This world is so difficult for women. Each and everyday we are infiltrated with images of, “the perfect woman.” She is tall, skinny, has clear skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth and seemingly does everything right. From the moment a woman wakes up, she is bombarded by these images on social media. During her evening, she hears about these perfect women on the news and watches commercials of them on TV. The idea of being, “Perfect,” never goes away.
For me, I am thankful that I grew up before social media became what it is today.
Facebook, had just been released to everyone when I entered my first year of college in 2008 and Instagram didn’t exist. So you could say the idea of the perfect image for a woman wasn’t as relevant as it is now.
I, despite not being exposed to as much content as the kids of today are, struggled deeply with my image during college and want to tell you about it.
This is one of those posts that is going to be a little gritty, as it’s something I really have never talked about outside of a few select people, and I expect that my mother is going to text me five minutes after posting this with a “WTF,” text. So here it goes…
Growing up I never had the best self-image of myself.
I played sports, but was always a bit of a tomboy and usually surrounded myself with a small group of guy friends versus a lot of girlfriends. In middle school and high school I was always the person who never really fit into a group. I played golf, so I wasn’t considered a, “Cool,” girl. I played the violin, which didn’t help my status, and I was the President of the school chess club – something I took over from my brother when he graduated.
You see, I never really had a, “Place,” but I wouldn’t say I was unpopular.
I was always seen as a, “Goodie, Goodie,” and it pains me that I was even once called that at a job I once had – because who thinks it’s alright to call someone that? Yes, sorry I take life and my accomplishments seriously…
During school, I focused on my studies because I was never easily, “Smart.”
While my brother got straight A’s, I worked my butt off to get B’s. Usually the only subject I was able to excel in was English – weird.
Throughout the course of my high school career, I never had a boyfriend and I was generally picked on by the jocks – heavily. You see, I was never the blossoming, hot girl in school. I was tall (5-ft, 8-in), lanky and had no curves. I wore no makeup, and grew up middle class with parents who worked their asses off, but didn’t see why I needed an entire line of American Eagle Outfitter’s clothing. On the weekends, I spent time with my dad specifically and never attended any parties or learned anything about alcohol, drugs and sex. I was a good kid, but it all built up going into college.
The summer after I graduated high school, I met my first boyfriend.
A bunch of my friends had decided to camp out at our local state park’s nice lake and invited me to go with them. Me, being the non-camper type, decided I would hang out at the lake with them during the day, but drive the 15-minutes home at night so I could sleep in my own bed.
It was on my second day of sitting on the lake’s beach with my friends that the two attractive boathouse attendants asked my friends and I if we wanted to play volleyball with them. Comically, all of us girls knew exactly who the guys were as they had graduated from our high school four years before us and went to the local college.
My best friend and I would always giggle about them if we went to the mall at Christmas time because the two guys would work at the Pepperidge Farm display over the winter.
Before they came over to us, we were all talking about how, “Hot,” they were. So you can imagine how excited we were when they made the move to see if we’d hang out around them.
Of course, as we went over to play volleyball with them and were trying to contain our excitement over it – the drama happened. The guy, who I ended up dating, spiked the volleyball and it nailed me in the face – which immediately pissed me off.
You see, I am insanely competitive, so hitting me in the face with a volleyball and laughing is a sure-fire way to get me to not act the most excited about your existence in this world.
Regardless, we carried on, after he apologized, and I ended up leaving that night absolutely mortified. When I got home from that day and looked at my Facebook, I had a message from the guy asking for my phone number and yet again apologizing.
We ended up dating the whole summer and a few months into my freshman year of college. I felt beautiful and loved, until we broke up. Our relationship ended because I got confused by all the attention I was suddenly getting from guys at school who wanted to ask me out.
My freshman year at college was rough for many reasons.
It was my first time being away from home, my first time drinking, my first time experiencing a break-up, my first time gaining weight and my first (and only experience) with losing someone to cancer – my Dad.
Following all of these dramatic events, I lost it for a string of 6+ months.
I partially blame birth control for the psychotic person I became, because the side effects of that stuff are crazy. In fact, a short while after I started taking it, I stopped because of how mentally nuts I was for a bit and I’ve never been on it since.
After the loss of my father, I definitely went off the deep end for a while.
I decided to cut off all my hair.
I went from having this gorgeous naturally highlighted, long blonde hair to a bob that was shaved in the back (never again). At college, I started binge eating and purging in a really scary manner.
When I look back at that time, I probably should have told my mom and gone to a counselor. It’s one of those things that you put yourself in denial over and think, “I have this under control,” when in reality you definitely don’t. It’s not normal to eat a bagel with peanut butter and five Reese cups and then go to the bathroom and stick your finger down your throat.
It’s not normal to do that day in and day out, beating yourself up and feeling like you can’t stand on your own two feet because you have no energy. It’s not normal to cry randomly in the middle of the night and question yourself and what you are doing.
I know I spent at least a year, if not longer working through the terrible habit of binge eating and puking. It wasn’t every day, but I had times where I would make myself puke if I ate an excess of junk food – and it wasn’t me puking because of a stomach ache, it was me physically using my finger to get it out of my system for fear of gaining weight.
I remember so vividly calling my friend from high school crying because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was scared of who I was.
I will never forget that call and how wonderful my friend was for listening to me and comforting me.
You may read this and question how I did this or may even have an experience like this yourself. As girls and women, it is so difficult in today’s society to feel good about yourself. I am so thankful that I somehow snapped out of it without counseling, and I honestly think a lot of that has to do with my husband.
You see, even when I was in this, “Celebrity” type role in NASCAR called Miss Sprint Cup, I struggled with myself. At this point, I was no longer making myself puke, but instead restricting what I ate and drinking too much alcohol.
Once I met my husband, by copying his habits I figured it out. I started to learn that if I just ate a balanced diet and worked out, I would feel my best.
I still have moments of obsessive behavior, but for the most part I know how to control my body for peak performance and physique.
Life requires balance, knowing that you are you and you are beautiful the way you are.
Too often we are comparing ourselves to, or worrying about other people, when we should be focused on US. I even think some of my self-image struggles stemmed from what I heard at home (sorry Mom, just remember I love you). Growing up living with my mom, who was single during most of my teenage years, I often heard her rip on her body.
As a child, thinking of your parents as the perfect people, hearing your parent go on, and on, about how they’re fat and their skin is sagging, doesn’t really give you the most positive view-point of yourself.
Looking back on my adolescence though, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
That may sound crazy, but every moment of struggling has brought me to the person I am today and has taught me a valuable lesson about life.
For example, I will never comment on my weight and appearance in front of my children. I will reinforce a healthy mindset and attitude about self-image-love to them. I will do my best to teach anyone I meet who struggles with their self-image to be confident in who they are, because there is no one else like them in the world.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder’s help line at 800-931-2237.