didn’t limit myself to my old sizes or the numbers/labels I thought denoted skinniness/success. Not only did I go above a size Small, but I bought some items in a size LARGE!
(Just now I heard a voice say, “My pants match my heart: large and expansive!” I’ll allow it.)
And I smiled the whole fucking time. I loved every second of it. And, because I was present rather than lost in an endless cycle of self-judgment, I had more fun with my mom than I have in years.
I walked away with beautiful clothes that I feel amazing in… Because my mom rocks. And also because I’m in a beautiful body that I feel amazing in. And because I no longer define that based on a number or a comparison or a thigh gap.
My body is beautiful because it’s my body. It’s as simple as that.
Jennifer (“Jen”) is a quirky truth-teller and intuitive communicator who uninhibitedly shares her story via writing, doodling, and painting. She loves hippos, mis-matched socks, and broccoli. Her first book, “imperfect: the spontaneous spiritual awakening of a suicidal addict” is now available and can be purchased here: http://mybook.to/theimperfectbook. Check out her blog at www.jenniferannbutler.com.