Yesterday I saw the most amazing thing. A couple of women were riding their bikes in shorts and neon sports bras. And one of them had a big ol’ belly hanging out. Not a Hollywood-ready tabloid-sexy pregnant belly, but rather a regular, made-of-skin-and-chub, flabby lady-belly. She was smiling and sweating and generally looked like she was having the ride of her life, and I wanted to jump up and down and wave and shout something joyous to her like, “Yay!” or “Nice confidence!” I didn’t. But I kind of fell in love with her a little bit.
How many times have you not worn something that you loved or that was more comfortable in hot weather because you thought it made you look fat or showed too much of a “gross” body part—or whatever? Yeah, me too.
But life’s too f*cking short, people. And it’s never clearer than during a week like this—all of us grieving, even if we didn’t know the people who were lost in this latest act of terror. It seemed wrong to me at first to even talk about something as seemingly “surface” or “shallow” as looks and body shape today. It reminded me a little bit of how I felt going back to work at the Glamour offices in Manhattan after September 11. I mean, why—right?
But here’s the why for me today: That lady I saw, the one with the neon sports bra and the belly, was living. She was feeling joy, and she made me feel joy. Body worries, weight concerns, disordered eating, and full-blown eating and body image disorders sap too much joy out of life for far too many.
People are freaked out and sad right now—and in my experience, body-image and eating issues surge in times of stress. (Research also shows that anxiety, stress, and depression are correlated with body-image disturbance and disordered eating behaviors, such as emotional overeating and restricting.) So if you find yourself feeling more preoccupied with food or your looks recently, it could be a sign of some underlying, unresolved issues.
If you feel this way, don’t ignore it. Answer a few simple multiple-choice questions—click on your state, then the name of any of the mental health centers, and you’ll be put through to a free online screening. And if you do turn out to be “at risk,” go here next to find some (local, sliding scale, free, etc.) help. You don’t even have to talk on the phone; the National Eating Disorders Association folks have an online chat feature now.
You deserve to live happy, healthy, and free. Sometimes it just takes a little help getting there.
Sunny Sea Gold is Greatist’s body image columnist and the author of Food: The Good Girl’s Drug—How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings (Berkley Books, 2011). The views expressed herein are hers. A health journalist by trade and training and a mom of two little girls, she’s also an advocate and educator focused on reducing the rates childhood obesity and eating disorders by building Body-Positive Families. Reach out to her @sunnyseagold.