For most of my life, I’ve had a pretty crap-tastic self image. Self confidence? Loads of it (more on that later). But the way I viewed that confidence – the opinions I formed around it, the things I did to “keep myself in check,” the image of myself I saw in my internal mirror – made it seem more like an enemy than a BFF. And self confidence ain’t shit if you don’t know what to do with it.
I became aware of both how I looked and how I thought about the world when I was about…seven? eight? Somewhere around there. Grown-ups would dote on my appearance and I was utterly confused: I didn’t look or dress like the cool kids in my class, I had big thick Winnie Cooper bangs, I narrated intricate stories to myself about the world around me while other kids seemed to just float through their lives action to action. I was instructed to stand up straight and hold my stomach in, and I was called “vain” simply for looking in the mirror for more than three seconds. While other kids were reading Sweet Valley High through their tweendom, I was reading Iyanla Vanzant and Anna Quindlen. I picked up on the emotional nuances of others and became frustrated when I was shut down because I was “too young to understand.” I desperately wanted to fit in, to love and be loved, to be someone’s favorite. How could I be, though, when I wasn’t even convinced I was my own favorite person?
Negative talk was the norm in my life when it came to the women around me. I began to think it was normal to complain about the size of your thighs, the way your stomach looked, how much you had eaten that day. I was told I was too sensitive when my feelings were hurt, I was told I was a show-off when I was proud of my work. I found myself joining in just to connect…just to fit in. My thighs, my stomach, how much I ate. I was too sensitive. I was a show-off. To this day, I don’t know which came first: seeing it, or believing it.
My self image, internal and external, fluctuated between positive and negative throughout my teens, hitting an all-time low in college when I developed Orthorexia – a form of disordered eating and lifestyle in which you’re hyper-focused on “health” before all else – before anyone really knew what it was (it’s now a much-discussed topic in the eating disorder/body image sphere). My idea of health had been defined by the women around me my entire life – fat-free, low calorie, small portions – and so no matter what research I did, I was always skeptical of anything that did not gel with the views I was brought up with.
Thankfully, I knew something was very wrong with me and identified my Orthorexia early on. Not-so-thankfully, when I started to slowly ease things I once shunned into my day (think small but important baby steps: superfood-filled smoothies, omega-rich oils and seeds, nutrient-rich goat’s milk yogurt) – I was told I was “weird” more times than I could count.
The names and snap judgements hurt me the most. The choices I made were not “normal” for a college-age girl who should be eating pizza and Subway, especially after getting so thin from her little flirtation with ED. Again, I was “too sensitive.” And when I began to excel in my Drama department, that voice came back into my head that told me I was a show-off.
The conflict between how I “should” be for others and how I wanted to be for my own recovery got so strong that it drove me further down the rabbit hole for about three years – eating in private just so I could avoid judgement in public, escaping to the gym just so I could feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, binging on junk to prove a point. I became fear-ridden in class presentations and my voice became shaky each time I went to sing. I went through a heartbreaking break-up and started to overeat at night for comfort, hoping to gain a little weight and make the critics inside and outside my head go away. Ironically, I lost even more weight, as my hormones had gone cray-cray and my metabolism had gone haywire. I was called names. I was talked about behind my back. I got into screaming fights with my closest family members over my appearance.
I ended up spending my senior year of college at home, commuting back and forth – I wanted to work, but moreso, I wanted to start fresh. I was sick of the status quo of my negative, lonely existence and knew it was not who I really was. I wanted to enter into spaces in which I felt I could be myself again. The way I wanted to treat my body, the way I wanted to love, the way I wanted to be of service to the world.
What ended up saving me? That unwavering desire to move forward into communities in which it was safe to believe in myself. Communities that didn’t have to be quantitative to be meaningful – communities in which I could be the Katie I knew I wanted to be. Those communities, go figure, started with me truly wanting to do the work within myself to move forward fearlessly, and to do it for me alone.
Through fitness, friendships, and fearless love, I finally learned that who I was…was exactly who the world needed from me. It was during this time and transition that WANT was conceived – when I realized there was no place or outlet to actually help women kick the sources of their discontent to the curb, not just band-aid them up with pretty affirmations alone.
One big source? Casual negativity: the negative talk we use without even thinking twice, the stuff that’s become our vernacular. Both in our heads and out loud. I realized that the talk I’d been hearing it all my life – I’m so fat – I suck at this – I’m too sensitive – was a cultural epidemic, and there was no place that existed to recognize and shift these detrimental norms.
I went through many, many ups and downs, mini crises, and self image fluctuations. Fast forward to the present: I still do. But with every thought or feeling comes a chance to learn and think better, do better, be better. I love when I win and I love when I lose, and lordy help me if I stop loving it all.
My hope is that WANT gives women (but men too, hi dudes!) a way to experience the full range of their thoughts and emotions and then proactively transcend them. I will never sugar coat anything on here or be the Pollyanna type you see in rom-coms. And I’ll show you there is a whole world of wonderful women out there who are becoming leaders of their own lives. No matter where you fall on the self love spectrum, as long as you’re not afraid of facing your entire self, head on, this is the place for you.