We got family pictures taken last weekend. I found matching outfits for the boys to wear, these ridiculous but adorable striped rompers that I couldn’t resist. The picture session itself went fine, about as you’d expect something like that to go when you have a toddler who doesn’t like to sit still. I went great lengths to get the boys to look at the camera—jumping up and down, waving my arms, making monkey noises, and twirling in circles.
That same day, the photographer sent me a sneak peak, just a few pictures of the fuller set I’d be able to choose from.
Of course, the boys were adorable, as expected, and Rob was as handsome as ever. But there was one photo that caught my eye for another reason, and that was because I was in it, and because I didn’t at first glance like the way I looked.
But I was smiling, and I looked happy, and that’s what mattered. The picture perfectly captured the happiness of my little family. And it was that realization that made me love the picture even more.
Almost two years ago, I was up in Breckenridge at a family reunion type thing. I was hanging out with people in the guest kitchen when my phone buzzed, a notification that I’d been tagged in someone’s photos.
My mood went from a 10 to a 0 as I swiped through the photos, and I could feel a pit in my stomach growing larger and larger the longer I looked, the longer I analyzed how “big” I appeared in the photographs.
I left the others laughing in the kitchen and went upstairs to the bathroom. I curled up on the title and began my deep breathing exercises, trying to remember what my counselor told me to do whenever I felt the urge to self-harm. I was no longer giving in to those urges—I’d come such a long way through therapy— but the temptation was still fresh, especially when triggered by anything having to do with my body or food.
I did not give into the urge that day, but for the rest of the day I walked around with a storm cloud brewing inside of my chest. Family members laughed and smiled around me, and I probably faked a smile back, but the weekend was ruined for me.
A few years earlier, my in-laws came out to Colorado for a quick visit. Rob was so happy to have them here, and we did everything from cooking together to watching volleyball to driving up Mt Evans. I’ll always remember it with fondness.
But I’ll also remember having a heated argument with Rob one evening after everyone had gone to bed. He was angry at me, because he felt like I was stealing the joy out of their visit. It wasn’t nice of him to say, but, in fairness, it was true. I was stealing the joy, because I’d weighed myself that morning and, after seeing the number on the scale, got caught up in calorie-counting on the app on my phone and then ended the evening by self-harming after I examined a picture taken of me that day. I looked ‘too big” in the picture, and I couldn’t handle it.
Rob and I had countless arguments about my obsessions with my body, and he was annoyed that my obsession over how I looked in a picture was taking away from the enjoyments of the day, yet again.
When I look at a picture of myself now, I do still notice how I look. I think that’s normal.
When I got the family pictures back from the photographer just a few days ago, I did notice my appearance. But now, unlike times in the past, I just notice it and move on with my life. It doesn’t matter as much to me if my body is big or small or somewhere in between. It’s not bad; it’s not good. It’s simply neutral.
It’s taken a lot of time, therapy, and patience for me to get to this place.
To other people, it probably seems so simple, maybe even silly. But to me, it’s revolutionary. It feels like freedom.
I feel a little sad for my past self, for younger-Anna, so caught up in obsession, disordered eating, and body idolization. Yet I also feel proud of now-Anna, because I’ve come such a long way in my journey, and I never thought it would be possible for me to have found such healing and neutrality.
I don’t want to steal joy from my family with obsessions that don’t matter. I don’t want to miss out on memories, in the moment or later, after the photos are taken. I don’t want to look at pictures and see a fake smile, all the while knowing I was quietly dying inside. That’s not who I am anymore.
Now, as I look at our family pictures, I look at my smile. I look at my eyes. Am I happy? Am I truly happy? And I can honestly say that the answer is yes.
Yes, I am happy. I am both emotionally and mentally present, unlike ever before, because I am finally unencumbered by my body image distortions. Rob has joy. My boys, too, are happy because they are so, so loved.
That is what matters to me now.
p.s. My book comes out this summer. Get excited, friends!
(Photograph by Sunkissed Photography. Check her out if you live in Denver area)