Feminism and My Path to Recovery

This essay was written by our former intern, Isabella Higgins. It was originally posted at WomensHealth.gov

I still remember the first time I felt “fat.” I was trying on my new bikini that my mom and I bought the week before. I ran over to my mom, looked at her, and sobbed, “Mom, I don’t like how this looks on me. I look soooo fat.”

I was in third grade.

The next time I remember feeling “fat” was when my class was studying nutrition and all the students had to track what they ate for a week. The entire week I was worried about what I ate. I was afraid of appearing “fat.”

I was in fourth grade.

I continued to struggle with poor body image throughout my childhood, and in 10th grade, my struggle with anorexia nervosa hit me head on. My New Year’s resolution to become “healthy” in 2009 quickly spiraled into a full-fledged eating disorder. My life became full of social isolation, health problems, and a constant desire to become thinner and thinner. Fortunately, thanks to my parents’ vigilance and dedication to get me help, I was put into a recovery program by the fall of 2009. By 2010 I recovered physically and my weight was back to what my doctors thought was healthy. However, my negative body image, self-consciousness, and insecurities persisted.

I was always frustrated when my peers thought I was fully recovered simply because my weight was back to normal. I was far from recovered. My eating disorder taunted me and filled my head with thoughts like, “You’re fat,” “You’re worthless,” and “You’re a failure.” I hated my eating disorder and worried that I would never break free of its control.

As I continued on my road to full recovery, I became interested in trying to understand anorexia and what social factors  could have contributed to my eating disorder. I began to take classes focused on society, such as my high school course “Cultural Media Literacy.” I vividly remember when we watched a movie clip from Peter Pan. Tinker Bell looked at her reflection and showed disgust with the size of her thighs. Tears immediately began rolling down my face. No wonder I had such bad body image as a child! Even movies for kids were telling girls that their bodies were not good enough.

In college, I took more classes focused on society and began to learn about feminism. Feminism is often described as the belief that women and men are equal and deserve to have the same rights. For me it means even more. As a feminist, I now understand how inequalities in the media, education system, and other institutions reinforce the belief that women are lesser than men. I learned about the messages relayed to women and why I so often felt inadequate. I had my sights set on an unrealistic ideal created by society. Nobody in this world can naturally look like photoshopped models or have a body like Barbie. As I learned more, my unrealistic ideals started to diminish.

I also began to advocate for myself.

While I used to be passive and felt that my voice didn’t matter, I began to learn my voice was as important as everyone else’s. I gained more self-worth, which made me want to stand up for myself and speak out when I didn’t agree or felt uncomfortable. I started taking a more active role in my own life.

Now, I would be lying if I said that I never have bad body image or low self-esteem days. But the tools I gained while learning about feminism help me counter unhealthy thoughts. I no longer aspire to have a model’s body. I no longer spend my day obsessing over what I will eat next or how I will burn calories. Instead, I analyze the messages I receive from society before I take them to heart. I no longer accept the idea that I need to diet, that I am a sexual object, or that I should be passive.

As my road to complete recovery continues, I will never forget the important role feminism has played in helping me achieve a healthier state of mind.

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