Sunday Times

From tyranny to truth: how I changed my reflection

The birth of my daughter brought with it a new sense of compassion for myself. After a lifetime of selfloathi­ng, I started loving the person in the mirror ... flab and all, writes Carly Esterhuize­n


For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with what stares back at me in the mirror.

Since primary school, I’ve been in a constant battle with my body. Angry at it. Sad that it makes me feel “less than”. Always worried that I’m not worth anything or taken seriously if it’s bigger than what historical­ly has been presented as the ideal.

Part of that likely stems from deep insecurity, which presents itself in my perception of how I look. A perception that’s been constantly reinforced by the media, fashion, society, toxic relationsh­ips and diet culture. There have been so many diets.

Some years have been worse than others, but the undercurre­nt has remained constant.

Just before I got married, I was trying on wedding dresses, and the shop helper made a comment about the fit of the dress I wanted to buy. This happens all the time, and I so wish it hadn’t penetrated my armour the way it did. But it did.

A big life change like getting married can make you vulnerable and cause all of your well-built defences to drop. In that instant I was catapulted into spiralling obsessive thoughts about changing my body and what I now know was a coping mechanism to help my brain deal with the anxiety and uncertaint­y of this big life change.

I lost the weight. And then some. There was no room in my mind to think about my wedding, work, family or friends. All I could think about was food and how not to eat any.

When I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown I finally reached out for help and, through an outpatient programme, therapy. A specialise­d dietician and lots of encouragem­ent from my amazing husband and close family were my support system. I could finally acknowledg­e to myself that I’d been suffering with an eating disorder most of my life.

Even after working through the programme and following the practical steps to heal myself, I still struggled to really believe what I was being taught. That my body, and all bodies, are perfect. That we aren’t defined by them. That diet culture and body shaming are in some ways designed to bring us down. They are designed to distract us from what we really can achieve if our minds aren’t consumed with worrying about how big our bums look in a pair of jeans. That our bodies are actually the least interestin­g things about us.

And then something magical happened: I fell pregnant. Though very triggering at first, in time as my body began to change I started thinking about what miraculous work it was doing. I thought about how cruel and demanding I had behaved towards it. That it had been the scapegoat for my anxiety all these years.

I thought about my daughter and how I never wanted her to hate her body the way I had hated mine. And I knew the only way to change that narrative was to truly live the right one myself.

And then she arrived, and her love broke me open. I softened. I started feeling compassion for myself. I found body positive influencer­s to follow and ditched the fitness accounts and healthy food prep pages. I bought bigger clothes. I started seeing something different in the mirror. A friend. An inner child who so desperatel­y needed my love, forgivenes­s and acceptance.

I started to love the parts of me I’d always tried to hide.

I’m sharing this deeply personal message to let anyone out there suffering the way I did know there is a different way to live. It takes hard work and a will to be different and go against everything you might instinctiv­ely feel about yourself. It takes faith that it might all actually work out.

I’ll always be walking this path, and I’ll always have moments where it seems safer to revert to being critical and unkind to my body. But every day is another chance to approach myself with love and kindness.

And I promise it filters into the rest of your life in the most beautiful ways.

Thank you to those of you who have supported me, and when you get the chance and the choice to uplift someone else and help them believe, do it.

 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa