Is strong really the new skinny?…Sadly it seems not.

This is my most personal blog post to date. I am apprehensive to share it but it’s message is so important to me I am letting go of that apprehension to get this message heard.

On 17th December 2015 what I thought was an unfortunate reaction to some rich food left me feeling sick and unable to sleep, boy I thought wrong. From that day on I grew continually sicker and by early January I found myself in the ER.

This isn’t a tale to tell all of the gory details, or how I found myself in this situation in the first place. The truth is, the gory details are still happening and my story is still evolving. I am however positive that I will soon be telling many tales to share each and every detail, to tell a marvellous story of recovery and to use my experience to help others; which in itself will make the entire experience worth while.

Up until now, I had decided I wasn’t going to share anything at all about my experience. I was going to keep everything under wraps, until I felt it was the right time to share. However, I feel so compelled in this moment to write this despite that decision. This part of my experience needs to be out there sooner rather than later; it is something that has shocked, disturbed and upset me beyond the need to otherwise remain hush.

During this whole thing I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight, which has been physically and mentally challenging for me. My weight loss has zapped my energy; left me unable to play in my love of exercise, it has left me self-conscious and I have felt a million miles away from my usually vibrant self. When I look in the mirror this is all evident in my gaunt face and my frail body, or so I thought….

My first outing after a long period indoors was a catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of months. I wore a dress that hung from me, I struggled to hide the veins visible through my thin skin and my make-up did very little to hide the sallow complexion beneath. As I nervously walked in to the bar where my friends waited I was indeed met with gasps, but not for the reasons I had expected I would be. These were not gasps of horror (I should mention the majority of these friends didn’t actually know I had been sick) these were gasps of admiration, awe and envy. This initial reaction was followed by shrieks of “OMG you look amazing”, “Wow, what diet are you doing? I need me some of that”, “Girl, how hot do you look”?? I was flabbergasted. I looked ill, seriously ill. I was colourless, weak, my shoulders were hunched and my hair was thin and limp, how could I possibly be getting this much praise??

Following that night I have encountered many similar scenarios; where previously a quick ‘hello’ would have sufficed, I have instead been bombarded with compliments from acquaintances on the street. Waitresses and shop assistants have unashamedly quizzed me for advice on how they might achieve a figure like mine and most disturbingly of all I’ve been asked by a massage therapist how she becomes ‘boney’ like I am. To have strangers approach me in this way has been bewildering.

Perhaps the reason it has been so confronting is because it’s far too reminiscent of the days battling anorexia as a teenager; I am the same size now as I was then. On a personal level, it’s been liberating to recognise old feelings and know that every part of me is strong enough to never slip back in to the dark place I was then. However, I do still remember the empowering feelings I felt back then when people told me how great I looked. These feelings became addictive and lead to a downward spiral of self-deprivation, ultimately landing me in an eating disorders unit by the age of 18. It scares the hell out of me that the young women admiring my figure feel this is the way they should look; the way they would like to look, a look they want to be admired and praised for. It scares me that achieving this unsustainable ideal might lead to the same downward spiral for these women, and others. This ‘look’ required both a physical illness and a mental illness.

I am writing this in the hope it will reach someone suffering with body image issues, in any degree. I send you a big virtual hug and ask you to please appreciate your perfect body for what it is and what it does for you – the strong legs that carry you, the powerful facial muscles that express your thoughts and feelings, your incredible brain that enables you to read this. It is your temple in its entirety; love it, respect it, nourish it and thank it. And it will thank you in return by staying strong, healthy and vibrant – trust me on this one.