Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do. -Brené Brown
Crop tops have never been my thing.
While I fully appreciate the way Taylor Swift and college girls around the nation choose to free the that gap of skin, the area between the waistband of my yoga pants and the bottom of my sports bra has never been one I’ve chosen to reveal.
These days it is the norm, unfortunately, to dislike your body. We fight ourselves daily on what to eat, what to drink, how to exercise and when, what styles look flattering on us, and why why WHY we can’t seem to have control over the muscles and bones and tissues that build this soul-home we live in.
We wonder why we can’t have her abs or her skin or her legs or her arms or her height or lack of. We spend hours at the gym or spend hours on the couch cursing ourselves for not being at the gym. We judge each bit of cookie we take and shudder at our lack of control.
Do you ever have days like these?
I’ve been there. There are many days still that I am there.
But about 3 years ago now, I decided I wanted out. I wanted to kick shame to the curb. And finally, several years later, I want to share some of my story here with you.
For ten years of my life, my need for control and my desire for perfection lead me through a vicious battle with disordered eating. I took my body through a roller coaster of deprivation, indulgence, hate, and shame. As a competitive swimmer up until college, I questioned why I couldn’t drop mere seconds from my lap times, blaming the extra puff around midriff for slowing me down. I wanted to be fit, to be pretty, to make it to State, and to look good in a bathing suit. As a student I wanted straight-A’s. As a daughter I wanted to be responsible.
This continued once I got to college. I felt this overwhelming need to have it all together, all the time. Sorority Vice President, 4.0 student, killer internship. She’s going places. Yup, that was me.
At times these desires took over, clouding my vision of where I was already at. It was difficult to embrace my accomplishments because I felt like I could always do better. At the time, I didn’t know I was falling into the patterns associated with eating disorders. I just kept striving, kept working hard, and kept falling apart when I didn’t quite make the mark.
It wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I realized the tendencies I developed were more than bad habits: they were a health concern. I noticed in the way my body and my mind were responding. But along with not wanting to acknowledge anything was actually wrong, the fear of feeling even more isolated than I already felt kept me from speaking up and asking for the help I so desperately needed.
So I kept quiet. That’s the thing about eating disorders– there’s this intense stigma surrounding them. There’s judgement. There’s grave misunderstanding. This, my friends, is a deadly misnomer.
Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgement. – Brené Brown
I met my rock bottom in the kitchen of our big blue house on the bay during my senior year of college. I opened up about my struggles to my roommates at the time, my best friends. There were lots of tears but lots of relief at the same time. They encouraged me to share with my mentor back at school and so I did the next day. And you know what? This time I was met with the most beautiful outpouring of love and support. I was connected with the life-changing resources I needed to take back my life. By no means was it easy, and by no means was it just a once-and-done, switch-flipped, ok-we’re-all-good-here-folks! There are just too many words to share here.
Dr. Brené Brown, famed shame and vulnerability researcher, defines shame as “the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” Shame manifested in my life in a dangerous way.
It takes a lot of time and energy to reverse that shame-filled pattern of thinking in your mind. Eating disorders are often wrongly mislabeled as “diets gone bad” or “cries for attention”. Wrong. In fact, they are mental conditions and chemical imbalances beyond our control, baffling the minds of many doctors still to this day. They are a serious and very real issue, plaguing large percentages of women AND men at all stages of life. They destroy lives, and they kill.
But recovery is also a very real thing.
Recovery is a long, exhausting process. It is much more than a handful of trips to the therapist. It’s ongoing, and it lasts your entire lifetime. To me, recovery became more than a daily decision, but a moment-by-moment choice. It’s one I still have to wake up and make every single day.
While thankfully I can look back on these times and see the memories of pure joy from my high school and college years, I am saddened at how loudly shame spoke to me, at times robbing me of my confidence, my happiness, and my very health. But not only that, I am saddened by how loudly it speaks to those I love and to strangers alike.
We all have some lie shame is whispering in our ears. Maybe it isn’t about your midriff or your body. Maybe it is about how you are as a parent, as a spouse. Maybe it is about how you are at work, or in a relationship. Whatever it is, I want to remind you that shame has no place in our lives. God did not create us to have a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. He did not intend to have his beautiful people stare angrily at themselves in the mirror.
This post is incredibly hard to publish and put out there. I’ve been sitting on this idea and how and when and even if I was going to share for years now. But there comes a time, once you’re well out of the thick of it, where you get to decide what to do with your story. You can sit on it and watch it die, fade into a memory or relive itself later on, or you can use it. You can bring it forward and share it with others as an offering, as a hope that maybe just one of you out there can find healing or begin to see the flicker of bright light outside of the tunnel.
Let me tell you, let me promise you: it is there. I see it. My life has been enriched in ways beyond belief because of those– let me put it frankly– hellishly dark days. I’ve been given a new purpose and a new passion: share the power of vulnerability and authenticity with others. Teach others they are oh, so worthy of loving and belonging.
This is why I choose to rock my crop top: I’m learning to embrace a part of myself I never could quite get along with. (Yea, that is also why I got my belly button pierced when I turned 18. I even wrote an essay on it for my dad, all about how I wanted to decorate an area of my body I was struggling with celebrating. Tacky or trendy I still love it today.) While I won’t be baring it all every day, on the days I need a little bit more confidence or a reminder of how far I have come, I don this feisty little number and teach a spin class or two. Pass on the good vibes, right?
Friends. This is just the beginning of this conversation. Seriously. Let’s talk about these things and champion each other as we find our freedom. Email me avery(at)avery-johnson(dot)com. I’m happy to share more about my story and I would love to hear more of yours.
Now get out there girl. See how strong your legs are, how they carry you through your day. See how your arms wrap your loved ones warmly in a hug. See your core keep you upright, your chest protect the life-beat of your heart. Go on, rock the crop.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. -Brené Brown
Thank you to my wonderful loving family + strong inner circle of friends, my support system and my cheerleaders. You know who you are. And thank you Angie for taking these amazing photos!