From the moment I was born, small seemed to be my label. As a full term five-pound baby, my size was comparably smaller to the other newborns in the nursery. At first glance, this may not seem to have any negative connotations, but I grew to hold being small as inferior as everyone around me began to grow into themselves. By the time I reached elementary school and middle school, I was tired of the reality that I could barely reach the shoulders of my fellow classmates. In order to subside my frustration, I made up for what my height lacked with a bold personality. In my head, I translated being small to being fragile and unheard. I wanted to be heard. I did not want my voice to be overshadowed by my taller friends, simply because I was smaller. I did not want my small stature to limit me to having a small personality.
At a yearly doctor’s appointment, the label of being small finally expired. My doctor predicted that I would eventually grow to be 5’5 during my high school years. Immediately, my bruised spirits were lifted, and my confidence soared to new heights.
As the people my age continued to grow not only physically in height but in all aspects of their lives, my bold beliefs I held when I was younger evolved into a need to be small in every sense. Small, in my mind, meant neat, polite, predictable, safe, mild, agreeable. As I continued to mature, my perception of myself revolved around the reactions of many others. “Petite” and “polite,” “focused” and “pretty” were labels that fueled my belief commending being small and rejecting being powerful, strong, outspoken, and opinionated. I was convinced others saw being bold as being bossy, rude, and argumentative; I feared being labeled as such. I constantly swallowed my opinions, in hopes that I would fit the mold that others created for me. Their words became my truth. I believed in these people and their opinions, and deeply wanted to please them. I became a pleaser. And began to shrink.
As my friends continued to grow throughout high school, my height seemed to be cemented at 5’2. Little did I know at the time that my deep emotional desire to be small in order to please others would influence my height. I labelled myself as a “pleaser,” and in doing so, sacrificed my own well-being for the needs of others. My need to be smaller began to show on the outside, due to the restrictive behaviors I adopted. Socially, I never freed myself enough to be authentic around my friends, always clinging to the fear that being real and unfiltered would crack my protective, perfect outer layer. Academically, I shielded my opinions from group discussions and saw submitting perfect assignments as a form of pleasing my teachers. Food-wise, I restricted myself until I had to rely solely on my mental tenacity to power through the day. I shrunk little by little each day for six years until there was only a shell of myself left-- a shell that collected others’ expectations and opinions like a house collects dust.
For six years I thought I was doing everything right. I was putting others before myself, shouldn’t this translate as being selfless? Isn’t this the quality everyone strives for? In reality, my efforts were destructive. I was no longer living, I was surviving.
Now I am nineteen, and I am just beginning to see a future of reaching 5’5. At a recent doctor’s appointment, I was transported back to the joy I felt when I learned I would not always be the smallest one in the classroom. At my appointment, I was told that I had grown to be 5’4 since dedicating myself to eating disorder recovery. This appointment was not about a number or a measurement.
I saw it as my body’s way of thanking me for listening to my authentic self. Until October of last year, when I made the decision to recover, I never allowed myself to grow. But now, nine months later, I am proud to say that I am allowing myself to flourish.
The question, “Why me?” was one that weighed down my thoughts at times in the beginning of my recovery. I resented myself for reaching such a detrimental point in my life and weighed myself with guilt. I was desperate to highlight the exact moment that triggered my destructive behaviors, but could not pinpoint a defined moment in the past. But now, nine months into recovery, I realize that the mental torment of trying to recognize the catalyst for my unhealthy behaviors is unproductive. A better question to answer is, “Why not me?” What can I do with what has happened to me? Recovery has taken diving into every corner of my emotions to uncover that I have never truly lived until now. I never chose my diagnosis, but I have chosen recovery. I have chosen to do the mental work required to create a better relationship with food. I have chosen to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to build muscle I can sculpt now because I am nourished. I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone-- I have eaten one more bite after deciding I was filled to the brim with food, I have gone out to eat at restaurants despite being adjusted to my comfortable routine, and I have embraced the summer weather and the bathing suits coupling it. I have chosen to accept myself as bold and unconventional, rather than quiet and small. I have redefined my definition of selflessness, reminding myself that the word does not, in fact, mean you must abandon yourself before being concerned with the needs and wishes of others. I have recognized the danger in listening to the words of others rather than to my own voice. Most importantly, I decided to stop tiptoeing around the edge of life and dive headfirst into the middle of it.
It is beautiful how we find ourselves doing things we once considered impossible. It is incredible to find ourselves letting go of what things we once thought we could never live without. It is remarkable to fall in love with moments we once never knew existed. And it is stunning to find yourself on a journey you never planned.
Today I am 5’4, and I am looking forward to more growth in every area of my life. Today I am on top of the world.