What my mermaid obsession is really about.
Let me tell you about my mermaid obsession. It goes way deeper than the mermaid tails, and the cute scale leggings. What it's really about is self-love, and body freedom. Here is my story:
For a long time, I've struggled with body image and weight obsession. I have always been healthy with an interest in healthy foods, but things started going downhill when I began working for a weight loss company. The weight loss company wanted me to try the program before I began leading weight loss groups. They asked me how much weight I wanted to lose, and I hadn't really considered losing weight (I was at a healthy weight at the time), but I had an ideal number in my head, so I said 8 pounds. They put me on a 1200 calorie daily plan. It seemed a bit low for someone who teaches 15-18 barre and yoga classes a week, but I didn't question it. I should have listened to my instincts, but I thought, what the heck, let's see how I do. (For the record, I'm not blaming the diet at all, it just triggered something in me that was there all along)
I ended up losing the 8 pounds pretty quickly and easily, so I set a new goal. I set a new goal weight that was more of a "dream weight" and I had no idea if it was realistic or not. It was just a number I associated with being "skinny." I loved seeing a new low number on the scale every couple of days, and following the diet was relatively easy at first, so I kept going. I should mention I was engaged and had an upcoming wedding, which added to the desire to keep losing weight. I ended up surpassing my weight loss goal again, and at my lowest weight, I had lost 20 pounds from my 5'6" frame. What's scary is that I still had a healthy BMI at my lowest weight even though it was not a natural weight for me to be. Even at 20 pounds of weight loss, I remember thinking maybe I can do 5 more.....
The worst part of being at this low weight was that I was obsessed with staying there, and staying there was a lot of work! I had a strict routine of weighing in every morning, and what the scale said dictated how my day went in regards to what I could eat. To maintain that low weight, I had to eat very controlled and portioned amounts of food at very specific increments throughout the day. 1200 calories was JUST enough to give me energy to get through the day. My every thought revolved around what I was going to eat next, and how I was going to make it to my next snack or meal break on as few calories as possible. My life became a focused effort of managing my daily energy. There was no mental energy for big picture thinking, and I could not deviate from the plan at all.
I remember during this time, a fellow yoga teacher offered me a clementine and I refused it, and I'm sure I looked shocked that she would even offer that to me. Didn't she know I couldn't afford to eat the extra calories? Looking back it is so sad that I wouldn't allow myself to eat the extra 40 calories that are in a clementine. Going out to dinner was terrifying. I HAD to know where we were going so that I could google the menu and try to find the "healthiest" option. Holidays were stressful. I would bring my own food, and spend the days before strategizing about how I would make it through the day without gaining weight. Vacations were also a nightmare. It would be harder to control what I was going to eat, and I would always pack my travel scale so that I could "keep track of the damage." I wouldn't eat anything my husband cooked, unless it was from my weight loss recipe book. We often ate separate meals, because I wouldn't dare eat his normal foods. I remember my husband gently saying "you don't have to be this skinny."
Inevitably, the weight started to come back on. I'm sure my body was desperately trying to gain weight to get me back to my "normal." This was extremely challenging, and I fought it all the way. As the weight crept back on, I tried so hard to be ok with it. Being a fitness instructor made this even more challenging, as I felt pressure to look a certain way, and gaining weight made me feel like a failure. When I was at my lowest weight, and my "sickest," I constantly got compliments on my "cute little figure" and as the weight crept back on, the compliments came less frequently.
As I gained back the weight, I still tracked everything I ate, and weighed myself every day. Seeing the scale gradually going up made me feel panicky. I knew I needed to let go of this obsession, but I didn't know how. I started with baby steps, increasing my calories to 1500, and allowing myself to eat foods like dates, and avocados, and sweet potatoes that I desperately missed. Slowly, I started to loosen up on the control, and tried to step away from daily weigh ins. I'm definitely better now, but it's still an ongoing struggle. There's so much more to be said on this topic, but I'm trying to keep it as brief as possible for now.
This January, I went to St. Croix with my yoga studio on a retreat. This was my second time to STX and I couldn't wait to be back on the magical island. What makes it so amazing is that not only is a beautiful tropical place, but St. Croix is full of wonderful people who are true free spirits. There is such an amazing community of fire dancers, hula hoopers, and poi flow artists, and lots of people who have moved down from the US to live a simpler, more carefree lifestyle. I really love the vibes on the island, and I remember thinking about how free everyone seemed to be, and how comfortable the women appeared to be in their own skin.
One afternoon on the retreat, we went to a small beach. The host of the retreat, Kiki, brought mermaid tails for us to swim around in. She also brought her makeup kit, and some beachy accessories to do "mermaid makeovers." It may seem cheesy to say it, but during that afternoon, I had a transformation. I realized that my life could go in two directions:
1. I could continue with my weight and body image obsession, and use my disordered eating and obsession with the scale to keep me "safe." I could continue to let the number on the scale dictate my entire day, and strip away any chance for spontaneity. I could stay in control. I could stay "small."
2. I could live my life like a mermaid! Wild, free, adventurous... I could have a life filled with fun, beauty, magic, and play. I could be comfortable in my own skin, and just go out into the world and do big things.
I decided to choose the latter. It seemed a lot more fun to channel a mermaid's way of living than to stay in my own mental prison. So this is why I am obsessed with mermaids. Mermaids are a symbol of this choice. Mermaids are free, and they are weightless in the water. Mermaids represent beauty, fluidity, and grace. Mermaids embody this magical self-love that keeps me going down the right path. I've found that to combat my body image issues, it takes daily reminders. It's frighteningly easy to slip back into old thought patterns. That's why I surround myself with mermaid things, and that's why I wanted to create the yoga for Mermaids workshop to spread this message.
This was a long post, and I appreciate that you read all the way through. It's been cathartic to write this, and I hope it reaches through to anyone out there who struggled like me. I plan to write more about my struggle because there is so much more to be said, and we need to keep talking about it.