Lessons I Learned from My Eating Disorder | My Body is Enough Project

I have written countless drafts of this post over the past few years, but have always deleted them for fear of being too vulnerable. For being a bit too real in my business. But if there's anything I have learned over the past few months, it is that there is such a need for true honest connections, and I hope this is a good starting place!

When I first saw that my sweet friend Rachel Tenny was launching her My Body is Enough project, I knew it was just the push I needed to share more of my story with y'all. So here we go friends, here is my most vulnerable and open blog post to date, in hopes that it allows you to understand a bit more about me, my story, and my artistic approach. I also hope it helps others who are going through or have gone through some of the same struggles to feel some comfort in knowing you are not alone!

My Body is Enough Project Cards by Rachel Tenny

photo by LeBelle Photography

Do you remember the first time you really truly looked at your body? The first time you noticed your curves or "imperfections" and actually took them to heart? I do, quite vividly.

I was nine, and it was the summer before I entered middle school. Two of my cousins were visiting for the week, and our grandma took us shopping for new bathing suits. We were having such a blast trying on far too many different styles, and playing fashion show in the department store. I remember laughing so hard all afternoon, until seven little words slipped out of my oldest cousin's mouth, "that bathing suit makes you look pregnant!" 

Those words pierced the air, and stopped me dead in my tracks. I was nine, how was it possible for me to look pregnant - only "older" ladies looked pregnant, right? After that comment, I remember becoming quiet, sinking into my thoughts, and waiting until I could go home to take a closer look at what she meant. Looking back, I can pinpoint that moment in time as the moment when I lost my youthful, blissful innocence - the moment when I lost my color. 

I have to pause here to say that I love my cousin so dearly, and I am sure she was simply being playful and doesn't even remember this moment in time. Her words could have been said to me by another person, I could have heard something on TV or read something in a teen magazine about body image, but those words were the ones that stuck with me. 

I do however think these words were more impactful coming from an older cousin, someone who I looked up to and aspired to be like as a young girl. I come from a very loving, sheltered home and community, and always viewed this cousin as the "cool" cousin who I so desperately wanted to impress. So, those seven words coming from her weighed more heavily on me than if I had heard them from my younger brother (because since my brother often innocently teased me as younger brothers do, his words wouldn't have carried as much value) or heard something on TV from an absolute stranger.

Lessons I Learned from my Eating Disorder | Encouraging Calligraphy Quote by Simply Jessica Marie

I think what is important in that realization is that while that moment in time sparked questions within me and eventually grew into an obsession that became an eating disorder which would last off and on from fifth grade throughout my junior year of college -  the moment was never about feeling fat or about eventually worrying about what food I was "able" to eat that day. My struggle with anorexia was always centered in striving desperately to fit in and not feeling good enough regardless of how much I changed or controlled myself. 

In the moments of anorexia, I of course couldn't see or realize any of that. I thought I was taking control of my life, as many with eating disorders do. Pouring cereal into a measuring cup before pouring it into my bowl or using measuring spoons to create a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and blaming the measurements on a journal I had to make for my health class (completely fake) rather than sharing that it gave me peace of mind knowing the exact calorie count I was intaking. Bringing my own loaf of sliced bread with me on a friend's family vacation and swapping it with the Chick-fil-A bun of my grilled chicken sandwich because I just loooved the bread and didn't like the buns they used, when in reality I was simply nervous that they might have toasted the bun with butter. Telling my sophomore roommate that she should really finish her entire sandwich (after I had already finished mine), because in my mind she couldn't dare eat less than me, making myself then eat a lighter dinner than her that night to balance it out. Looking up the menus and calorie counts of restaurants and finding the safe meal - preselecting what I would eat before going to dinner with friends and family.

In doing all of this, my mindset was that if I could control this aspect of my life, it would allow me to live the rest of my life more freely and become the person I wanted to be and someone people would like. What I couldn't see is that those thoughts and actions took up about 99% of my daily interactions, both internally and externally, leaving little to no room to fully live.

Living in the not good enough mindset for over eleven years truly left me feeling drained from always trying to hide who I was at my core in order to please others. Trying to become someone you're not essentially tucks your personality and unique qualities inside a little box sealed tight and not to be touched, and effectively eliminates the ability to create real, valuable and close relationships with others since they are connecting with a false version of you - not the true you. Which is ironic, since fitting in and feeling connected, understood, and valued were the things I strived for the most. In painting terms, I was basically painting my life's picture in black and white while I was wishing and trying so hard to live in full color.

Lessons I Learned from my Eating Disorder | Encouraging Calligraphy Quote by Simply Jessica Marie

While those years were tough and draining, a big part of me is thankful for going through them because of the lessons I learned from experiencing life with an eating disorder. After going through counseling sessions in college and eventually becoming more comfortable both in my own skin and in my own personality, it truly became eye-opening to see the difference in my quality of life when I honestly showed others the real me. Actually having a unique personality and opinions of my own, and not feeling nervous (or at least as nervous) to share them with others allowed me to go from false surface level connections to deeper heartfelt relationships with others and with myself. I'm not going to lie, it is still a bit nerve-wrecking to do so, but understanding why I have those feelings helps me to overcome them more easily and with strength and grace. And most importantly, it showed me that every person, myself included, has a unique story that they can and should tell that will leave a lasting impression on those around them. A way to be remembered by loved ones, rather than a life of simply floating by "safely."

I honestly didn't come into this realization or make the connection between the lessons I've learned from my eating disorder and my artwork until about a year ago when I heard Shay Cochrane speak at the Creative at Heart Conference. It was during her presentation that I realized that the focus in my business has more meaning than simply designing pretty things. That because I know first hand what it is like to feel ashamed of my uniqueness, and how freeing and life-giving it is to work through those fears and share your full story and true self, I am called to share the stories and personalities of all my sweet clients through the pieces I create for them and their loved ones. It has shaped the way I communicate with my clients, allows me to become closer with them in getting to know more about them and their stories, and therefore allows me to create artwork with soul and purpose that will leave a lasting impression for years to come - heirloom pieces that serve as memories of this phase in their life, in their story. Bringing those details to life through vibrant color, and encouraging them to think of what matters most to the two of them and their loved ones, not what they think they should do or what feels safe.

I have communicated my heart for visual storytelling with y'all countless times in my blog and on social media, but have never had the courage or vulnerability to share why I have such a strong heart for doing so. Which, I understand after everything I've said I learned is a bit ironic or hypocritical - but being this open and vulnerable is hard. It is hard to think about what my school friends will think if they read this post, it is hard to think about how it might impact my sweet clients' opinions of me, it is hard to share something intrinsically tough in a brand that is light and airy. But, my art and my brand have become more than just pretty and just surface level - they have grown to have more meaning and purpose, and with that comes the need to share and connect with y'all in this way. I hope that through reading this post, y'all are able to get a glimpse at more of the real me - more than that I have a love of a good cocktail, have a blush colored tutu, and enjoy watching football with my husband. I hope this allows us to become closer, and to share more meaning and stories to others through real connections.

My Body is Enough Project Encouraging Note Sets by Rachel Tenny

photo by LeBelle Photography

I have to give a huge thank you to the sweet Rachel Tenny for starting her #mybodyisenough campaign to encourage others to know they aren't alone in their struggles with body image and self-esteem. For turning a "taboo" topic into a way for us to connect and support one another. To feel comfort in knowing that while we may have overcome many of our struggles, that it's okay if we slip back into bad days every now and then, because we have a community of sweet friends to turn to for support. Because none of us are perfect, and overcoming these fears takes lots of time, love, and grace. And to know that if you are in the thick of it right now, that there is so much hope for you, and that we would love to help in any way we can. I hope that even sharing a glimpse into my past and into this part of my story can help anyone who is dealing with the same struggles now to know you aren't alone.

Mostly, I want you to know that you are enough. Let that sink in for a few moments. Feel free to fill in the blank that best fits you - you are pretty enough, you are smart enough, you are strong enough, you are funny enough. You ARE enough. Right now. Just as you are. Please dear friend, let those words provide you with some comfort, and know deep down in your heart that they are oh so true.

I would love for you to head over to Rachel's My Body is Enough project page to read more about her heart behind the project and support this campaign by getting a set of encouraging note cards she designed! It would make such an impact if all of us could send even just one card to a friend who is struggling, to share how much we love them and why. Let's spread some love and encouragement today friends, shall we?

you are beautiful
you are loved
you are so much
more than enough

-rachel tenny