Recently, I turned my life around and moved to South Korea for a while. Beautiful hikes, somaek (soju mixed with beer… delightful), dear Korean and international friends, Gangnam, kimchi… that’s what my life consists of now. Although it’s not always a party (because wherever you are, life has a way of finding you), I immensely enjoy the country, the people, and the discovery of a new life. However, one thing I find a bit challenging at times is the enormous emphasis placed on appearance here. Of course, not everyone is focused on it, but many people are deeply engaged in aligning their appearance with the current ideal. What exactly that ideal is, I’ll leave aside for now. In this blog, I want to delve into the growing obsession with meeting certain physical ‘standards’. People go to great lengths to alter their appearance to conform to these standards, and so do I.
It started for me at a young age, primarily with my hair. Born with curls, I always wished my hair was as beautifully straight as the popular girls at school. A hair straightener didn’t exist back then. Once it entered the world, I couldn’t live without it. At one point, calluses even formed where my straightener always rested. After my hair, it was my body that didn’t measure up. Going on a diet became an activity for me from my teenage years. Initially not obsessive, but that quickly changed, and the change was intense. This is the first time I’m speaking so publicly about it, but my desire to be thin evolved into an eating disorder that plagued me for many years. It began as another attempt to ‘get in shape,’ but turned into a prolonged period of constant preoccupation with being thin and everything that came with it.
Excessive exercise, minimal eating, opting for the healthiest foods possible, and it doesn’t stop there. A disorder like this often leads to isolation, social anxieties, profound insecurities, a loss of self-love, and the list goes on. All these things were present in my life. For a long time, and I’m talking about more than 10 years for sure, I couldn’t accept myself as I was. My body was never good enough. Whether I was extremely thin or well-toned (as it’s called), I always wanted to change something about my body. The obsession ran so deep that it influenced me in various aspects of my life—my social life, love life, career, and even my outlook on life. My entire perception of the world changed. Everywhere I looked, I compared my body to others, or I was mentally planning workouts and meals. Almost everything revolved around losing weight.
Fortunately, my thoughts still occasionally connected with the real world. The people around me occasionally sparked this connection, and within me, there still existed a significant ambition on a professional level. What that was, I didn’t know for a long time, but when I realized that contributing to better education and putting words on paper made me happier than having to exercise every day, a small crack appeared in the strength of my eating disorder. Slowly, very slowly, these needs surfaced more and more, and that’s when the journey to healing began. It took a long time, but eventually, I could sincerely say that there are indeed more important things in life than constantly chasing a certain appearance.
I wish this for everyone. Unfortunately, the world is different, and it’s getting worse day by day. More and more, we are confronted with images of ideal bodies, noses, eyes, face shapes, you name it. Increasingly, people, especially the young, are changing something about themselves. And I’m not talking about using a straightener anymore, but about surgeries, fillers, and injections. Of course, this is everyone’s choice. If it genuinely makes you happier, you should definitely take advantage of it. However, what I often wonder is how the process unfolds that ultimately leads to such a decision, especially when you are young. What I would have liked during the times when my teenage self-esteem was crumbling was someone who could tell me more about having a self-image in the first place. More information about how I saw myself and what influenced that would have been very helpful.
I wonder how I could ensure that I not only became aware of behavior that further undermined my positive self-image but also dealt with it in a healthy way. How could I have prevented a years-long eating disorder by learning to love myself earlier? You don’t learn that in school. That’s precisely the place where we can talk about this. Learning begins there. However, it’s still too much about where the city of Appingedam is located and what material clothing was in the Middle Ages. Our world and the people in it are increasingly struggling with mental problems, often stemming from expectations created by society, parents, and more and more social media.
Particularly, the expectations regarding appearance are perilous for our youth and adults. Why don’t we shift our focus more towards being healthy, both physically and mentally? Engaging in physical activity (in any form) is beneficial, but you don’t necessarily have to constantly carry those massive muscles or live in fear that your rock-hard abs will disappear when you indulge in a piece of cake. When life takes a difficult turn, it’s not that ideal body that will pull you out of the pit. The act of exercising will certainly help to some extent, but ultimately, it’s about being content with the fact that you’ve made the choice to move. That’s already a significant victory. The triumph doesn’t only come when you look the same as those (heavily edited) perfect images on your Instagram feed. No, you’ve already won a long time ago. When things weren’t going well, you helped yourself by taking a healthy approach to caring for your body!
I’m currently putting my entire eating disorder story on paper in the book ‘The 12.5-Year Anniversary of My Eating Disorder.’ Soon, I’ll be sharing a part of a chapter on my Instagram. My book aims to openly share what it’s like to have an eating disorder, how it can influence a life, and how challenging it can be to eventually learn to love yourself. For a long time, I felt ashamed of having an eating disorder, but not anymore. I hope that by sharing my story, others might find some help in overcoming feelings of shame. Acceptance and healing begin with being open about what you’re going through; shame inhibits this process. I also invite anyone who wants to take a glimpse into the mind of a person with an eating disorder to read my book. Of course, you will be kept informed about when my book is released. Mental health is not to be taken for granted. What is, however, is that everyone has the right to a healthy life, and with this book, I hope to contribute to that.