A while ago, I found a recommendation – an artistic exercise – that offered to help my body image and eating disorder perspective. I’m not sure where I found the suggestion. I’m thinking it was from the blog Weightless, but now I can’t find it, nor can I remember what it was called.
Anyway, I remember thinking it was a bit silly at first, kind of like one of those fifth grade homework assignments. You know…the poster board, the glue sticks, and having mom run to the dollar store to get your supplies because it was the night before it was due. I wasn’t going to do project – I was just going to read through it, but something inside pushed me to just give it a try. What did I have to lose? No one would have to see it anyway…just me.
The task was to take a manila folder, and on the cover, write the words, “If I was _____, then I would...” In the blank you were to fill in what was holding you back from life. For example, you could put “confident”, “smart”, “assertive”, “pretty”, or in my case, what I thought I had to be before I started living: skinny. In my mind, I wasn’t thin enough to do all the things I wanted to do. So, I was putting my life on hold until I looked the way I wanted to look. Then, on the cover of the folder, I drew a locked door.
On the inside of the folder, you were to make a collage. You could glue magazine pictures, draw things, color, and create the life you would have if not for that “thing” that was holding you back. I put many beautiful pictures inside that folder for there were many things I wanted to do.
I wanted to travel, to visit the rest of the 50 states. I wanted to make Craig and I pancake breakfasts on Saturday mornings without feeling guilty for eating carbohydrates and sugar. I put pictures of people smiling because I wanted to be truly happy. There was a picture of a pregnant woman because I wanted to be a mom someday but was deathly afraid of gaining weight. Inside, I put famous paintings and drawings because I wanted to create with confidence instead of not painting out of low self-esteem.
The folder began to fill with fun things, places I wanted to go, career goals, lofty dreams, ambitions, and desires – all things that I was putting on hold because I wasn’t perfect yet. I didn’t think I could do those things until I was skinny enough.
As I was looking at my primitive creation, I realized that it looked like a scrapbook from someone’s wonderful, fulfilling life. Would I be able to look back in the years to come and feel as much joy from a life well spent? I thought about all the years I focused only on losing weight instead of working toward my dreams.
On the back of the folder, I wrote the words, “I will no longer let this expectation stop me from living my life.”
The exercise re-awakened dreams I didn’t know I had anymore. My life had been so concerned with being perfect. Was I going to let my ridiculous expectations keep me from living life? And what if I never did feel good enough, if I never did feel thin enough, then what? I thought about the empty manila folder that my life was shaping out to be.
This experienced helped me realize that there were things in life I wanted more than an eating disorder – even if I couldn’t remember that fact all the time.
There is more to life than being thin.