You Loved Me Even When I Didn’t Love Myself


I never thought I’d be the girl that needed a guy to tell her she’s beautiful. To make her feel socially capable. To clarify that she’s a good person. That she’s worth knowing.

I also never thought that I had an eating disorder. I truly believed that my agonizing, insurmountable battle against food came as a side effect of womanhood. The never-ending diet, the extreme guilt of a binge. It all made me feel like I was hanging off the edge of a cliff with my knuckles turning white.

Freshman year was a roller coaster of the highest highs and the lowest lows I had experienced to date. Each moment allowed me to discover more and more of who I was, and I loved the girl that was emerging. The struggle made me stronger. But an element of self-doubt also lodged firmly into my inner dialogue, proving to be a new and unanticipated stumbling block as I wandered through this alien environment.

Then there was you.

You took me into your whirlwind tornado forces and you spun me around before I could even figure out what I’d signed up for. Your presence in the foggy reality of my self-doubt confused me. It challenged the way I saw myself. I couldn’t figure out what I was expected to do, how far I was expected to go, or the risk of holding back. I felt transparent. Like you could see through my strong gaze and half-feigned confidence to the insecurities crawling beneath the surface of my skin. I feared you could see me for what I was—an inexperienced little girl in a scary, new, erotic world who still had naivety flowing through her veins.

Much to my surprise, you became a source of strength and comfort as you made it clear that I was more to you than a pretty face. As our relationship grew, you reminded me of more and more of the things I loved about myself. “I don’t want anyone else but you,” you said, the night you asked me to be your girlfriend. “I didn’t think I wanted a relationship. But I know I want you.” And I knew you meant it.

But I still felt a certain pressure from you. In brief moments, I felt I was being evaluated, especially my body. A tone, a perceivable implication in a handful of your comments made me feel that, despite you were mine, I still had to prove to you that I was a worthy catch. I wanted to warn you of my body image sensitivity and the harm your comments were bringing to our relationship, but I feared revealing yet another insecurity would weaken me in your eyes. I wanted back my old confidence and to deny this foreign vulnerability from claiming any more of me. So I resigned to force my emotions into captivity, remaining silent as the little things here and there piled up incrementally.

Then you inadvertently hit my self-destruct button: “I’m just surprised you don’t want to improve your body.” In your defense, it sounds ten times worse out of context but, in any context, you’re blind if you didn’t think that was going to have an effect on me. I exploded.

“What is wrong with you?” I pleaded. “You act like I don’t try, like I don’t care about my appearance. You have no idea how fucking hard I have to try to look the way I do already. The anxiety I feel around food. The hours I spend at the gym. The helplessness I feel to the number on the scale. You are oblivious to the pressure I put on myself to look perfect for you, for everybody. For this whole fucking world I feel like I have to prove myself to. Why is there always more I need to give? Why can’t I just be enough? Just take me as I AM.”

Then came those damn tears… They fall so freely when all I want is to appear strong. And your face, your whole being looked broken. Horrified by the response you had brought on, you apologized profusely, “Those words came out all wrong, I had just… I mean… that’s not what I meant. I promise it’s not.”

Sobs made my whole body shake as confessions of my disordered eating were coughed up between gasps. I actually said them out loud for the first time, and in that act I was enlightened to the full extent of their harmfulness. I wish I could say it all ended there, but you and I both know it was just the beginning.

Terrified of giving up the mind frame that had kept me skinny, I struggled to reinstate the veiled guise of denial. When I failed, I mistakenly pinned everything on you. The little things you had said, the mistakes you had already made up for— these became the sources of my pain. I tried to villainize you because it was easier to make the culprit something outside of my own skin, so I could attack it. Bitter, angry, and exhausted, I turned into someone I had never seen and didn’t want to be.

But you never once indicated that this was not what you had signed up for. You considerately took and processed the blame spewing forth from the storm taking place within me because you knew the pieces of the girl you loved, the same pieces of myself that I loved, were still in there.

You did more than stand by me—you actively sought to bring me back.

I never thought I would be one of those girls who needed a boy to tell her she’s beautiful. But I was. I was, I was, I was. You supported me as I regained the ability to love my flesh without the input of anyone else and, for that, I will always be grateful. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Caralena Peterson is a writer, feminist, and self-love warrior. Check out her website.

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