My name is Giulia. I've struggled with body image my whole life.
This story begins at age 11
I grew up in an alcoholic home, which fostered a bump in the normal, “ideal” process of how a child grows into loving themselves. This chaotic household contributed to a disruption in the ability for me to feel nurtured, safe, and loved. I interpreted my parents’ emotional and physical absence in my life as evidence that I must not be good enough or worthy enough to receive their love and affection. I wholeheartedly believed that I was evidently not worthy of love, so the logical solution was to be different, and ultimately change who I was.
This kicked off the early onset of my insatiable appetite to be perfect. I developed an incredibly cruel and powerful inner voice that fueled my ability to be an overachiever in everything that I did. I needed to achieve greatness in order to gain love, respect, and praise that I so deeply desired from my parents (and everyone else). I didn’t know self-worth without approval from others. This need for approval was a hungry monster that only grew bigger and stronger as the years went on.
As a result of my relentless desire to be ‘perfect’, I developed an eating disorder in my later years of high school leading into university.
I hated my body, I hated everything about it, and this was reflected in the way I treated it. It was as if I believed that everything that was going wrong in my life was a result of my physical appearance. I believed that if I altered my body to become closer to the appearance pressures that are flaunted in our faces so readily by the media, I would surely receive love and attention and finally be happy.
Anorexia quickly consumed my entire life. The anxiety that grew with my anorexia took over 90% of my conscious thoughts and made it incredibly difficult for me to socialize with friends and engage in most of the normal activities. This is something that is rarely expressed with this easily glamorized disease. I would lock myself in my room with the heat turned up as high as it could go (because I was relentlessly cold), studying furiously for my upcoming exams at school. This was my deluded vision of success. I became so fragile and depleted of nutrients and strength that for a period of time I would actually lose complete control of my bladder in high school. I would bring a change of clothes in order to hide this from the rest of my peers.
Strangely, I would continue to receive positive reinforcement around how ‘great’ I looked. It was so sick. Thankfully in a very twisted way, the thing that saved me from this disease was that same unwavering desire to please others.
My dance instructor noticed I was struggling and notified my parents, who then promptly set up weekly visits to the doctor. I experienced so much shame from the doctor to support my health that I just wanted to fix it so I could show her how strong I was, and ultimately seek her recognition.
This battle with anorexia drove me into one of the darkest times of my life, further away from happiness than I had ever been before. I didn’t feel sexy and I didn’t feel better looking in the mirror. I felt less desire than I had ever felt in my life. I didn’t want anyone to look at me, touch me, let alone even speak to me. I felt ashamed, alone, and imprisoned by the inner critical voice that wouldn’t even let me put a fucking carrot in my mouth. It was as if my light and soul had been completely sucked out of me. When I look at some of the pictures of me from that time, I barely recognize the person staring back at me.
Battling anorexia was one of the earliest lessons that taught me that driving myself down the road of “perfection” only led to immense solitude and unhappiness.
I recovered from almost all of the destructive eating habits about five years ago but the hurtful self-talk and negative body image remained an obstacle for many years. Being naked was really uncomfortable for me, even being in front of a mirror was still difficult. All of my life’s problems became completely laser focused on my body. To me, the way I looked carried all the weight of what was going wrong in my life. I couldn’t see outside of that lens.
I was still very much in a place where I believed that on some level the key to happiness, fulfillment, success, and getting all that I wanted in life was highly dependent on how I looked and how I felt about my body. I was still living on the surface. I was always super fit, and exercised a lot but that wasn’t enough. I decided, somewhat impulsively, to get breast implants because I had always been very self-conscious of the fact that I was pretty flat.
I was an athlete so this was part of the package. No one had ever commented on my breasts or lack thereof, but I still felt that this must be one of the reasons for my unhappiness and negative body image. I think I truly believed that if I went ahead with the surgery, the dream man would present himself in front of me and I would have the confidence to achieve all my deep desires and life aspirations (career, family, friends, romance — all of it). Almost laughable now, however I still see it happen all the time in our world of Instagram, celebrity and comparison.
A recent graduate
After getting breast implants, I actually experienced little to no lift in my confidence.
It actually produced a whole other host of issues relating to my confidence and body image. Furthermore, it attracted a lot of men that liked me for all the wrong reasons. When my confidence didn’t magically skyrocket, I went straight back to the superficial outside fix and felt like the size that I got must not have been big enough. I remember feeling depressed and mad at myself for making the decision, which only furthered the negative body image spiral.
It now makes me sad to see others fixing their ‘outside’ in hopes that it will have a real impact on their ‘inside’. I’ve been there and know it’s an upward climb with no summit. As long as humans roam this earth, there will always be new trends and appearance pressures with no end goal.
Do I regret getting implants? No. I feel like it was an expensive lesson to learn that I was meant to go through. Today, I truly love and appreciate my body, but it has very little to do with my physical appearance. I’m glad I was finally able to figure out what confidence, positive body image and fulfillment really mean to me.
Here’s what really saved me…
After a pretty traumatic break up about a year and a half ago, I realized that I was still living my life for the approval of others — and decided I wasn’t going to let this hold me back any longer. Things had to change. When I started to disrupt habits, meditate and slow down, I was forced to really see, hear and feel myself. Sounds easy, but in reality it was really fucking hard. I found that if I didn’t do the work, the same lessons just kept showing up until I decided to face them. I started to create the space in my days to listen, to feel the pain and the hurt that I needed to go through in order to move forward. I was able to address the insecurities that were rooted in past experiences and confront my incorrect beliefs that were steering the ship. When I was finally able to tune into myself, I knew the changes I needed to make.
I stopped putting my body through so much physical exhaustion, and started to treat it with love and respect. I allowed it to feel everything it needed me to. I stopped over-exercising to numb out the pain (sometimes 2–3 times a day at my worst point). I started sleeping seven-plus hours a night to actually experience what it was like to wake up and not feel like my body was screaming at me in sheer exhaustion. I addressed the unhealthy eating patterns that still remained. I basically dismantled all of the little things I was doing to avoid listening to what I needed on the inside. Through a lot of steps, tears, leaping into fear, learning and ultimately growing, I kind of feel like I blossomed and that this light grew inside me that truly can’t be dimmed.
What this process also opened up, is the ability to listen and focus on what I deeply care about. Pursuing what mattered to me produced an incredible amount of confidence, the kind that is strong and all-encompassing. Not surface level. It was truly from the inside out.
This journey allowed me to understand my purpose of helping people heal themselves and find their inner confidence. I’m now in leadership and development for a wonderful, supportive company, in a job that I have never felt so excited about. I devote my spare time to supporting others in finding their inner light and confidence to achieve everything they desire in life through 1:1 life coaching. Finally, I am so fortunate to be delivering a program called, Free to Be supporting boys and girls in elementary and high schools to develop a positive body image. I am incredibly grateful for my journey because I now have a purpose that I couldn’t be more proud of.