Brownies, Slim Fast, and Water Challenges: My Battle With a Negative Body Image By @NowWithNicole

I Am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made!

You may see these pants often,  because they fit and are symbolic of me embracing my body normal body size.

Me in my “This Girl Is” tee and the first pair of pants I purchased after embracing my natural size. January 2015

“The result of my years of teasing led to me having a love-hate relationship with my body. One day, I finally admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder.”

I get all of my inspiration from my surroundings, however, there are very few things that have moved me to write immediately after experiencing them. Right before sitting down to write, I saw an un-retouched photo of super model Cindy Crawford on Twitter. This image brought tears to my eyes and makes me want to give Ms. Crawford a big hug and “Thank you.” *Updated (3/2/2015)- There is currently some debate over whether or not the image of Ms. Crawford was photoshopped to make her look “worse” than she really does. While I would be very disappointed if it is, the photo still inspired me.”

When I looked at this perfectly imperfect photo, it made me think of my body image issues. As a child, and even to this day, I often have people tell me that I am fat. It did not matter if I was 105 pounds or at my heaviest- during my pregnancy- of 150 pounds, I consistently have heard the same thing for at least 32 of my 38 years on earth- you’re fat. I started to develop a complex.

Though this is something that was very commonplace in my environment, if you expressed any disappointment or dislike at being called names, you were seen as the one with the problem. “You have no sense of humor” or “You’re too sensitive.” There was never any thought of the inappropriateness or repercussions of using hurtful words cloaked as jokes. It is something that I still struggle with today, and I still cringe when I hear women calling each other “fat” or “ugly.” Ladies, that is not sisterhood. It needs to stop.The result of my years of teasing, or angrily being called fat when I could not fit into a piece of clothing, led to me having a love-hate relationship with my body. One day, I finally admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder. I didn’t have the most popular symptoms of anorexia or bulimia, so this part of my life remained largely hidden.

December 2013 Marie Claire cover photo taken of Cindy Crawford. Unfortunately, we did not get to this same cover in the U.S.

December 2013 Marie Claire cover featured an un-retouched photo of super model Cindy Crawford. Unfortunately, it was not the cover on the US magazine.

“Calling someone fat is not a term of endearment.” 

My early childhood messages about my body being dumped on top of those that were already there as a result of my sexual abuse, did a number on me spiritually and physically. After all, I have known abuse and unhealthy images far longer than I have known the opposite. From non-spiritual fasting, to binging followed up with insane exercise regimens, to trying to Slim Fast to fit into a dress, I struggled. In 2014, my body image issues started to come to a head.

After not being able to fit into a pair of jeans I had not tried on in well over a year, I lamented to my husband about how much weight I had put on and I could no longer fit my clothes. In all honesty, it was more of a hidden accusation than a lament, because, a part of me, a very large part of me, blamed him for the changes. I secretly felt that his love for food and sharing it with me was the reason my body was changing. I told myself that I did not eat like this before him, and this change was disrupting my life. Those “fat girl” voices were starting to get louder, and I blamed him for it.

This is a picture of what I looked like during a fast I did in 2011. It is a part of my story on my history with body image issues.

Nicole in 2011 during “The Year of the Fast.” You can see the bones in my neck- June 19, 2011

A little backstory, before getting married in April of 2013, my life revolved around doing everything I possibly could to distract myself from feeling like an utter failure after my 2009 divorce. Eating was not at the top of my list. My feelings of worth were blown to bits by the ending of the marriage in addition to still dealing with my body image problems that were ingrained prior to the relationship. I would eat, when I thought about it, but it holds no comparison to the change in my diet after I was married, and this honestly made me feel a little angry. Never mind the truth that my eating habits were never healthy even at my thinnest. Never mind the truth that he didn’t force the kolache down my throat. I still had not wrapped my mind around the fact that it was okay for me to say, “No.”

For over many years, my food choices had been based upon not being called “fat” or having a man think that I was “fine.” Eating had nothing to do with my health or what was good for me. At my skinny points, I may have looked good- in my head- but I was not doing my body any favors. Moreover, when you add my 2011 fasting experience to the bad habits already in place, you get a beautiful mess.

“I no longer have to eat right and exercise to fit into some vanity-sized dress that will change depending upon the designer.”

When my husband and I began dating in April of 2012, my body was still recovering from what I affectionately coined “The Year of the Fast,” My 2010 had been rough to say the least. By the end of the year, I felt I had reached my spiritual limits and drastic times called for drastic measures. This led to the majority of my 2011 being spent on my knees, in my prayer closet, and doing one fast or another. I call it “The Year of the Fast,” because I fasted more than I ate during that time.

That year was very intense and it took a physical toll on me. My frame became skeletal. It was bad enough that my father asked me if I was on drugs. I was not, but when I look back at the pictures from that time, I understand why he would ask. It took me almost two years to start re-gaining the weight I had loss. A little over, three years later, my body is still not where I want it to be. I had severe muscle atrophy after the fast that left me with “turkey neck” arms. Further, the mommy tummy I was able to keep at bay with my yo-yo dieting and “The Year of the Fast” came back to say, “Hello.” At the end of 2013, I looked into the mirror and decided that it was not enough that my arms looked normal or that I could hide them with sleeves, I was tired of them flapping when I raised my arms and I wanted the gobble skin gone. I also was fed up with wearing big t-shirts to cover my soft stomach. I decided it was time to declare war, but I wasn’t really ready.

This is a picture of my husband and I (Nicole Huffman Hollins) after our wedding in April of 2013. I've come a long way in how my body looked in June of 2011.

Barry and Nicole’s reception- April 13, 2013.

In the early months of 2014, I had the opportunity to work with a style concierge for a business photo shoot. After going through her style inventory exercise and having our phone consultation, she told me that my body image issues were all in my head. She recognized this without even seeing me in person. After the experience with the stylist- and confirmation by Ms. Crawford’s flawless photo- I know that where my spirit was trying to take me at the end of 2014 is where I am headed.

Why should I continue to think that clothes that I bought during 2011’s “The Year of the Fast” would fit in 2015 at my normal body size? Yes. You heard that right. This is my normal, my natural body. I have come to the realization that where I am now is who I am without the outside influence of other’s negativity or my own self-hate. The other sizes I have been throughout the years were the result of my eating disorder- except for my pregnancy weight. Whether those sizes were up or down from where I am now, they weren’t who I naturally was and they are not where I need to be in order to be healthy. 

Today when I tone, ride my bike, or make tweaks to my eating habits, I do not have to do those things to silence the critics. I don’t have to do these things to fit into a certain style of clothing that I do not even like when I can purchase something that I do like and that suits my body type. This is not about “giving up” or “letting myself go.” It’s about embracing who I truly am and loving that. I do those things now so that I may have a healthy, disease free. I no longer have to eat right and exercise to fit into some vanity sized dress that will change depending upon the designer. I will not participate in food “challenges” or “diets” aimed strictly at a quick, non-lasting result. I’m not doing anything that I can not maintain. By making this mind shift, not only does it make me feel better spiritually and physically, it helps me not be paranoid and think my husband is trying to thicken me up.

With this new found awareness in my arsenal, I am ready to to start that war.

A recent photo of James and me. I have come a long way in starting to love myself and have a positive body image.

James and Nicole- 2/10/2015

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Cindy Crawford photo credit- Marie Claire Magazine, December 2013. 

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