#TBT: How I Learned to Stop Hating My Body

I HAVE STRUGGLED WITH BODY IMAGE ISSUES FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER. 

 
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Today, as I listen to "Video" by India Arie, I celebrate my growth and my overall positive body image. But admittedly, some days, I feel like the same insecure girl i used to be.

and since these #TBT posts are designed to honor the role of my past in my journey,

WILL YOU JOIN ME AS I TAKE A TRIP DOWN BODY IMAGE MEMORY LANE?

PRE-TEEN Ri: ages 7-12

 left to right: amani, dena and I at my auntie's wedding - so adorable

left to right: amani, dena and I at my auntie's wedding - so adorable

Early on, I started developing faster than Amani and Dena, my two cousins closest in age to me. Naturally (and subconsciously) they were always my points of comparison, my indirect measures of "normal." Although there wasn't much meat on my bones at the time, I was clearly thickest of the three, and that was enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

I vividly remember the moment when I could no longer deny my body image issues. I wasn't even a teenager yet. I was at my Teta's house for one of our family breakfasts, minding my business and eating manaesh on her kitchen table. This time though, as I was eating, one of my uncles came up to me and started pinching the fat on my arms. he did nothing different than what he usually does. my family is super touchy feely, and I usually love it, but For some reason, I immediately burst into tears and yelled "leave me alone." I couldn't control my reaction. He looked so confused and alarmed by my outburst. upsetting him and not being able to explain myself only made me cry more.

I didn't have the words for my reaction in that moment, but I think back to that story very often. Today, I know that the little girl who was constantly comparing herself and her body to others was experiencing some serious self-loathing. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and In that moment, I was feeling guilty that someone was pointing out some "excess" fat while I was eating. I look back at old pictures and can't believe how removed my perception of self was from reality. At that time, I was still skin and bones, yet I somehow allowed myself to feel overweight and ashamed.

I know now that having a skewed body-image is a serious issue plaguing people of all ages, cultures and genders. 


ADOLESCENCE: 13-20

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fast-forward to high school. I ended up gaining a significant amount of weight during one summer in lebanon. this weight gain was noticeable, and it led to heightened levels of insecurity and lack of self-worth. I spent most summers nervous about being in a bathing suit on the beach, wondering if I was ever going to get rid of my love-handles. Most of my late adolescence and early adulthood was spend cycling repeatedly into weight-loss and weight-gain, never liking how I looked. and My cycles were so predictable: lose 15-20 lbs before the summer, gain them back before the winter. and each time I lost weight, I told myself "I'm gonna keep it off this time."

I didn't realize I needed to get my mind and spirit right before my body would follow suit. 

MS. FADLALLAH: 21-23

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I'll never forget what happened when I started teaching. I lost a lot of weight really quickly because I was so stressed and busy all the time. I was thinner than I had been in years, but my lifestyle was also the most unhealthy it had ever been. when i took that picture above, i knew i looked thin, but i still hated my body. i felt horrible. I wasn't eating breakfast, and most days, I didn't even have time to eat lunch. because I was so overworked, it took me a few months and a bunch of compliments from family members for me to notice how much weight I had really lost. When people would tell me I looked great, I knew I wasn't taking care of myself or my body, but I was thrilled to be thin. In the darkest corners of my mind, I started to tell myself that I should continue trading in my health for weight-loss. i was honestly getting ready to dance with the devil.

it was then when I realized that my mind and soul were suffering more than my body. 

 one of my students, nailah, and i. love love love my students. 

one of my students, nailah, and i. love love love my students. 

thankfully, at this point, I decided to put my foot down. how could I possibly be a role model to my girls, younger sister and younger cousins if I didn't have my priorities straight? at the time, I cared more about how I was looking in my jeans than how I was feeling in my heart. how could I talk to them about self-love and mental health if I wasn't practicing those very same things? I needed to care more about my health than my image, so I decided I would do it the right way, the hard way, regardless how long it took. enough was enough. so in may of 2015, I traversed on my #roadtooctober with the goal of being my healthiest, fittest, best self before my 24th birthday. and while I am still improving on this health and fitness process every day, I want to share with you my biggest breakthroughs from this time. 

WHOSE BODY IMAGE?

is your ideal body image yours or someone else's? 

this question is one I still struggle with today. in fact, I think 99.999999% of us still do. in Dearborn, the pressures to be slim-thick haunted me my whole life. according to dearborn standards, most periods of my life fell under the "too thin" or "too thick" category. during my summers in Beirut, the ideal dearborn "slim-thick" body is way too thick. the pressures to be extremely lean are so prevalent in beirut. my body has never (and will never) be lebanese body goals. during my time in college and as a teacher, I spent a lot of time around the black community, where thick thighs and a slim waist are the beauty standard. the thicker the better, and even in my "thickest" days, I was never there.  

at all points down my body-image memory lane, I had entered my body into a tug of war match for everyone else to enjoy. the truth is, my body will never be good enough for everyone. and by caring so much about everyone else's perceptions of it, I was never going to be happy. why? because I was never truly doing it for me. most of us have been so socialized to subscribe to someone else's image of beauty. most of us have not taken the time to unlearn the ways in which society has sexualized and objectified us. today, I am putting my foot down, prioritizing my health and de-prioritizing my image. as long as I continue to take care of my mind, body and spirit, my body can take whatever shape it pleases. this is how i ensure that my body image is mine and only mine.


LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. & Repeat

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this repetition pretty much summarizes my workout regimen. 😂learning to love myself every single step of the way on my #roadtooctober is the only reason I was so successful. sure, I had participated in workout/diet regimens (aka cycles) where I lost weight, but want to know what was missing? self-love. my lack of self-love was exactly why I eventually gained the weight back, and precisely why I still felt like shit, even when the weight came back off again.  my #roadtooctober started and ended in love, and every single thing I do for my health today is rooted in more love. 

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before I learned to love myself, I was operating in self-loathing. and baby, there really is no in between. you don't have to be satisfied with how you look to love how you look. you don't have to reach your fitness goal to decide to love yourself as you work towards it. love can and should be the lens through which you view everything on this journey. but more on love in a minute - let me explain what loathing looks like. most of us operate from negative thinking when it comes to health/fitness. we focus solely on what we "need" to lose or change about ourselves. this mindset automatically makes us feel like we're never doing enough, and we begin to associate our workouts and diet with something negative. we will never be enough with this mindset, because we are always in the habit of hating something about ourselves. the stories we tell ourselves are "you have to eat this way because you're not good enough yet," "you have to workout because your body is ugly right now" or, even worse, "you have to stick to this because your body needs to look like [insert name of person you're comparing yourself to]. 

the most powerful decision we can make is to love deeply every single part of our bodies, especially the parts we want to change. especially those parts, because they need the most love in order for us to change them In a healthy way. they are still a part of you boo, whether you want that to be the case or not. personally, I stopped calling my journey a "weight-loss" journey because that phrase didn't adequately reflect my real self-love goals. when I chose love, my journey became one for better health and vitality, more stamina and strength. it was a health journey, and as we all know, health is so much more than just physical. in fact, positive physical health requires positive mental health. choosing love and operating from a positive place enabled me to feel so good about every new milestone, even the smallest ones. I was able to stay so consistent because I always had something to celebrate about my body. the stories changed to "you were able to do more today than you were yesterday,"  "you've really been keeping the promises you're making to yourself," or "you're a human being who is perfectly imperfect; we're going to try this again tomorrow." 


IS YOUR BODY FAST FOOD THAT YOU DEVOUR ON THE DRIVE HOME OR IS IT A slow-COOKED MEAL TO BE SAVORED?

this is a serious question, bih. what's it gonna be?

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I am that home cooked meal that the entire family talks about for years. the kind that my Teta Lila makes straight from the most swollen corners of her heart. the kind that she stands back and looks at when she's all done setting the table, beaming with pride because there is absolutely no denying that she really did that. the kind of meal that will be delicious regardless who does or doesn't decide to dine in. a home-cooked meal that leaves you feeling beautiful and whole. that's my body.

and those kinds, they take time. they take practice. they take trial and error. but they are so absolutely worth every single second spent on them. they are worth the dirty dishes. they are worth the sweat on your brow and the stains on your blouse. they are worth accidentally burning your fingers as you take them out of the oven. they're worth getting your butt up, getting dressed and sitting at the table to enjoy them. 

so why do we treat our bodies like fast food? why are we just trying to get it all over with, knowing that we're settling for lesser quality than we deserve?  you are absolutely worth getting dressed and getting out of the car for. you are better than an impulsive decision to pull into some drive-thru. you are so much more than a night you won't remember, a decision that you'll regret before you act on it. you are worth so much more than a meal that leaves you feeling sick and empty. 

stop treating your body like a late-night, impulsive drive to mcdonalds for a meal that you can finish on your lonely drive home. treat your body like your favorite slow-cooked meal with the people you love most. your body needs you to take your time. it needs you to learn about it. it needs you to figure out what it likes to do, what it loves to eat. what it doesn't enjoy doing or eating. It needs you to get to know it, to fall in love, to take it slow. 

YOUR BODY NEEDS YOU TO BE PATIENT, AND MY LOVE, YOU ARE SO WORTH THE WAIT. 

only love,

ri