Rachel Lim: My clothes are no longer cages for my body, my mirror is no longer a magnifying glass for my flaws

I hesitated with this post as I didn’t think I had an issue with my body image until a close friend of mine told me about Rock The Naked Truth. I then realised how much I was beating myself up for my weight gains even though I am already underweight.

In 2013/4, I told myself that I had to start working out ever since I found out that I had high cholesterol. My height (164cm) and weight (42kg) have been constant since I was 14. I am now 22 years old and still at the same height.

Last year, I started obsessing with my weight when it passed the 42kg threshold and I have been trying out ways to cut it back down to 42kg. It got to the point where I was counting calories during every meal and cutting them to 400 calories a day just because I wanted to lose 1 kg within a week during my last year of university abroad. That means just having one meal a day.

I stopped that after a week as I felt weak but went on an oats-only diet for the next two weeks. On top of that, I spent an average of two to three hours in the gym for at least three to four times a week. I’d sign up for every single gym class and spend four to five hours daily in the gym during school breaks. It is excessive but I didn't see it at that point because I was breaking a lot of my personal best records and achieving things that I couldn’t in the past, such as touching my toes or sustaining a handstand.

Going to the gym began to make me feel like I was superhuman. I felt good about myself, but at the same time I was pushing myself too far; to the point where I sustained a terrible back injury due to overstraining and had to see a physiotherapist several times.

In hindsight, the worst parts were the methods I used to convince myself to work harder. I shamed and guilt-tripped myself into cutting back on my food intake, I fat-shamed myself and pushed myself further on the treadmill by convincing myself that I needed to lose weight to fit into my Easter ball dress and get rid of whatever bits I deemed jiggly. I am a UK 6 size but my goal was to fit into UK 4 clothes. I wore my gym clothes all the time just to keep track of any visible changes in my physique, especially my lower abdominal area and my tummy. I also had a pair of ‘skinny jeans’ and a UK 2-4 dress that I would occasionally try on to see if I had gained weight. I would occasionally attempt the ‘A4 Waist Challenge’ to keep track of my waistline ever since I knew of it.

I noticed the weight I gained in my face even though nobody could tell and I convinced myself to look in the mirror each time before I eat just to remind myself not to eat that much. It didn’t help that I deliberately induced the feelings of guilt - for binging on Friday nights or over the weekends - just to get myself motivated for my weekday gymdays. I had created a vicious cycle for myself and I didn’t realise that.

Because of my bad eating habits (i.e eating minimally during weekdays and then binging on weekends), I felt restless and lethargic all the time. Occasionally, I experienced outbursts of hunger and junk food cravings. There was even a time where I bought seven tubs of ice cream in one grocery trip and polished off a tub daily. There were countless times where I had brownies for lunch and crisps for dinner to last me through the days.

When I returned to Singapore, I obsessed over muscle definition. I started following Instagrammers who posted their fitness routines and selfies. I targeted areas I wanted to improve on myself by looking at their photos and searching on the internet for relevant exercises to grow the desired muscles I wanted. I was so obsessed with looking at such ‘target areas’ that I got to the point where I was dehumanising people I see on the streets by automatically focusing on their limbs or tummy area and telling myself that ‘I don’t want to be that person’.

I had begun to impose my own harsh standards onto others and in turn it worsened my expectations of myself. The heaviest I was this year was 47.1kg, while the lightest I was this year was 41.3kg. This was within a period of six months. I was so happy that I hit 41.3kg and believed that my body could be anything I wanted it to be – if I could retain the weight I had as a 14-year old now and in the future; I could be 42kg forever!

My friends and family commented that the weight gain must be due to muscle mass or water weight but it triggered something else in me. I reached the extreme point where I was cutting down on my water intake (yes, I was also obsessed with keeping track of my water intake) to reduce my weight. I had also relapsed back into counting calories per meal and for every food item I purchased. I was taking in an average of 800-1,200 calories a day out of the required 1,800-2,000 intake while I was burning 2,000-2,200 a day since I exercise after work. Both of my knees and ankles started to hurt from the intensity of my workouts.

Two weeks ago, I took pictures of myself and sent it to my best friend with the intention of complaining to her about the unsatisfactory bits I’d like to get rid of. I cropped my head out of the picture so that it looked like one of those anonymous bodies I always searched for on Instagram. It was then that I realised that I will never be satisfied with how I look.

This body could belong to an Instagrammer I admired but I still criticised it, knowing it’s me. The abdominal packs do not represent how fit I am – they represent how strong and taunting my inner demons were and still are. I received my medical report last week and my cholesterol was in the optimal range but I continued having body image issues. The realisation that I have been using my ‘high cholesterol’ as an excuse whenever people wondered about my weight loss and fitness obsession has prompted me to rethink my past actions and made me discover that I do indeed have a problem with my self-image.

I have been burdened and plagued with unhealthy thoughts for so long that they have become routine to me overtime. It took me a long time and a lot of mental unravelling to get me here and I can’t constantly seek to relive the past and be the 42kg-me my entire life. I have always thought of this as a healthy challenge to myself but when my friend - the same one who encouraged me to join the RTNT movement - pointed out to me that I was in fact struggling with my self-image, I started to tear.

It was heartbreaking to know that I did it to myself unconsciously and it hit me badly especially since nobody has taken an issue with my weight, yet I was breaking myself from within.

So what is self-love to me?

Self-love requires self-reflection to look past the false excuses and a conscious effort to never beat myself up for failing to meet unrealistic standards that I created and challenged myself to. It means to stop imposing on myself and on others harsh standards, and to stop using unhealthy and illogical measurements to measure myself. It means to surround yourself with supportive friends in a non-toxic environment and accept their concerns in a positive way. Most importantly to me, self-love means I have to stop trying to repeat the past and comparing myself to my 14-year old self.

Quoting two of my closest friends, “Don’t let the number on the scale determine who you are.”

Further, here is my email to Cheryl the founder:

“Here is my entry for the Rock the Naked Truth campaign. I have also posted this on @fitlims on Instagram. My friend and I keep a joint Instagram account to motivate each other and keep track of our fitness journey. I didn't think that positive body image was something we had in mind when we created the account together. I think what prompted the account was because both of us started off with negative body images of ourselves. That is why we wanted to keep fit.

I just wanted to say that your movement has made me discovered my own issues with my self-image after my friend Michelle Lim (whose entry is on the @fitlims Instagram account as well) introduced me to your Instagram page. She encouraged me to join so she won't be alone in the campaign. I had to admit that my mind was a blank for the first two weeks since I found out about the campaign. As I was scrolling through my photo albums looking for a picture to post, I realised that I had kept all these photos and selfies of myself, my food and my weight and I even had an album titled 'Ab Assessment'. There was something wrong with me.

So I spent the next week recalling every single effort I've put in with regard to my body, and suddenly all these memories I casually disregarded surfaced. I told my friend about it to get her opinion and she pointed out that I was struggling with myself and may be on the borderline of anorexia. I recalled my anxiety at being unable to fit into my clothes or at weighing myself. It is still ongoing.

I initially didn't want to send in my story - I had a draft but I was not ready to admit I was struggling. I ultimately decided to write this post because I felt that I had broken my own heart, and I owe it to myself to own up against my self-abuse.

Today, I brought my smaller-sized clothes for alteration so that I can stop using them to measure my own body. If you are Cheryl and reading this, I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for instituting this movement. It takes a lot of courage to own up to oneself and admit one's insecurities. I hope my entry is not too late."

Having a good friend around has vastly improved my life and my lifestyle choices. She is an enthusiastic clean-eating foodie while I was previously a junk-food lover. We are currently working in the same building and meet daily for lunch and post-work exercise. She does beautiful meal-preps over the weekends and it has inspired me to eat clean as well. We also keep an eye out on salad deals and sign up for mass public exercises.

She has shown me pictures of how leaner women could weigh heavier than their previously wider selves to prove that weight does not matter, and introduced exercise routines that we do together. It is my blessing that she is in my life to support and guide me along as we redefine ourselves together.

This movement is very personal to Michelle and I because it signifies a continual process of growth and acceptance and provides us with communal support so that we no longer feel alone in our personal struggles. Had she not introduced this to me, I would not have known that there were many others like me; my friends included. Even if I had realised it someday, the stigma and shame of it would probably have propelled me into reclusion and mental abuse.

I felt that sharing my story prompted people to open up with theirs, and I was taken aback by how common and frequent people are easily dissatisfied with their self-image or are uncomfortable in their own skins. The RTNT movement is a noble cause which had prompted a ‘mental detox’ of my unhealthy mind. My clothes are no longer cages for my body, my mirror is no longer a magnifying glass for my flaws.

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A collaboration by @rockthenakedtruthsg and @tineedino
This illustration is available to purchase! Send us a message to enquire further on how you can have this on a hand-drawn card. #rockthenakedtruth #tineedino #loveyourselfeveryday #loveyourself #youarebeautiful #iambeautiful #bodyconfidence #beingyou #selfconfidence #motivation #inspiration #rockfam
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