”One day you will be able to love yourself.” – Anneka’s body image journey

The gorgeous Anneka is 28 and from Nottingham.

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So, I was bulimic.


I came from quite the broken family and, spent most of my school life receiving constant taunts from other kids pretty much from primary school age upwards.


“You’re too fat to play with us.”

“You’re a tramp.”

“It’s not normal to have belly rolls.”


 Man, I hated school.


So in my teens, I got ill. Just your standard, run of the mill bug that caused me to be sick quite a few times and it made me feel empty and, kinda thin. Hey presto, I was hooked.


For many years I continued to make that empty feeling happen. My Mum was skint and there I was, eating her out of house and home and throwing away all that precious food down the toilet. I got found out when my sister opened the loo one day and found some of that precious food in the loo, and told my Mum.


Then came years of counselling, various scared shouting fits from my Mum completely unaware of what to do, and eventually, an overdose from me in an attempt to escape what had become a horrific and exhausting routine of binge – make myself throw up – binge – make myself throw up. Luckily I wasn’t successful and after a few nights in hospital, I came home and began my recovery.


Yes my family tried to help, but did any of the help I received actually contribute to my recovery? No, no it didn’t. Back then, I don’t know that there was as much understanding about eating disorders as there is now. And whenever I got weighed by a medical professional, I wasn’t underweight, so really, to them, there wasn’t anything to worry about.


Sure my teeth and throat were getting a battering from stomach acid, my skin was grey and malnourished and I was tired all the time. And my mind was pretty crippled too. But if I had no ‘red flag’ symptoms, they didn’t really care and, that meant I was free to continue my path of physical destruction, my war with me.


My recovery from the act of making myself sick was, quite a slow one. I had to force myself to start by eating literally salad leaves, and then work my way up to more substantial foods.


When I was eating again, the bad food habits still didn’t stop for years. My ‘bulimia’ was at bay for sure, but, my scarred mind still reigned my personal realm of body image.


I remember once going round my friend Amy’s in a fitted top, having used thick tape to literally tape my stomach up underneath. I literally made my own sticky corset. And I remember when I was seeing this one guy in my late teens, who grabbed at what I see now was only really an inch or so of skin and said ”don’t ever stop being fat, I love it.” So of course with his inspirational words in my mind, I stopped eating pretty much everything and I would constantly rub my stomach to see how flat it felt. I became a bit of a red bull addict and survived on energy drinks, eventually giving up after I started to see ‘things’ crawling up my arm.


 So when did I actually recover you ask?


Well to be honest, I never really did. Now that’s not to say I still tape my stomach or bring up my food or suck on energy drinks all day without eating anything.


I actually thought of myself as recovered for a while, thinking I was over abusing my body and treating myself like shit. I was eating and I wasn’t obsessing, so I was recovered right? Wrong.


A year or so ago I realised that I spent tons of my time comparing myself to others and, I had started to abuse my body in a different way. I was comfort eating. So my ankles had started to swell because I became an unhealthy weight, not toned outside or fit inside. I was truly unhealthy inside and outside. And I had some very thin friends. And they and I made jokes about my weight, when inside I was dying. So really, I had recovered from one form of abuse and turned to another without realising it.


So now, I’m in a different place. I still have some way to go with my journey but, I have learnt very much not to compare myself. I always saw larger ladies, medium ladies, really thin ladies and always thought they looked amazing when they held themselves with confidence, regardless of their size. So why had I never afforded myself the same compassion? Why had I always thought every single person I saw was better than me? Why had I always turned to food as a form of emotional abuse?


And I started to notice that actually, everyone has their hang-ups. It’s a bit of a cliché to say this but, when you realise it’s true it does make a difference. Like my really thin friend who lost lots of weight because of a bowel issue. She turned to me when she had lost loads of weight and said to me she was so jealous of big legs. She said she kept looking at women with big legs and was so jealous because hers were tiny. And there I was envious over her gorgeous body and she was hating it.


And I did realise at that point that, for some people, what their body looks like is not in their control. Some people cannot help how they look. I can, I have complete control over how my body looks, so why was I abusing it rather than embracing it?


And it was that path of thinking that actually pushed me to a better way of thinking.


Sure I am a little overweight now, and I still get automatically envious of really thin women, but the thought processes that surround that type of thinking and how I think about myself are much healthier.


Yes I am overweight, but I look OK. I feel OK and I am not sticking my fingers down my throat trying to fix it. Yes the model I am looking at is thin, and she looks OK, but do I actually want to look like her? NO. No I don’t, I want to look like me and be happy with who I am.


That is the difference.


There is no point in comparing yourself because you will always be you, and they will always be them. You can only ever have control over how you look and most importantly – feel about yourself.


So please, if you’re struggling with how you feel about yourself and you’re abusing your body in any which way, know that one day, your journey will become a positive one again. You won’t always want to harm yourself and hurt yourself. One day you will be able to be kind to yourself.


 One day you will be able to love yourself.


 

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About Leyah Shanks

Positive body image activist and advocate for mental health.

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