From S to XL, my journey with body image by Sanika Tillway
I always grew up a skinny child. Most people told me I was too thin. At home though, my mother often criticized me for my “fat thighs” and “pot belly”. Growing up, I did not think of myself as beautiful. But I did think of myself as desirable while growing up because I fit the ideal of tall and thin.
If I look at my eating habits, I was an extremely picky eater but I think I first remember binge eating as a 10-year-old not very long after my grandfather passed away. I always put my appearance down to good genetics or good metabolism because I was younger. I was a latchkey child after my grandfather passed away and it is then that I remember running through large packs of biscuits, something I indulge in even now.
Shame is a big part of my family across each family member, even myself. Whether it’s performing poorly in an exam, “thick thighs” or reaching for an extra portion of food, shame was a huge part of our existence. I think food is the one place I found a sense of comfort and acceptance.
My twenties was when I really started putting on weight, from being extremely underweight, to now overweight. Other than my weight going up because of growth and bodily changes, events such as moving out of my parental home and relationships ending caused me to find greater comfort in food. In the last two years of the pandemic too, I took immense comfort in eating as I tried to navigate work stress and burnout.
As this happened, I also noticed how many things I had taken for granted when I used to be a thin person. I began to notice how clothing from affordable, mainstream brands does not fit me anymore. Within this context, the positive reframe for me has been is that I now get to choose the fabric and style I want for what I wear whenever I can’t buy off the rack and have to go to a tailor instead and I celebrate that sense of freedom.
Food has become a big part of my identity in the last decade and a half in a big way. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing but what has felt problematic about it is that I started to hate my body as I piled on the kilos. In fact, the exact opposite is true for me emotionally - I hated myself a lot when I was younger and thinner, I did not go to therapy then, and I was not doing as well emotionally then as I am now. I am a much happier person now, and the irony of it is that there are still some days when I hate my body.
Have I fully accepted my body? It depends on the day I suppose. Most days, I’m compassionate towards my body. But there are also days when I see my old pictures, or see a thinner person and feel like I could have a more desirable body. I suppose the real answer is that I’ve accepted that I will feel inadequate on some days, and fully okay on others. The important thing is that I know my body isn’t my whole being, it’s one part of it. And my whole being deserves unconditional love, acceptance and nurturing.
A container or shell meant to carry me, cannot by itself contain all of me, it can only be the most outwardly visible part of me before I open my mouth. It’s an important thought that I carry with me - I am the sum of my parts and not my body alone.