18 Years to Self Love

art by Nicole 

art by Nicole 

trigger warning: eating disorders discussed. On September 28th, 1999, I was born. I was born 2 and a half months premature at 2.7 pounds. From that moment on, my nickname grew to be “skinny minnie”. Given my mother’s complicated pregnancy due to toxemia, I was very lucky to be alive.  Although, I was unaware of how my adolescent years would suffer from how I was brought into this world, or how it affected my body and mind. I was always a small child, and no matter what age, I was always underweight, whether it was waiting until I was almost 10 years old to sit in the front seat of my dads car, being mistaken as the younger sister, or having to wait to wear hand me downs until I was big enough. One day in 2nd grade I had rushed out of the house with my mother, neither of us realizing my daisy print leggings were inside out. Being the carefree child I was, I didn’t give any thought to it, and proceeded to go to school like any other day.  During recess, a group of girls from my class approached me and began tugging on the tag on the outside of my pants, calling out, “toddler! There’s a toddler in our class!” In utter confusion and embarrassment I checked the tag and read “5T” which meant “5 year old” according to The Children’s Place. While my friends began shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale, I was stuck wearing clothes meant for kids half my age.  This incident didn’t affect me much until a few years later when my friends began to go through puberty, and I didn’t. Curves, boys, bras, periods. For me it was more like, empty training bras, confused feelings, and mockery. Everyone around me was growing up as I was left looking and feeling like a child.

Fast forward. Skip to the summer before 8th grade. I was 13, pretty much done with puberty, and feeling great. I was maturing and I could finally see and feel it. Until I felt it too much. Bigger hips, bigger chest, bigger everything it seemed like, and to my 13 year old self that wasn’t ideal. My perception of the human body was always distorted as I was never “on track” with the kids my own age. When the summer before 8th grade came around, I went from feeling like a confident young woman to an insecure child in the blink of an eye. I thought growing up and having the body of an “adult” was going to be the coolest thing in the entire world, but in reality, it presented me with more insecurities and questions than I’d ever thought possible. Upset with myself, my body, and how I viewed myself, I began exercising daily, and slowly limiting my calorie intake in hope of returning to my slim “childlike” figure. As people began to notice to the smaller I became, the happier I was with myself.  Then it was September 2014, my first year of high school, and I was out of control and the problem was that I thought I was doing myself a favor. In reality, I was slowly killing myself because of unrealistic standards I had set for myself without even knowing it. Is that even possible? Yes, it was possible and it was the harsh truth. Unknowingly, for years, growing up interested in fashion and design, I was familiar with the supermodel figure and the desire to look how 2% of the population looks like. I didn't care what the percentage was, it was my goal, and I would achieve it. Before turning 14 years old, I had never questioned my body, I had no problem eating whatever I wanted, and I certainly didn’t try to alter my looks, simply because it wasn’t something that was present in my mind. Again, growing up I was always small. The people close to me would tell me, “You look the same as you always have! Skinny minnie!” As I started questioning their honesty about my looks, my reflection in the mirror began shifting. Body dysmorphia. My worst possible fears became a reality.

Nicole on eating disorder recovery day, 2018

Nicole on eating disorder recovery day, 2018

I became a perfectionist in the worst way possible; constantly checking the mirror, avoiding social situations due to embarrassment, comparing my appearance to others, counting calories and eventually restricting myself from food all together. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa only weeks after my 15th birthday. The main issues being my severely low weight, unwillingness to eat, and not realizing that what I was doing would end in my death. I didn’t believe my doctors, parents, and friends when they told me I had a life threatening illness, because I thought I was doing myself a favor by loosing more and more weight. The pressures of growing up in such a high standard world didn’t help either, as I sat in my room for hours a day scrolling through Instagram beating myself up because I didn't look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Today’s society pressures men and women with “guidelines” to be considered attractive; six pack abs, at least 6ft tall, muscular arms, and for women, a toned stomach, no body fat, big breasts, a big butt, and not too tall but not too short either.  This criteria destroys confidence and self worth, instead of celebrating differences and how people are the way they are. Throughout this time, my only goal was to loose more and more weight, to make myself happier? To make other’s see me as who I wanted to be? I don't know. I wanted to be skinnier and skinnier because that’s the only thing that I cared about, no matter the consequence. Many people would ask me, “why are you doing this to yourself?” or “what’s your end goal?” and the answer is, because anorexia is equated to self worth, and the only way to achieve self love is to loose more and more weight until you have nothing left to lose. I was unable to answer the following questions without confusing people or making them frustrated, as they simply didn’t understand my mindset. What they didn't understand was that not only my mindset, but my entire being; physically and mentally, was taken over by anorexia nervosa. Nothing anyone said or did would change my mind about my appearance, except for one of my childhood doctors.

In mid January, my mother and father took me to my childhood pediatrician as a last resort. They trusted him, and they were right, he saved my life. Now, many of you may think since I was going to a pediatrician it would be an easy visit, but let me tell you right here, right now, this was the hardest 60 minutes of my life. My mother and father both sat beside me as nurses checked my heart, organs, blood pressure and eventually weight. After waiting in silence for the results, my pediatrician entered the room, sat down, and began to cry. My parents concern grew more extreme, as the doctor caught his breath, faced towards me, and said the following, “Nicole, if you don’t get help the moment you leave this room, your organs will fail within a matter of months or weeks, and you’ll die. You’re 78 pounds and you’re slowly dying second by second without nourishment. You’re nails will break, your hair will fall out, and you won’t be able to move much longer if you keep living like this.”  I was in complete and utter shock. It was like a flip was switched in my brain after hearing what the doctor had to say, sitting next to my weeping parents who didn’t know what else to do.  After leaving the doctor’s office, my parents and I stood in the parking lot discussing and debating what the next step was. The pediatrician recommended I started increasing my calorie intake  by drinking one “weight gain” protein shake a day, until I’m back to a healthy weight. I was on board, but the words “weight gain” replayed in my head for weeks and weeks, until I got used to them.

Over the next few weeks, following the doctor’s visit, my desire to live increased and I became more and more comfortable with gaining weight to become healthier again. This recovery process wasn't easy, however. Ups and downs and low lows and high highs were a frequent occurrence as I learned to love myself again. What a lot of people don’t understand about anorexia is that the people who fall victim to the illness are only worried about their weight. I was often shamed by others who said, “you want to be skinnier and skinnier so you think bigger people are ugly.” That’s one of the most common misconceptions I’ve been met with while living with anorexia and recovering. My self perception doesn’t include anyone else, therefore it’s called SELF perception. Four years later, I’m 18 years old and about to start my first year of college. If I didn’t accept the help I needed, when I did, I would not be here writing this today. I’m beyond blessed to have had my families and friends support throughout the most treacherous and severe years of my life. I can happily say that after a difficult but successful recovery, I’m happier and healthier than I have ever been without restricting calories, comparing myself to others, or altering my appearance. No matter how many stretch marks, how much cellulite, or how many rolls I have when I sit down (everyone does!) I’ve stayed strong through knowing I’m nourishing my body instead of hurting it. Sure, I may have bad days, but that’s a part of life. It’s a part of getting stronger and stronger each and every day. It’s a part of overcoming the hardships of your past, and moving forward to become the happiest version of yourself possible. A lesson I want to leave with you is to always be understanding. You have no idea how others might be feeling and what they might be dealing with in their personal lives. For many years I thought I was alone in terms of my struggles, but I was surely wrong. Please never jump to conclusions about people based on looks or feelings, and spread love not hate. Thank you for reading this and always remember there are no rules or guidelines to beauty. 

 

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