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How Not to Accept a Compliment

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The gray dress encases the length of my body, pressing against my arms, cutting off at the wrists. It looks as though someone's taken a precise blade and carved delicate snowflake impressions into the material, removing the flakes, leaving empty space in lacey finger-lines. My fingers pull the stretchy fabric an inch down my thighs as I stomp my high, black, trendy combat boots up the stairs.

I shove my workout shorts, pink bra, and messy t-shirt into my tiny black wardrobe bag as the other two actors chat across the table. The woman turns, the words falling from her mouth. "That dress looks great on you," she says with genuine appreciation.

"Thanks," I reply smiling, tugging lightly at the hem.

"You've got the figure for it," she says in an honest compliment.

I don't think she's expecting a response. Her declaration is sincere. My mouth dips a millimeter as if I were a slot machine expecting a shiny new quarter.

My brain is suddenly alive and kicking various thoughts around like indoor soccer practice. They bounce against the walls and ricochet through the space. I say nothing, or maybe I nod, I can't be sure, but then she's chatting again having moved on to another topic of conversation.

I close the wardrobe bag, my mind echoing. Just before she'd spoken I'd been acutely aware that the dress accentuated every extra part of skin, the cellulite on my legs, the small pooch at my belly, which at one unhealthy point of my life, wasn't present.

Now don't get me wrong. I like my body and I'm grateful that I no longer have any form of disordered eating. I'm also aware that I do fit in the category of slender, fit, or athletic.

But my brain still remembers when I used to be someone else. Sometimes, the cognitive dissonance resonates for a while like a clean finger stirring a bowl of soup with lavish accentuated twirls of the wrist.

The brain is a strange creature bouncing back and forth between the past does and doesn't equal the future. I believe that the past doesn't equal the future. Freud however, believed that we're always our past and that it's alive at every current moment.

I think I believe more in the strength of memory and that sometimes the brain gets stuck, like a needle on a record, between who we were and who we are. This doesn't have to be painful, but rather a strange dejavu, a remembrance that someone else once occupied our skin.

Her comment dropped me into that space of purgatory, the waiting land, where my first reaction was to downplay the compliment. Just moments before I'd been looking in the long bathroom mirror with the reality of my "flaws."

Before I go on, I must remind you that the person I used to be was merciless when this occasion would occur in front of the mirror. She'd say vicious things to me, about me, with swear words and images of cutting my thighs open with a knife and pulling out rubbery handfuls of yellow shimmering fat.

The person I am today is kind to myself. I see the things I'm not totally stoked about. Like honestly, I'd like to be uber thin and strong, cellulite free, have an ass you couldn't help but stare at in a bikini. The reality is that I love and appreciate my body. And yes, it's not exactly to my specifications, and that's okay. I love my free life now that doesn't revolve around food, exercise, and constantly hating myself. I like food and cookies and laughter and my mind being happy.

But I'm also not in denial about reality. That's the beauty about recovery. You can see things, but they're okay; they're good even.

Sometimes though, my brain skips a record blip and the past collides. What would I have said to her? Thanks came to mind. Downplaying myself came to mind. I didn't know how to respond, because yes, I was smaller than she was, and sure the dress did look good. Would acknowledgement of it possibly make her feel bad?

Oh dear mind, how you think so many strange things.

In the moment, I parted my lips making space for a response that didn't come. It reminded me that it's important to have our interior and our exterior be congruent. If we smile on the outside but inside we're weighted with pain, we feel fake and we suffer alone.

So how would I like to respond next time? With a simple smile and a thank you.

At the end of the day when I found myself once again in the bathroom, I chose to be fully grateful for this wonderful body of mine... for everything it is and for everything it isn't. This is the skin I'm in. I'll continue to love it, protect it, and nurture it. And in times of a scratchy record, I'll know to say, "Thank you."

I've discovered that my inner core is one of bliss and all it takes to be congruent on the outside is remembering that.

Forward Locomotion:

  • It's okay to have real thoughts about your body. You don't have to pretend things are perfect. But what do you love about your body? What do you love or appreciate about being in it?

  • Is your interior and exterior congruent? If they don't match something may be up. It's an opportunity to explore what's going on.
  • How do you feel when others compliment you? How do you think/react? Is there a response you'd like to begin practicing instead? For example, "Thank you."
  • Every day, when you look in the mirror, tell yourself, "I love you," or some variant. Take it further by telling yourself one thing that you love about yourself.
  • And remember: You are awesome and capable of great things. I believe in you and send you love.

    With Love,
    Z :)

    If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.