Here Lies Monica, She Had an Amazing Body

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I've come to the important conclusion that no one will care what my body looks like when I die.

Let's face it, if we are lucky enough to die from old age, all of us will have saggy skin, loads of wrinkles, flat bottoms, low boobs, receding hairlines, and scraggly beards--yes, the last three descriptions apply to both men and women, equally.

And, heaven forbid, if I die before old age, I am 100% certain that it will not say on my tombstone, "Here lies Monica. She had an amazing body."  Because when it really, really comes down to it, that is not what people care about.


Social media will tell you otherwise.  It seems like every other picture on my feed features a girl with her progress shots (even though her "before" picture looks like most people's goal-weights), talking about her vomit-inducing workout, or sharing her "clean eating."  Moms constantly share their "post-baby" diets and workouts, slaving towards achieving those six-packs that wash all evidence away that their bodies achieved the miracle of growing another human and pushing that human out.

Even outside my phone/computer, I hear it all day and every day.  We women especially are so quick to see our flaws, so eager to point out what we hate about ourselves, and so interested in the latest sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free, happiness-free diet we need to be doing to get our "body back."

We all give ourselves over to chatter about "cheat days" and beach-body workouts as if they are the minimum of acceptable in the pursuit of health and happiness.

What is that?  What are we doing to ourselves?


Listen, I love striving for a healthy body like any one out there.  I want to be strong.  I want to fit into my clothes.  I love the way my body feels when I am regularly working out and eating well.  I credit running to making me a better, more sane woman.  And I truly love learning about health and nutrition, and eating the weirdest of vegetables.

I also often feel disgusted by the deflated-beach ball tummy I now sport and conflicted about the sugar I regularly eat.

But I hate, hate, hate the message we constantly receive--and encourage--that our bodies, our diet, our workouts must be 100% firm, clean, and challenging in order for us to be officially deemed as "healthy."


Here's a picture of me ten years ago.

Do I look emaciated?  Do I look depressed?  Do I look obsessed?

The answer to all of those is "No, not really." But I assure you, I was too thin for my natural body-type, I was severely depressed, and I was 100% obsessed.  But that obsession was founded in the pursuit of being "healthy."

No one ever questioned my strict food choices.  No one ever brought up that they were worried about me.  No one ever, ever, ever encouraged more flexibility in both my diet and exercise.

Because I had "it."  I was what women and men aspire to be--I was eating clean, working out super hard, and doing it all for the betterment of my "health."  Nothing to be alarmed about, right?

I just looked like I had good self-control.

Even I was initially too embarrassed to receive treatment for my eating disorders because I thought I didn't look anorexic enough to deserve help, even though my mental psyche was in absolute shambles and I felt anything but in control of my mind and my life.

I never received more compliments on my physical appearance than at this time.


It's taken me a decade of recovery to get to where I am now, which I can sum up as, "I'm still messed up, but fighting!"


I worry.  I worry because SO many men and women around me seem to be playing with that fire which badly burned me.  They start out with good intentions.  They want to improve their physical health.  They want more balance in their lives.  They want to feel better in their clothes.

"I'm an all-or-nothing person," they say.  "I can't have sugar around me at all," they declare.  "I have no self-control."  "I am addicted to chocolate."  "I feel so much better when I take away x, y, and z from my diet."

Living a life with heavy restrictions--however first well-intentioned--is like the cyclone that keeps swirling, pulling you in with the steady force of its gravity, sucking you down, harder and harder until food is more emotion and trigger-laden than when you started, and in response you axe another food group and increase your workout by another half hour.  And again, and again.

I feel like the soothsayer standing on the edges of that cyclone.  My own person still being whipped around by the cyclone's pull, my own psyche constantly being tugged at and lured by the big, beautiful storm.  But I stand gripping the ground as firmly as I can, struggling to hold up my sign, "Be careful!  Danger is ahead."  And my second sign, "You are enough!"

I'm going to clench onto the fenceposts Twister-style if I have to, in order to resist that pull.


Because here is the thing I learned from living in the eye of that storm and clawing my way out of it: If you do not love and accept yourself for how you are in this very moment, if you do not decide that you are "enough," chubby tummy and all, you will never, EVER think you are worthy of self-acceptance and love even if you've achieved 30 days of "clean eating," or P90X-ed your stomach into washboard abs.  The storm will tell you to do more and more until you will be like me ten years ago, thin and suicidal.  And people will give you lots of compliments.


My message here is not, "Abandon all health!" nor is it, "More donuts, less apples!"

It's this: Take care of yourself.  Eat that carrot.  Go on that run.  Resist an all-day diet of cookies and chocolate.  But also be brave enough to be balanced about your pursuit of health, and to eat a dessert guilt-free, and not just because it's your "cheat day," but because you love yourself enough to know that a cupcake is not inherently evil, and neither are you.


And remember, when you die what matters more than your beautiful body was that you were a good, kind, dependable person whose eyes were more fixated on the world around you than on the mirror in front of you.

51 comments:

  1. This is beautiful Monica! You're so right. It's hard to be comfortable in our own skin though. I haven't had any babies and feel like I have no excuse for my non-flat tummy. Just the other day I made a mental note to cut back on the brownies and ice cream (which are a near daily occurrence in the Bendall household) because my tummy felt like it had extra fat...and swimsuit season is upon us. The truth is I don't fully accept myself right now, I feel like I should be stronger and more fit. And that when I am, that I'll be happy. But I'm so damn lazy. I hate working out...let's be honest. And I love brownies and ice cream. I hope that I can eventually I will grow to love it. And maybe eat less donuts and more apples �� But for now I need to accept myself for how I am right now. So thanks for helping me realize that.

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    1. Even before I had kids, I had a tummy. Even in my darkest of eating disorder days, I had a tummy. I think that most women were made this way on purpose! It's just who we are. But it's hard when we are told that flat tummy=beautiful and healthy. I don't think I'm to the part where I've fully accepted my body for its current condition, but I'm certainly doing better in terms of accepting that I'm not going to do much to really change it. And it's surprising to me that you think your tummy isn't perfect, because I always, always thought it was!

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  2. I can't love this enough! Monica, you are a gifted writer. I'm saving this one and am going to pull it out again and again to remind myself what my focus should be. I will eventually read it to my daughter as well. This is the message that needs to be spread like wildfire!!! I can relate to so much of this! I struggled with eating disorders as well when I was in my early 20s. This statement resonated with me so much : "I never received more compliments on my physical appearance than at this time." It took me a loooong time to get that out of my head, to untangle my self worth from the scale and how much attention I could receive for how low that number stayed. I am in a much better place now. I am still learning moderation. I am still learning that strength and health are my focus. I'm still learning that extreme dieting makes me swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the next. I'm still learning to see that I am enough as I am stretch marks and all. I hope that my daughter will see this, and that she won't have the same struggles as me. It's blogs like yours that give me hope! Keep up the good fight!

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    1. Oh, Lora--I love you so much! I remember you teaching that YW lesson and think about how much we had in common. I wasn't very transparent about my struggles then, otherwise we could have had much to talk about, in this regard. It means the world to me that you read this, let alone commented with such beautiful things to say. Let's keep fighting together so our girls will feel empowered to be real, strong, imperfect women!

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  3. Beautifully written by a beautiful woman and mother! Thanks, Monica. This is a message that all people need to read and embrace. Self-worth should come from so much more than six-packs and thigh gaps!

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    1. It definitely should! It's still easier for me to say, than do--but I'm trying! Thank you for being such a supportive friend!

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  4. this is such an important message! i'm very passionate about self love and loving our bodies...truly loving our bodies. we love them because they are miracles. we love them because god made them. we love them because with them we can serve, with them we can hug and love and run and jump. we love our saggy tummies and stretch marks because they are a badge of honor. our bodies can create life and nurture a life. our bodies are beautiful! when we start to see them as things that need to be sexier, everything goes downhill from there. i wish that the health industry would take the sex out of working out and eating right. we eat healthy because we love and respect ourselves. we also eat desserts because they are delicious and part of experiencing the joys of life!
    i took nutrition in college and it changed my life! one thing my professor said was that the biggest misconception about food is that there are "bad" foods. unless you are allergic to something, there's no such thing as a "bad" food. sugar gives our bodies energy. plain and simple. it's not bad. it's simply energy. people have such unhealthy relationships with food. we have guilt tied up into what we eat and that is so wrong.
    thank you for sharing this and for being so honest.

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    1. Mer!!!! Oh, how fun it is to hear from you. I loved every word that you said. Funny though, I hadn't thought of the whole "sexy sense" you brought to the table, but I absolutely 100% agree. I so admire that you've been able to earn that healthy relationship with food and your body. I always admired you, and still do! Love you.

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  5. The title alone could preach. So, many are too concerned about appearances when really it is just who we know (Christ) and what we do with that knowledge that counts! I am so stealing your phrase! ;)

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    1. Please do! And you are right about the spiritual side to this conversation.

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  6. Two words: "Amen." And "Amen." I'm 25 pounds heavier than I was in a similar picture in front of Cafe Diana (go London! :) but I've realized that it doesn't really matter. We women have too much good to do in the world around us to obsess over numbers on a scale and if we've gone 30 calories over our daily allotment. Such a beautiful message on moderation in all things!

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    1. Meagan! I'm so proud of you for coming to that realization. I remember feeling like we were having similar anxieties on that trip. Thank you for your support and friendship! I have some London photos to share with you.

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  7. Love this post! Thanks for sharing.

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  8. My beautiful cousin, I had no idea. I went through this too, my senior year of high school and first two years of college. And like you, I never received so many compliments in my entire life. I was 5'4, 20 years old and got down to 108 lbs. Not good. And I was so sad and depressed. My biggest fear at that time was getting fat. Second was being raped. Being fat was higher than being raped!! What the heck?!? Anyway, I am so grateful you wrote this. I've been struggling, having gained 30 lbs since I had Willem and am the heaviest I have been my whole life. But, at the same time, oddly, I am becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin. I agree, it comes down to living a life that is lived for true health, well being and happiness, no matter your size. You're wonderful. :)

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    1. Well, I had no idea about you either! It just goes to show you never, ever know what people are doing. I've learned to not assume that people are just naturally as thin as they are. (Not that that means I also assume they are anorexic either, just something for me to note when I assume some things are easy for people when it really isn't.) Sadly, I totally relate to your fear ranking. That really is messed up. I am SO proud of you and how you are learning to be more comfortable in your skin in its exact state, which is beautiful by the way. It shouldn't be a brave thing to do so, but it totally is! Love you.

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  9. Your title = mic drop. Everything about this is so good! It deserves to be shared over and over again. My motto when it comes to food and exercise is "moderation in all things". It doesn't mean that I necessarily don't eat too many desserts ha ha, but I'm probably not going to strictly limit myself any time soon. I don't want food to become an obsession. There is a life to be lived out there, and I'm not going to forget to live it because I'm too focused on counting calories or running away from an ice cream cone.

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    1. I'm really liking that mic drop title, ha! You have such a good perspective on this already and I totally applaud you for it. I'm trying to get there, but it really is a day-to-day work in progress for me.

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  10. Beautifully said, can't agree more!

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    1. I'm SO glad you think so! Thank you for reading and supporting me!

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  11. Found this post on a friend's Facebook wall and really enjoyed it. So raw and honest and hopeful. I, too, feel like a flat firm tummy makes meore attractive, though my husband tells me he really likes my tummy the way it is, and I really do believe him. After 4 kids it has stretch marks, sag and rolls, but I'm healthy. I try to not get on myself about trying to "get it back". My husband also tells me he thinks we women are the ones who are most critical and that we are trying to achieve "the perfect body" for each other as we compare ourselves, rather than for the guys, like we often think--or blame. I also really liked your comment about how our bodies were made to carry and birth babies. And looking like they have doesn't have to be undesirable! :) Thanks for this thought provoking post. Go you! You are beautiful.

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    1. HI Rachel! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It actually encourages me a lot to hear from someone outside my close friends and family, as I need to know that it's reaching others who have similar feelings. I think your husband is right--most of the time, we women are doing this to ourselves and our good men love us for who they are. We definitely compare and compete way too much! You are beautiful, too!

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  12. Thank you, Monica. I (and my baby sag) really needed this today.

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    1. I'm so glad it could help you out today! I might need you to remind me of my own thoughts later, when I'm feeling down on myself. Love you, Katie!

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  13. Beautifully written. Very Happy to find your blog Monica ;)

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    1. Oh, thank you!! I hope we can be internet buddies.

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  14. I absolutely love this! I have struggled with eating disorders too, and I'm currently in the same position as you. I don't know if you've heard of "intuitive eating" but that mindset has helped me out. Stop putting worry on food and calling it "good" and "bad", just notice how it makes you feel and go from there. No guilt. This nails the whole idea on the head in such a wonderfully relatable way! Thank you for being so open and sharing!

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    1. Yes! I've read that book probably four or more times. For a few years into my recovery, I still became unsteady with their suggested hunger scale (meaning, it made me obsessive in a different way), but it's a good time now for me to get centered back on that scale also aiding my decisions. I have so loved how they view food and it was very influential in aiding my own improved views. I'm so glad you read my post, and even happier that you commented! It's wonderful to hear from a fellow recoverer! Thank you.

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  15. This is such a beautiful well written post. You inspire me!

    Keep smiling!
    Molly | www.stylemissmolly.com

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  16. Thank you for sharing, it is so refreshing to read a carbon copy story of my own and know that you to struggle to stay out of the storm. Wow it was as though those were my thoughts you were writing.
    And this couldn't have come at a better moment when I feel the pain of self shaming trying to pull me back in, your post has snapped me back into reality of remembering that 10 pounds lighter isn't my happiest place. ��

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    1. I'm so, so glad I could pull you out of that storm! You'll probably have to do the same for me in a month or two. These struggles come and go, and it's so enticing to want to shame myself right back into being extreme. We'll all watch out for each other!

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  17. This is so good. The "clean eating" craze sort of drives me crazy and leaves me concerned for people in my life. I was athletic and grew up knowing eating fruits, vegetables and limited processed food was healthier but we also had dessert. Living in extremes is very hard to maintain!

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    1. I think by all definition, I'm largely a "clean eater" too--but it definitely seems to be extreme-driven in social media. It's impossible to be 100% anything, at least for your entire life. I think that's what drives us crazy!

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  18. Thanks for sharing! It's easy to become obsessed with all the info out there. Moderation is really key.

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    1. Hi Lisa! I love your last sentence. Moderation would solve a lot of things in our day!

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  19. Love this! Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing. It's true, being healthy can become an obsession. At times I think I feel way more guilty about eating an occasional pint of ice cream than I should. But then I have to realize that most of my other food choices are lean and pretty reasonable. I think women can become really concerned with going back to their "pre pregnancy" bodies when losing the body shape you had when you were 20 is done out of love and self sacrifice. By all means, moms should be healthy and set a good example for their families, but we need to remember that our bodies our unique, beautiful, and giving.

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    1. Chelsea! You are so good to comment. I guess I'm to the point that it's only going to get worse from here body-wise, so I better accept it right this very second before I miss what I even have in ten years. I definitely think you are wise in what you said--we should set a healthy example, but also a healthy acceptance and love of who we are! Thanks for commenting.

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  20. Loved this post! I'm definitely one of those people focus a lot on healthy eating and living, but I also know how to step back and splurge and know that it doesn't change who I am or what I'm worth. Your post was a great reminder though, because it is so easy to get so caught up in "healthy" that we get out of control on a slippery slope....

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    1. I'm so glad that you have been able to find a healthy moderation in your life! Really, that is incredibly admirable.

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  21. this is a beautiful post. i was deeply moved by it because i had a similar experience a few years ago. i went from 130lbs - a healthy weight and size for my body- to 105 and was deeply depressed and crazy about food and exercise. but all i got were compliments. it is a daily exercise to remind myself of balance and to stay off any of these 'clean eating' challenges or anything like that, because it is a slippery slope. and we really do have a short time here, so obsessing over our bodies is so silly. i read this quote - i can't remember where i found it, but it is my mantra. thanks for your vulnerability and wise words

    ‘We contend that for so many women, the root cause of the food and body conflict is a void inside, a disconnect from the true self. When we buy into the illusion of beauty, we become blind to a more profound reality… Because we expend so much energy trying to sort out our endlessly complicated food and body issues, we never have enough of ourselves available to ponder questions like, “ Why am I alive?” “What is the ultimate meaning of our existence?” or “What lies beyond the mirror?” … we can't get on the path to pursue our true potential because we’re so distracted by the torturous riddle of how to find happiness through achieving the perfect body.”

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    1. Kate, it touched me that you were moved! It sounds like you went through some really hard years caught up in the same obsession I was. I have learned it takes years and years to move past it, but it's nice to look back and see that progress has been made, however slowly. That quote is EVERYTHING!! I hope you are finding a good path to recovery!

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  22. So fabulous! I loved this and the article you published today about what you gave your eating disorder. It's totally true--often we seek these diet improvements in the pursuit of wellness, but when eating becomes an obsession, obviously the wellness has evaded us and it's time to pull back. Balance is key. I especially love your title that emphasizes the importance of the big picture and the idea of letting our fitness go a bit in favor of actually living! Don't worry--I read this over a bowl of Cheetos. We'll call that balance. ;)

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    1. I always love wha you say--thank you, Lisa!! And yes, that definitely qualifies as balance.

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  23. Monica!! Thanks for sharing! I love what you said about your body when we die... so true. I know you? how? I can't remember. I was Amanda Dance in college......I studied El Ed at BYU

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    1. You sound so familiar..... I'm sure we know each other! My poor brain. I need a picture!

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  24. Just a little food for thought: I have a friend who works part time at a funeral home. The condition of people's bodies matters to her when she is doing her work. She tells me that she feels that we are accountable to God for the condition our body is in when we leave it behind. Not for those things we have no control over-- genetic issues, etc.-- but for the choices we make that are up to us and do affect our bodies.

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    1. My uncle was a mortician as well. Hopefully, my message doesn't come across as dismissing the importance of taking care of our bodies. (See the last few paragraphs! :) I tried to portray how we need to honor them in a healthy--just not obsessive--way. Thanks for your comment!

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  25. It's a funny thing in this world that the time that we get the most comments on our success in "looking amazing" is right at the edge of death. Dying of cancer my Mom finally lost all of that weight she had dreamed her whole life of dropping post 6 kids (which wasn't much more than the natural type of weight you would carry after such things and not living an extreme life). She had that "perfect" figure those months before she died and those comments about how "good" you look she perfectly responded to by saying that chemotherapy and cancer and dying young was a most excellent diet plan. How ridiculous this world is! Never have I received more compliments on my body than when I had suddenly as a result of tragedy dropped weight to the extent that I was a weight I hadn't seen on the scale since FOURTH GRADE!! (You know, 9 years old). I was so weak and beleaguered I could hardly walk .5 mile, but at least I finally had that perfect figure, right?! Blows my mind. I must say that as I age those well-intended comments from others about my body (because culturally that seems to be what we do) feel like such insults regardless of what a person's body looks like. Why can't we comment on people's sparkling personalities, or kindness, or goodness or glow? Nothing turns me off quite so quickly as someone telling me I'm hot before saying anything else. Don't get me wrong, I would love my body to be strong and healthy and energetic and able to play hard and keep up with my life, but if that is what people are judging me by, they can just jump themselves off a cliff if they expect me to care. I wish it didn't take us girls raised in high-achieving households so long to learn this valuable lesson. So much time is lost coming to realize that skin deep is just that and if all anybody says at my death is that I had great abs, I'm pretty confident I have failed. Right?

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