love me, but love yourself too

When it comes to the problems of body image and eating disorders, the scenario that comes into your mind might be girls who care too much about their appearance, or eat only salads in order to stay in shape. But is it true that only girls feel unhappy with their body?


As a teenage girl, I hated my body and even got close to developing a serious eating disorder. I was restricting myself on how many calories I could eat each day, only to surpass my limit and eating even more to forget my guilt. For as long as I could remember, I hated swimming lessons because I would need to put my body on display. Whenever I saw myself in pictures or in the mirror of the dressing room, I would cringe at my round face and chubby thighs, determined to push myself to exercise, and the cycle repeats itself.


As I grew older, my metabolism changed and I slimmed down, and I gained some confidence in myself. Of course, I still get flashbacks of hating my body at times, but the more I learnt about what I experienced, I've started to notice this problem in the people that are close to me as well.


While my family and friends started encouraging me as I slimmed down, they turned their target on my brother, who just started puberty. He was kind and sensitive, but he felt a lot of pressure because he didn't do well in school. For a while, he couldn't stop eating when he felt frustrated, and even developed anxiety. As a kid, he had always been a little chubby, but he started to become overweight and developed an eating disorder.


At that time, I was one of the people who constantly put him down, as I could see myself in him and I hated that he was heading down the same path that I had gone through. I was so scared of getting fatter and watching him get fat too, so I kept bashing his weight and appearance, and shamed him for eating unhealthily. When I look back, it wrenches my heart with regret for what I've done to my brother.


I had punished him for the same reason that I've punished myself back in those years, and I realised that boys also go through eating disorders and body image problems like girls do.


After my revelation, I began to notice the symptoms in my boyfriend as well.


My boyfriend is taller than average, fit, and studies nutrition and sports. He seems very unlikely to develop an eating disorder, but he might just be another example of boys who are not happy with their body.


On our first date at a café, I ordered an egg salad while he ordered a pork cutlet rice curry. To my surprise, he didn't finish the food and left a large portion of the rice behind while I helped him eat some of the pork cutlet. He told me that he couldn't eat too much carbs as it would ruin his diet, and he would always be at the gym. I was thrilled to find out he cared as much about dieting as I did, when I confessed to him that I used to have an eating disorder. But the more we spent time together, the more I saw how he wasn’t satisfied with his body although it was perfectly fine to me.


Unlike my brother who was overweight and ate uncontrollably, my boyfriend had to control his diet so that he could keep his body fat to a minimum. One day, he would be stuffing himself with two bowls of rice and meat, the other he would only be drinking a smoothie. After we’ve eaten a big meal together, he would keep saying, “I’ve got to keep working out, or my abs would disappear,” or something like, “Look at all that fat on my belly!”


We both know our history and the problems we have with our bodies, and like any boyfriend with a typical cheesy line, he told me once, “It doesn’t matter what body you have, I’d still love you with all your imperfections.”


I’m grateful, but I also want him to know that aside from accepting and loving me, he should love himself the same way too.


The three of us are all trying hard to eat properly and start treating our bodies well, but learning to love ourselves takes time and I think it’s okay to do it a small step at a time.


Anyone has the risk of developing body image problems and eating disorders, and that assuming girls would be the majority is just an outdated stereotype. Pay close attention to your loved ones, including men and boys as well. If they show any signs of eating irregularly, or keep bashing their own appearance, please support them, show them love, because their problems are just as valid as us girl’s.


Main Image by 10 Facts: Exposing a little more of Michelangelo's David

Photos and Illustration by Ynes (@yneshn / @hojiccha)

Japanese Translation by Hikari