Compare and despair chatter, and My Body Gallery

I used to be a size zero. This was just a couple of years ago. I clearly remember how good it felt to stand in my closet and pick out a pair of jeans in that size. Zero wasn't just a number. It was a smug statement about my strength of will, the commitment I had towards achieving a goal. I was proud of being a zero. It fed me, in a way. It almost made up for all the meals I'd skipped, all the time I spent hunched over the toilet, all the minutes I spent mentally calculating the meager number of calories I'd eaten. That zero seemed worth all the sacrifice.

And now I'm a size six. I wear a 32 DD bra. I used to be able to go bra-less, and count the bones in my spine. Now I'm unable to do either.

My brain is noisy - there's a litany of chatter always running through. And here's the thing: this chatter never shuts up. Never. If I'm not worrying about something, then I'm trying to anticipate what I might need to do later, the order in which I need to run errands in order to keep the kids off my back, or ruminating about unpaid bills and family feuds and the amount of money I spent at the Goodwill. There is never any silence.

Especially now that I'm in recovery. Yes, I believe I can now solidly, confidently state that I am, in fact, in recovery. I have made tremendous progress in a relatively short period of time. This morning I recalled that it was two years ago when the wheels came off, and I began the decent into relapse that eventually led me into residential treatment. There have been a couple of slips since then, but they did not become patterns of destruction, which is what matters.

But back to my brain. Restricting and purging didn't cease the chatter in my head, although it did turn the volume down, especially on the self-loathing thoughts. Because as long as I was restricting and purging, at least I could do something right. One of the many reasons that I found it so difficult to start eating was the fact that the act cranks the volume up on my eating disorder voice, and I really missed the (relative) peace that came when I was following my strictly limited diet.

I don't believe that silence ever comes to anorexics when they're eating. When a person without an active eating disorder eats, their brain is relatively quiet. When a person with an eating disorder eats, they experience increased anxiety and constant chatter. The longer an anorexic restricts their eating, the quieter the noise becomes. So, in a way, I self-medicated my anxiety with restriction.

To me, recovery doesn't mean the noise goes away. It means you just learn to manage it better. Truthfully, the noise is louder now that I've reached a healthy weight than it was when I was sick. Maintaining a healthy weight while the chatter is screaming YOU ARE A FAT PIG is by far the most frustrating thing about recovery. For all purposes, I look fine. I don't cry in restaurants anymore. The room doesn't sway when I go from sitting to standing. But there are parts of my brain that are still deeply anorexic, and the noise is worse than ever.

By and large, the chatter becomes more animated when I engage in the compare-and-despair I do against other women. This is when I'm sitting somewhere, like in Starbucks or a bench in the mall, and observe the women around me. I then decide that my legs are shorter, stomach pudgier, knees saggier than the women walking past. I do this a lot. The chatter in my head has a field day with my anthropological observations. Because I know, I believe, that I'm bigger. Not as pretty. Not as fit.

I know that women are, in general, terrible at seeing their bodies as they really are. 95% of non-eating disordered women overestimate the size of their hips by 16% and their waists by 25%, yet the same women were able to correctly estimate the width of a box. So when I heard about a site called My Body Gallery I wasn't sure what to think.

Once you enter the site, you plug in your height, weight, shirt and pant size, and body type to women with similar stats. You can also upload your image into their database anonymously. I should note that the site is still in the early stages of development, and all body types and measurement combination aren't available yet.

“In a world full of images of how we ‘should’ look it can get difficult to tell how we DO look,” the site says. “Most women have spent so many years looking at themselves in mirrors that we can no longer see what’s really there. The My Body Gallery project’s goal is to help women objectively see what we look like and come to some acceptance that we are all beautiful.”

Curious, I entered my own  measurements and found a collection of women in my range. It was interesting to see how we all carried our weight differently. Even better, it was refreshing to see ordinary women as we really are, with similarly rounded ratios that are non-existent in the fashion world. I was left with unequivocal proof that our bodies come every combination of shape and size imaginable, and we're all beautiful. As My Body Gallery points out, “the world is not a place of cookie cutters.” This site proves that I should never feel alone or insecure about my body. And gave a solid reason for the chatter in my head to shut the hell up.

Now I ask you - will you check out My Body gallery? Does your head ever get caught up in the compare and despair game? How do you bring yourself out of it? 

Do you like this post, and my other thoughts on positive body image? As long as you're here...PLEASE take a minute and vote for me in the CBS DFW Most Valuable Blogger Awards! I'm a finalist!


  1. I'd heard about My Body Gallery before but didn't know the exact site. I was so excited to try it out through your link, but they don't have any pictures of people who have my dimensions! That'll shake my confidence a bit today.

  2. Great site reference! What a great idea too. I'll be sharing it with my daughter.
    I'm with you on the head chatter. It never stops. I'm thankful for the creative juices I glean from the noise but when I need sleep it's very frustrating. I never sleep on vacation either, guess everything is too new and stimulating. I'm so happy you've found your writing and are in recovery now. Your health is on the mend I'm sure! Thanks so much for sharing your honesty. Now I'll go vote!

  3. i wish you continued health and hope that in those moments you can find something that reminds you of how wonderful you are as you are.

    @carolyn, i would suggest that if you did not find anyone your dimensions on the site that you take that as an opportunity to be a positive reflection for other women and upload your pic, not as an indicator of some issue regarding your own body.

  4. Very interesting post. I am now (much) older than 50 and much heavier than I was in high school. I was so skinny then and HATED it. I wouldn't wear shorts b/c of my skinny legs....if I were still that thin I'd be 'perfect' in the media's eyes. I had no idea of what it is to have an eating disorder. I am so glad you are at a healthy weight!!!
    I will check out that website, thanks for posting it.
    BTW I voted for you!! :-)

  5. I think that the most interesting thing, like you said, was that we all look different with the same measurement. We all carry these bodies that we've been given in a unique way. It's beautiful!

  6. I get chills every time I read your posts on body image. I grew up/work in performing arts, and have been surrounded by eating disorders and/or self-depreciating. I'm happy that as a dance teacher now get to be the example of loving oneself for the amazing things you can do.

  7. This is a beautiful raw post. Thank you for sharing your personal struggle and being real about it. I'm off to check out the site. You are one courageous woman! - Katy

  8. Elissa, thanks for sharing that site! There weren't any pics of ladies with my dimensions so I added mine and hope the next time I go there there will be more. I was browsing through the site and looking at the different pics posted and even though none of them had my dimensions, it was still nice to see pics of REAL photoshop, no extreme (if any) plastic surgery, and all were beautiful. Thanks again.

  9. Thanks for sharing this. It's good to know I'm not the only one who struggles with the constant voice in my brain telling me I'm fat and unworthy, even though logically I know it's untrue. I lost over 100 pounds 9 years ago and still, every day, I see the person I used to look like, not the person I am. Every day is a struggle, but it's a fight that's worth it.

  10. I have a voice in my head that never, ever shuts up. Comparing myself to other women is also something I do.

  11. Thank you for sharing your intimate details.... I have definitely had these conversations in my own mind....

    And yes, I am off the check out My Body Gallery....

  12. I've found myself comparing my body to other women a lot lately--I finally gained back the weight I lost my senior year of college plus a bit more to be at a healthy weight for the first time in my life, but it's also the heaviest I've ever been and I'm not sure how I feel about that. So I'll look at some girl in tiny shorts and a tank and think "I used to look like her, now I'm old and fat" and my boyfriend says "of course you don't look like her, she's probably 15 and hasn't had her final growth spurt yet!" Sigh, why can't that logic be the voice in my head?

  13. Hmmm I sway from thinking that was cool or depressing and I have no idea why. I loved how many athletic women came up though and your right everyone carried their weight differently which is not something I guess I have ever thought about. Sounds like you have gotten a lot of help for your chatter. Its actually nice to hear someone else talk about it. I call mine a inner demon, it pushes me so hard and is so over the top on what is expected. But for me that's part of being manic or bipolar. Different animal all together I guess but still, nice to know i'm not alone when it comes to the negative crap in my head. Thanks for being so honest with us all.

  14. I have checked out My Body gallery last week and it made me feel really brave and it made me admire the women who posted those pictures.

    I hope you will always manage to keep those thoughts at bay I know it's harder some days but just remember all the things you've learned to combat those voices. Really thank you so much for your honesty in your struggle in recovery.

  15. Wow that is a really interesting site. I plugged in my measurements and I honestly feel a lot better about myself. You see, even though I am a size 6, I have a little extra bit of a pouch around my tummy, and it often makes me feel really unhappy about my body. But seeing all these other girls, who are my size and shape, and have the same little pouch, I really do feel less alone.

    P.S. I am so glad you are in recovery and I personally think you are gorgeous. By the way, if your DD boobs ever bother you, toss a cup size or two my way. My 34A boobs could use the extra love.

  16. How brave to share this story. Thank you so much for opening up your heart!

    I personally do not like the Body Gallery because I don't like comparing myself to other women and I don't like other women comparing themselves to me. I don't tell people my weight because I do not want to be judged.


  17. I'd never heard about My Body Gallery, but it's really interesting to look at. I liked your term "compare and despair" because although I've never heard it called that, it's exactly what happens to me all the time! Now I have a catch phrase that will pop into my head when it happens, which should help me reverse my thought process. Thanks for being so open about your struggles!

  18. Thank you for the link to my Body Gallery. I know that it took me many years to work on silencing my own mental chatter (monkey mind). It has largely passed with age...and the addition of a few Buddhist ideas.

  19. I checked out My Body Gallery last week and only one picture came up with my specifications. She and I could be twins, it was great. I showed my hubby, he agreed. How weird, I never see women with my body shape and size.

    Regarding what you wrote about, I think we all voices to some degree. I'm sure the strength and frequency of those voices creates the distinction between easily managing it versus acting out because of it. I remember a time when I was less kind with my body. I learned to love other women's bodies in all their shapes and sizes in order to start loving mine. When I stopped judging others I stopped judging myself. I'm so fascinated with all the different tactics we use to evolve into better beings.

    Thank you for perpetuating positive body image. It's very dear to me.
    xo, f
    The House in the Clouds

  20. I did check it out but it's not so friendly towards people using the metric system! So wasn't that impressed with the site. It's a good idea though although I think that ultimately you shouldn't compare yourself to others but learn to accept yourself as you are....

  21. Not every women looks good in one standard size. That's the beauty of it all! We can look beautiful at all sizes. I don't know why we all want to be the same size.

    I tried the site unfortunately there are no pics of my measurements but I do like my body with more curves.


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