Grow Old Or Die!

Kimberley A.  Johnson
Why do so many women feel ashamed to admit their age?
I am forty-three. I have no problem telling anyone how old I am. I never have. In fact when I was thirty-two and was no longer pursuing acting, I found myself at a slew of Hollywood parties filled with producers and directors and various actors. Because I had been out of the industry for about a year, I no longer felt the pressure of how I looked or how others perceived me in order to book a gig. I was free. It became a game with me that when I met a new producer, I would tell them I was ten years older than I was and would offer how much I weighed. I could see them cringing for me and then they would lecture me on how I was supposed to keep those things private. My stock answer was “Famous people’s ages and birthdays are announced every night on “Entertainment Tonight.”

What difference does it make? If you look old and say you’re younger than you are, people either know you’re lying or they think you really look old. If you look good for your age, others see that and respect that you have the freedom to be honest.
Clearly as we age, we lose the youthful allure we get so used to in our adult life. We all want to feel attractive, sexy and alluring. I believe women at any age can be and are attractive and it’s no secret that no matter what you look like, how old you are or how much you weigh, if you want to have sex and/or a relationship, you can find someone.
Our culture has so much to do with it. Magazines are one of the worst culprits. I no longer buy or read beauty magazines. They bombard you with hypocritical messages. Open it up and see an article claiming you can erase years off of your face with the latest and greatest face cream. Next page is an article about how you should love yourself they way you are. The next is a picture of a mature woman who has been totally airbrushed and wrinkle free. Take this seriously and you may find yourself running to the plastic surgeon or beating yourself up because you have lines.
Regardless of how you look, age is something you have earned. You have acquired knowledge, experience, wisdom. If someone else is going to pass negative judgment on you, isn’t that their problem? Why do we make it our problem?
In the last decade, I have known men who also have a hard time with the age thing though men do have it easier. They get to be “distinguished.’ Not all, there are those men who don’t age well. But so what??? WHY is it such a big deal? 
I take pride in knowing I have survived the challenges life has thrown at me as well as riding the wave of all the wonderful things it has to offer. I do wish I had the body I did when I was about thirty-five. I was smokin’ hot. But I don’t. I still look pretty damn good! I work out and eat well. Every day, Father Time takes his toll…on all of us. Shame should not be a factor. The alternative is death. Which would you prefer?

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011


Being Different


This post came unsolicited (the best kind!) from someone who already shared her story on this blog. This time she chooses to be anonymous and you’ll see why. She deals with a variety of issues that are not so common. I would imagine part of why she keeps her identity private is to avoid judgment.
People can make snap judgments, especially when it’s about something embarrassing or something we secretly fear.
What I like most about this story is that it shows we all have these weird little quirks, issues or experiences with our bodies that we would rather not have. It’s embarrassing. We feel like if anyone knew the truth about who we really are, we aren’t going to be accepted or loved. Here is proof that is just a bunch of malarkey!


Being Different

As women, we all have issues with our body image and self-esteem.  Some grapple with these issues more than others.  For every issue that makes you hate to look in the mirror, know that there IS a solution.

My awareness of my own differences began at a very early age.  Even before I began school, I was already physically scarred. That had an impact on my self-image, even as a child.  My mother told me not to be bothered by the inconsiderate people who stared;  she told me that if that happened, THEY were the ones with the problem, not me. Even though she meant well, I found her advice hard to take, at least for myself. There were kids who were inquisitive, of course, but only one that I remember as being really mean, and that was in high school. I used to be so self-conscious that I would wear long-sleeved shirts in the blazing heat of summer.  Even now, I will still catch people staring, and some are even bold enough to ask me what happened. I tell them the bare basics and leave it at that, because I have come to the conclusion that the part of me that’s scarred is just one small physical part and it by no means defines who I am as a human being.  I was burned by coffee at the age of four. My parents had one of those old coffee pots that percolated.  It was plugged in across from the kitchen table, and I was running around the table and tripped over the cord.  The pot tipped and the coffee went all over me.  I was wearing long-sleeved pajamas, and when my mom took my pajama top off, she inadvertently peeled off a layer of skin with it as well. I had a skin graft, but to this day my arm is still scarred. I used my mother’s advice to teach my own children compassion. However, that wasn’t the only demon I was struggling with.

For as long as I could remember, I had a problem with bedwetting. Certain children struggle with this problem more than others and in the majority of cases, it usually tends to correct itself by a certain age. I wasn’t so lucky. I remember having to undergo some painful and scary tests at a very young age, only for the doctor to tell my mother that my kidneys hadn’t “matured” yet.  We tried a lot of solutions—cutting back on drinks in the evening, using the bathroom before bed and sometimes being awakened to use the bathroom in the middle of the night but those methods didn’t work either. After I got to be a certain age, with no sign of my problem resolving itself, my self-esteem began to suffer.  Sleep-overs were a source of stress, as was going away to camp, family vacations, etc. My father seemed to take it worse than my mother did because he would get upset and argue whenever I would have an “accident”.  However, I didn’t find out until later that my father had endured the same problem until he was fourteen. I married at eighteen and even then I was still suffering from “accidents.” I informed my husband of it before we were married and his advice consisted of things I had already tried. My problem ultimately caused my marriage to suffer and even ended up being used against me in our divorce and custody proceedings. Fortunately, nothing bad came of the nasty and hateful affidavits that were presented against me. Between my first and second marriage, I had a few serious relationships but I tended to keep my problem a secret and just hoped for the best whenever I would be intimate with my partner. I developed a plan in my head, screwed up as it may have been, that if I happened to have an “accident” while with someone, I would just get up in the middle of the night and go home.  Fortunately, I never had to do that.  Finally, my mother nonchalantly asked me if I still had the same “problem” and let me try some medication that her doctor had prescribed. To my relief, it worked and I wasted no time in seeing my own doctor to inquire about taking the same medication.  My current boyfriend knew about my “problem” before we began living together and he was extremely understanding and even a bit humorous about it. His response was simply, “Well, I guess we’ll just do more laundry.”  My point here is that no matter how bad your problem may seem, there ARE understanding people out there, just as there usually is a solution.

Last, but not least, I address the issue of unwanted body hair. I’m talking hair in places where there shouldn’t be hair on a female body. Whether it can be chalked up to genetics or hormones gone wild, I have to deal with this issue as well. Unbeknownst to my family, I have to shave like a man (my chin) every day. I always make sure that the bathroom is locked so no one can come barging in and discover my shameful little secret. I also have hair on my breasts that I also choose to shave. I’ve had electrolysis done on my chin, to no avail. I’ve tried bleaching but the chemicals irritated my skin and caused my chin to break out. As for my breasts, I’ve tried the cream hair removers and they’re more of a pain than shaving.  I’m no stranger to looking at myself in the mirror and thinking of myself as a freak, just as I’m no stranger to looking in the mirror and wondering, “Why me?”  Despite all these issues, I’m still a woman who is liked and loved by many, flaws and all. And that, more than anything else, is what eases the pain and makes my demons easier to bear.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Beverly Cialone: What It’s Like To Have 44 Double D’s!

Beverly Cialone
I began to “develop” around the age of nine. My mother blamed it on medications I received at the age of four after I received a nasty burn and a resulting skin graft on my arm. 
At the age of nine, I started my period and the rest of me also began to develop.  Since I was still in elementary school, I received a fair amount of teasing due to my enlarged chest and the arrival of my period.  The boys, of course, didn’t really tease me then. Even as I got older, I wasn’t what you’d call the “popular” type.  Frankly, I was more concerned with my weight than my chest, even though my mother made comments along the lines of “That’s all the boys will want” and things like that. Bra shopping was a nightmare—I DID have a fair amount of modesty and having a complete stranger (the sales persons)  touch me THERE was a bit disconcerting. 
As an adult, things have been very different from the way they were when I was in school.  I, probably more than anyone else, am acutely aware of just how big my breasts are.  My bra size has increased to a 44 DD and that seems to be the size I will always be.  I have never really considered a breast reduction, though. I DO have back problems from time to time but I chalk that up to a few nasty falls I’ve had in the past instead of my breast size.  That, and having an epidural with my youngest son. 
I can’t really tell you if I have ever been offered or denied employment because of my breast size, because I don’t know. I remember reading an article about doctors that suggested doctors/surgeons with big breasts weren’t regarded as “trustworthy” or as “capable” as their smaller-breasted female counterparts. I thought that was just ridiculous. Breast size has no impact on a person’s intelligence or their ability to perform a certain job and it isn’t really something a person can control.  They can, by way of surgical enhancement or reduction, but I have never opted for either of those.  As for my breast size and my romantic life, I actually had a former boyfriend tell me that he would always love me, just as long as my breasts didn’t get smaller. I thought that was a bit shallow and callous of him to say. My current boyfriend LOVES my breasts (and the rest of me!) just the way they are. I’ve engaged in “breast intercourse,” and I honestly don’t see the fascination with women’s breasts. Maybe men are just jealous because THEY don’t have them!
There are times when the size of my breasts affects how men treat me. Just the other night, my boyfriend and I had friends over for dinner – a married man and woman. I was outside talking with my boyfriend and the man and when I got up from the steps, I think my breasts must’ve jiggled a little (I wasn’t wearing a bra). I actually had to tell the man that my eyes were up HERE, not THERE, because he was definitely staring!)  I took no offense to it—I actually found it amusing. There was one instance in a bar where the man (yes, he was drunk and begging me to take him home with me) obviously couldn’t tear his eyes away from my generous chest, which prompted my friend to get me out of that situation in a hurry.  Despite that, I’ve never been in a wet T-shirt contest and when I’m not working, I DO tend to go bra-less. 
At the end of a long day, I feel I just HAVE to get out of my bra. Some bras feel like they’re cutting into my shoulders, while others, although they fit, don’t seem to give me the support I need. And one thing I absolutely will NOT do is wear a bra with an underwire.  I tried that once and once was more than enough for me! 
Women don’t necessarily treat me different. My women friends sometimes comment on it in a joking kind of way and I’m always a good sport about it.  I have been known to make comments about my own breasts to friends, whether they’re male or female.  It just depends on the friendship. 
Even though I’m aware of how big my chest is, I really don’t give it a lot of thought. I’ve seen the magazine models, I’ve seen pics of naked women with the “perfect”, perky breasts and had a few moments of envy but, for the most part, I’m content with what I have. The mere thought of surgery terrifies me, so that will probably never be an option for me. I sympathize with women who have breast cancer, even though I have never had to fight that particular battle. I know that for them, and probably every woman in the world, their breasts “define” them as being a woman.  If you see a woman with short hair and a flat chest, you really don’t tend to think of her as a “normal” woman, like the rest of your female friends.  The lack of breasts, whether by nature, disease, or choice, has a big impact on a woman emotionally.  Other people tend to look at her differently—some may wonder if she’s a lesbian, while others may wonder if she’s had her breasts removed due to cancer. I remember seeing a pic of a woman who had undergone a mastectomy and she chose to make that part of her chest a work of art by having an elaborate flower tattoo drawn where her breast used to be.  I thought that was a novel approach to what the monster disease of breast cancer had done to her. 
All in all, I can’t really say that my breasts have had a major impact on my life. Of course I remember the teasing in school, I remember feeling like an oddball because I was developing at such an early age when the other girls weren’t, but even though for me it revolved around my breasts, my weight, and the scar on my arm from the skin graft, I also know that other kids got  teased as well, for different reasons.  It’s just something that everyone has to go through. As an adult, I actually haven’t endured any “teasing,” per se, but I know that my breasts probably have the capability to garner a fair amount of attention in certain settings. Because of that, I make up my own jokes regarding them—I call them “The Girls,” “The Twins,” and I say things like, “They’re the first things to enter the room,” and “They’re so big they need their own oxygen supply!”  The other night at dinner I spilled some food on my shirt and I even joked about that—“See? They have to eat too, they were hungry.”  However, despite the jokes, I WAS told a long time ago by a nurse that since my breasts were so big, I would need to keep an eye on them because of the increased risk of breast cancer.  I really don’t know if having bigger breasts means I’m more at risk for something like that.  I’m 44 now and so far me and my breasts are doing just fine. They DO tend to sag a bit, even though I didn’t breast-feed either of my children but for some reason, certain men just seem to still find them attractive.  I know everyone has heard the phrase, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” and it would definitely apply here.  No matter what your breast size, be glad you have them—they make the already unique person you are even more so!

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Anne Temple: Who Really Wants To Be Normal Anyway?

Anne Temple
Fifty years ago I was born into this world with many physical challenges. I was born with congenital bilateral hip dysplasia, Strabismus and a rare movement disorder (familial paroxysmal choreoathetosis with Dystonia). I ended up with arthritis at a young age, which caused me to have many surgeries. I was unquestionably not normal with my body type and looks.
As a result of having many eye surgeries, my right eyelid droops down. I also have a limp on my side right when I walk. Many of my family and friends told me they couldn’t tell, yet I’ve always had people ask about my eyes or why I walk funny. I was shy growing up, feeling as if no one really liked me. My home seemed to be the hospitals. I felt so unattractive but looking back at the fourth grade, I did have two young men who liked me and, to be honest, I had my first kiss. As I look at it now, a lot of what I felt was internal but I did feel alone a lot of as a young girl. 
I want to make it clear that there were times when kids and adults were downright mean. I was teased when I was a young child. As a teenager I had issues; like when I was 15 years old. I was in the hospital. My roommate was a cheerleader and she had a few boys visit. They wanted to take a walk with her to get a sandwich. She asked if they would mind if went with them and they answered very loudly “No, she is very ugly, we don’t want her to come!” This hurt me so very much and didn’t help with my feelings of being unattractive.
I learned at a young age that laughter was better than feeling sorry for myself. Not that I didn’t go through times of depression, because I did and still do.  I have learned in these fifty years that the word “normal” means so little. After people get to know me they really don’t see the droopy eye lid, the limp on my right side and the strange movements (familial paroxysmal choreoathetosis with Dystonia). Going in and out of wheelchairs, walkers and crutches, I find ways to jump these obstacles. I was told many things like I would never walk or have children naturally. Guess what: I did all of these. As an adult I’ve had people say unkind things to me. I am learning that you can please some of the people some of the time, yet not all people all of the time. Abraham Lincoln said something like this so I’m in good company.
Even with having physical challenges, I have learned how to live and have gotten over feeling unattractive most of the time.  I do go through times of depression, feeling unattractive and going up and down with my weight.  Most of the times, though, I feel all these physical challenges, surgeries and hospital stays helped me understand myself and others better. So when I hear the word normal I think to myself “what is normal” and do I really want to be like everyone else?  It seems boring. No offense, I’m not sure if normal defines anybody because we all are unique. Who really wants to be normal anyway?
* If you are interested in finding more about these issues, please check out the links.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Ling Wong: I Loved My Body When I Was Pregnant – It Changed Everyday






Ling Wong, MS, CHHC, AADP
Nutrition and Wellness Coach
Thoughts for Foods
Holistic Health

I am 5’3” and currently I weigh 105 pounds. I had a baby about two years ago and now I am still fitting nicely into the clothes I had in college. But it’s not always been like this for me. I had my share of weight problems and struggled with my relationship with food. My journey into pregnancy gave me a big smack on my head and woke me up to my skewed body image and my relationship with food.

I was a chubby kid, got made fun of and had to bend over backward to get accepted in school. I didn’t know better back then about the relationship between food and weight.  I was drinking soda pop and eating big pieces of pastry. My mother had me take ballet classes and I absolutely hated being in those tight-fitting tops and tights. They were never comfortable for me and I was scared of being looked at by others. I never did well in PE classes either – especially when I was in elementary school. Every class was a drag – I was clumsy and again, scared being made fun of by my classmates.

I continued to struggle with my body image all through high school, treating my body as something that was “in my way” and never learned to respect and love it. I diverted all my energy to intellectual endeavors and left my intuition and my sensitivity to what my body wanted behind, believing that I could think my way out of my body image woes.

After the College Freshman 15 (a term used to describe weight gain by college freshmen), I came to the point where I was determined to change things around. I was not happy; I was looking for a way out. I didn’t know anything about nutrition or weight loss. With the new-found freedom in getting whatever I could from the store without my parents’ ok, I picked up diet pills from the drugstore. My first education in calories and weight was from the pamphlet that came with the pills.
I became obsessed with serving sizes and calories. I ate small breakfasts and skipped lunch. I restrained the amount I ate and was very rigid about it for almost a year and a half. I went on to try different diet pills that claimed to take weight off in different ways. Things started to happen and I looked trimmer. I thought things were working and continued down the path of skipping meals and sometimes I craved carbs so much that I would forego dinner so that I could eat a big piece of cake.
One day, my body gave in. Something just snapped and I was hit with this excruciating stomach-ache. I literally dragged myself to the clinic. The nurse looked at me. She put me on the scale and told me that I weighed a measly 96 pounds! What??! I thought – I am the chubby one! The nurse warned me that if I dropped below 90 pounds they would have to put me in the hospital.
I realized I had a problem in my relationship with food. I also had issues with my body image. I got better with my meals and my eating but that was by no means the end of it. For the next ten years, I was obsessed with calories, the latest diet and supplements that would help me burn more calories, curb my appetite and/or reduce the absorption of carbs and fats. I got dependent on herbal laxative. I gained weight, I lost weight and started all over again.
I had good days and bad days. Two extra pounds on the scale could ruin my day. I got distressed if I ate past my “calorie quota”. When I ate out, I could not see food as enjoyment – it all had the number of calories stamped on it in my mind’s eye. I had a sweet tooth, so to satisfy my need of control and my craving for sugar, I would forego a meal so that I could dig into my dessert. My relationship with food was screwed up. 

Honestly, I have no problem eating. I love food. The challenge was what went on in my head. The incongruence would drive me crazy. Nothing good can come from counting calories and thinking about taking this pill and that tea to “counter” the calories  just consumed. 

My obsession with staying thin was further fueled by my involvement in endurance cycling. I could easily burn 1500 calories in one training and, with my calorie conciousness, I never let myself eat enough to replenish the calories burned. Being light means less weight to haul up the hill – good advantage. I soon got myself back down to 97 pounds. My period disappeared.

Then we tried to get pregnant. I went to the OB/GYN and she was very concerned about my weight and my low hormone level. She sent me for a bone scan and I was diagnosed with osteopenia (estrogen plays a role in maintaining bone density). She sent me to a fertility expert, who then diagnosed me with hypothyroidism (probably as a result of low metabolism due to restricted calorie intake). I was still doing things my way, thinking medication would fix whatever problems I had. After a few unsuccessful cycles of taking hormones, which made my life very miserable, and a miscarriage, I finally had enough and sought the help of an acupuncturist.  

I knew I had to work with my body, respect what it needs and stop fighting it. I was treated with acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal medicine. I followed my body’s lead, gave it the nutrients it wanted and gained six pounds. My hormones bounced back, I got my period. And I got pregnant three months later. This experience was a wake up call – I had to respect my body, listen to it and give it what it needs. 

Getting my body “fixed” also gave me the kind of emotional stability I had not experienced for a long time – I began to see that there is a connection between food, the body, the emotions and the mind.

My journey through pregnancy was what it took for me to overcome my body image issues and my relationship with food. I loved my body when I was pregnant – it changed everyday. Something new and fascinating happens every morning and I was in awe what it could do. Pregnancy set my body image  concerns and my relationship with food free.  I learned to listen to my body and eat what was needed without being enslaved to counting calories. Weight gain definitely was a concern for me going into pregnancy and I was very careful with my weight – gained twenty-three pounds – but I ate well and exercised, so I was confident that I would get back in shape afterwards -and I did, three months postpartum. 

Sometimes the weight gain was stressful but I educated myself enough to know that fluctuations could come from constipation and fluid retention, so I tried to be OK with things and not be stressed out about it.
Pregnancy was a great time for me to get in touch with and listen to my body without being held back by numbers on the scale. I had the right and the responsibility to gain weight! I viewed my body in a completely different way and instead of focusing on numbers, I valued how I felt and what great things my body was doing for me.

Postpartum, I was determined not to fall back into my old pattern. I researched and studied and found ways to help me feel that I am in control of my weight without having to count calories, going on yet another diet, or taking pills and supplements. I have been able to manage my weight without the frustration and restriction that comes with “diets”. I studied holistic nutrition and became a holistic nutrition and wellness coach.When coaching my pregnant clients, I focus on listening to the body, feeding the body nutrient-dense food and trusting that the body will do what it needs to do.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Amber Krzys: I Was In An Abusive Relationship With My Body

Amber Krzys
twitter: @bodyheart
Ideal vs. Real – My Fight for the Perfect Body
by Amber Krzys (age 35)

We as a culture are familiar with setting goals. We hear all the time, “Dream big.”  “Create your reality.” Which I agree with. I find value in setting goals, intentions and getting clear on what I want in my life. But what about when it comes to our bodies? I can’t help but wonder if we’re holding so strongly to an ideal that we can’t see what’s right in front of our face?

Sometime as a young girl, I created an ideal image of what I was supposed to look like.  I call this image THE perfect body. And that is exactly what she is…Perfect. 

She is taller than me. Thinner. Has bigger boobs. She doesn’t have any cellulite or unwanted body hair. She’s confident. Loves to shop and can eat anything she wants whenever she wants it.  Those are just a few of her magical traits. 😉

She was quite different from me. For over thirty years “Perfect Body” was my model of beauty. I believed that in order for me to have value, or in order for my body to have value, I had to be her. And I fought like crazy for that. I fasted. I over-exercised. I followed every diet plan out there. I thought continuously about how to lose weight. I was overly critical, unappreciative and unhappy. 

Truth be told, I was in an abusive relationship with my body. I punished her for years. By punishing her, I was ultimately punishing myself.  I walked around not wanting to be seen. I hid in my clothes. Or I forced myself to wear clothes that didn’t fit properly because they were a size 6 and I couldn’t go above THAT size!  

From the outside I looked happy. I always had a smile on my face “out there”. But on the inside I was completely insecure and miserable.  Miserable because I had created an Ideal. A made-up image that I clung to so desperately that it prevented me from seeing the gift in front of my face.  That gift being my REAL body.

When I first started to examine this concept of getting to know my actual body, I had an epiphany. I realized…I am NEVER going to be taller, have bigger boobs, no cellulite or unwanted body hair. Those aren’t possible for me. By believing they were, I was an active participant in the vicious cycle of punishment. 

In that moment, with that awareness, something happened. A shift. I was more free. I felt like I got to see my real body for the first time ever. And boy, was she happy to see me! 

It was like I finally pulled that ratty, smelly, old book off the shelf and opened it up to discover the most miraculous, magical story!  By “opening her up”, I discovered such beauty and joy. I started to see my body as the gift she is. I found gratitude for the way she hears and responds to music. For the way she loves to dance. For the simple pleasures she provides me of sight, touch, taste, smell. Suddenly there was so much to see. So much I was WILLING to see. My lesson was letting go of the Ideal to embrace what was/is Real. 

By holding so tightly to that Ideal, I limited the unlimited. I didn’t allow for surprises or for something better. Which, by the way, is what I have found. Something better. This body I have is exquisite. I now walk through life with confidence, fully knowing exactly what my body needs to thrive…not just survive. She is my friend.  Not my enemy. I have opened to a place of pure compassion for her.  

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t slip up every now and then. I am human and sometimes my old boyfriends Ben & Jerry still get the best of me.  But I don’t beat myself up anymore.  I reconnect and recommit to taking care of her.  Which is ultimately taking care of me.

So…if you find flaw in every little thing and, in a way, enjoy picking things apart, I’ve got news for you. You may be suffering from “Ideal vs. Real” too.  Something to consider: What if perfect looks different than how we’ve imagined? Are you willing to hold onto your dreams loosely and allow for something even better to come into your life?

Might be a fun exercise to say YES! “Yes” to who you are.  “Yes” to all the wonderful things your body offers you. And “Yes” to seeing perfection in your imperfection.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Lauren Ferzoco: When You’re Pretty, You Have A Voice





Lauren Ferzoco
Twitter: LifeWithClaire

I was ten when I first realized how important beauty is in today’s society. All it took for me to come to this realization was to see how much attention my best friend was getting from the boys in our fifth grade class. I would hear them talk about how pretty she was and because of that, she started getting more and more invitations to hang out with the popular clique at our school. We had been inseparable up until that point and suddenly she was catapulted into the spotlight while I was left behind. She was really sweet about it at first, often inviting me to tag along. But after a while I discovered that it really isn’t fun to constantly put yourself in situations where you feel invisible and unwanted. When you’re pretty, everyone wants to be your friend. When you’re pretty, you have an easier time getting what you want. When you’re pretty, you have a voice.

I was just about to turn thirteen when I read a magazine article that helped set the stage for the next ten years of my life. The article was about a girl who lost a lot of weight over the summer and instantly became popular when returning to school. I can do that. I may not be able to control much about the way I look but I can control my weight. Within six months I did lose weight – weight that I didn’t have to lose. But with that weight loss I gained terrible gastritis, innumerable doctor’s appointments and awful panic attacks that plagued me multiple times a day. I couldn’t go to school. I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and I didn’t want to have to endure the daily pain of feeling invisible, of feeling ugly, of feeling like I was worthless. My mother stayed by my side as medical condition after medical condition was ruled out. I endured test after test, all because I did not know how to tell anyone how terrible I felt about myself. Eventually, my pediatrician told my mom to take me to see a social worker – my symptoms were clearly a manifestation of emotional distress.

It was a constant battle as I tried to rid myself of these feelings that ultimately led to anorexia, anxiety disorders and depression. Thankfully, with my faith, my family support and therapy, I was finally able to gain the emotional strength and coping skills to recover from the eating disorder. However, I remain in counseling because that little voice inside of me still tells me, day after day, the lies that are so easy to believe: I’m not pretty, I’m worthless, I’m just not good enough to be loved. These thoughts and feelings are what you get when you buy into the damaging lie that the way you look is what gives you worth. Why is it so easy to believe these lies instead of believing the truth? When I think about the effects that they have had on me over the years, I realize that they not only affect my self-esteem and confidence but also my faith, my work and my friendships.

I think my constant struggles with self-image helped lead me toward the path of becoming a social worker. You see, I am so familiar with feeling like I am invisible and voiceless because I feel ugly – and I hate the thought that there are others out there who feel like I do. I do not think it is a coincidence that I ended up in a job where I can build people up, include them and help them realize that there are people out there who care about them because of who they are and not what they look like. My career allows me to empower, to encourage, to help people find their voice and have the strength to use it. No matter who you are or what your story is, I will see your inner beauty and help you to claim it as your own. And honestly, I can’t help but think of what a difference it would make if everyone sought to do the same.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Nicole Kellerman: Thoughts Of Self-Hatred Were Keeping Me the Weight I Was

Nicole Kellerman

Growing up and all through high school I was never concerned with my physical image or what people thought about it. It wasn’t until the summer of 2004 when I was working with a girl I will call Sarah, who broke me down day-by-day, slowly picking away at me till there was nothing left.  I felt like an outcast being taken for everything I had. I didn’t realize that summer would be a summer that flipped my life upside down.

Working as lifeguards together and being that we were always in bathing suits, Sarah would constantly state how fat she was as she sat there glaring at her body in the mirror, picking, prodding and dissecting each and every part of her body.

Soon Sarah began directly insulting me, looking at what I was eating and asking, “You’re eating that? It must be your fat day!!” I felt like I gained five pounds in that instant, getting bigger and bigger with every bite. She shot all of her insecurities at me like a rubber band, stinging and burning every time. Slowly I broke down; believing what she was saying and beginning to wonder what was going on in my mirror as well. I despised what I saw in the mirror and thought about that image constantly. I always thought to myself, “I bet everyone thinks I am a FAT COW!”

From that summer on, I put my body AND mind through a horrible experience. I subjected myself to both mental and physical abuse on a daily basis. I would even go as far to call it self-mutilation. I went from compulsively eating to starving myself while drowning in thoughts of self -hatred. Exercise was an obsession, along with trying multiple crash diets, diet pills and purging. I did anything to change who I currently was. I was in a state of complete self-rejection. I hated myself on every level, thinking “WHY CAN’T I JUST HAVE JENNIFER ANISTON’S THIGHS?!?!!?” It was consuming me and taking every essence of my being. It was suffocating. I felt like I couldn’t breathe! Even though my focus was on LOSING weight, I gained about fifteen pounds over that summer. Coincidence? Uh, I think not! I like to call that mental weight gain.

During that time I remember I wasn’t a great person to be around.  I was very jealous and insecure; I was completely unhappy. But I was very good at putting on my “happy face and confidant attitude” when I was with others. No one would have ever guessed the turmoil that was going on in my head.
Still struggling after two years, I decided to go to school to become a fitness professional. I was telling people it was because I wanted to be a trainer, stating “I’m in the gym all the time already, might as well get paid for it!” But deeply, I was just wanting to lose weight and be that perfect image I so badly dreamt about, still rejecting every aspect of myself.

I now understand that summer, with Sarah picking me apart as if I was her project, was actually a blessing in disguise. I joined school and loved every minute! I learned that I was doing everything wrong and the right way to get into shape wasn’t about starvation and it doesn’t take self-destruction.
Beginning my career as a personal trainer was amazing but truthfully, those thoughts still existed, even though I was telling everyone that I had dealt with them and it’s water under the bridge. I was just trying to convince myself that those thoughts no longer existed. I was thirty pounds lighter, got my diet on track and my compulsive exercising was under control. But I STILL was unhappy with myself, very insecure and continued to pick apart my body in the mirror.

I felt disgusted with myself. It was as if nothing would ever be good enough. Being a personal trainer, I still was struggling inside. I’ve tried everything:
Body For Life
Eat-Stop-Eat (not eating for 24 hours)
Just eating vegetables and fruit
Weight Watchers (brought back my obsessive behavior)
2 hour workouts
Jillian Michael’s Making the Cut Program
Fasting for days (horrible)
Working out twice a day
Diet Pills
Altered my body to “be perfect”

Just trying to find the “perfect formula” to reach that “perfect” size two goal (yeah, right!). I truly believed that if I got to that size I would FINALLY be happy. Even if it meant doing destructive and unhealthy things to myself.

Over time, working with a therapist and going to an amazing massage school, where I did lots of healing, is when I began accepting myself for what I was truly meant to look like and it felt AMAZING! To look at areas I once hated and say “I love you” is something I have wanted to do for so long.
I will never regret telling people about my story and how I struggled because I learned SO MUCH and found my passion! Helping women reach their health goals and love themselves is THE reason why I was put on this planet!

The biggest thing I learned through my experience was how I was the reason I wasn’t changing. I did it all to myself: the thoughts of self-hatred were keeping me the weight I was and I went through hundreds of failures to figure out how to make that mental shift (getting out of comparison mode) and when I did, it completely changed my life.

I never want a woman to have to fail as many times as I did to reach her goals. Oh, and just to make it clear, I never reached my “perfect goal” and am by no means perfect. I have just learned to love myself, every flawless flaw and adorable dimple ; ).

I still have my indulgences! I love ice cream, pizza, peanut mm’s (yummmmm) and the occasional night out with the girls with one too many glasses of wine : ). All while still living a very healthy lifestyle. It’s all about finding balance.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Brian Kearney: I Was An Eating Disorder Pro

Brian Kearney
Twitter: @kearneybrian
I was always a bigger kid growing up. I wouldn’t say fat, because I was always playing sports and physically active, just big enough to give off the impression that said “Don’t mess with me because I could probably kick your ass.” I never thought twice about what I ate or how I looked because when you are younger, that stuff doesn’t necessarily matter yet.

I was about fourteen years old when I realized I wasn’t like all the other guys I hung out and played sports with for seven years. They started talking about girls and who they thought was “hot”. I had never felt attracted to females and it was at that point I realized I was gay.

After coming to that realization, the following months were filled with anxiety and such panic that I thought for sure I would have a heart attack or mental breakdown. I am an only child but I am also the only male in my family, meaning it is my responsibility to keep my family’s last name going by pro-creating with a female. Obviously, that wasn’t an option for me.

I wasn’t like other gay people I saw portrayed on TV or other places. I was, and still am, very masculine.  I believe it is because of my masculinity and personality that I never had an encounter with a bully or any other form of mistreatment, thank god.

I started to find out that the gay world, not the entire LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender)community, is a cruel, judgmental and catty place. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.  That is what sparked my eating disorder. I wanted to be perfect like the gay guys that were shown in the media.
It started out as a small thing; just to lose some weight. My schedule did not have any free space to pencil in a gym visit and quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to eat whatever they wanted and still lose weight. Being bulimic was so much easier.

Then, it became a way of coping for me. It became the way I escaped my anxiety. I noticed how using my eating disorder behaviors made me feel numb and I liked it. I always made sure I had a way to use them and I got good at it. Obviously my thinking was distorted in many ways. I thought I was an “eating disorder pro” – until I got caught.

My parents immediately placed me into a rehab facility. What a horrible feeling it was, to lose something I cherished so much. Unfortunately, my eating disorder still had the best of me and I manipulated the staff as well as my parents. Eventually, after about twenty days, my parents signed me out of the facility, thinking I was cured of my addiction.

Of course, I went right back to my eating disorder behaviors. This time, I made sure I kept it a secret. Little did I know, my downward spiral was just beginning. I missed over 150 days of my high school career and was in treatment centers two more times, once at the age of sixteen and again at eighteen. I was also in the hospital for fainting and having a seizure; that’s what not eating for three days can do to someone.

Now, I am twenty years old and happy to say that I am free from my eating disorder. When I look in the mirror now, I have no problem with what I see. I realize that how I thought I looked back when I was sick was the opposite of what people saw me as.

It’s funny, because I actually realize that I’m kind of good-looking and have been the whole time.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Kristen Adamson: I Was Crossing the Street and BAM! I Was Struck by a Car!

Kristen Adamson
As far back as I can remember I have always felt different. Whether it was the way my mind worked, the size of my waist or the medical problems I seemed to always be facing, I never seemed to live a ‘normal’ life. I specifically remember the way I felt in elementary school. Looking in the mirror, all I could see was a fat, unattractive, tomboy who provided no real value to the world.  I saw myself as insignificant. I remember hiding under big baggy clothes, literally trying to tear off my excess fat and always being cautious of my reflection to ensure my belly wasn’t protruding outwards too much.
I was miserable in my own skin and I couldn’t stand the sight of myself – I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone.And then there was middle school. That’s when the self-hatred really started to accelerate. Not only did I seem to be getting fatter – even though I purposely wasn’t eating – but I didn’t seem to be developing like the other girls. When they were discussing their periods and their pubescent experiences, I was just listening, wondering why the single period I had experienced in my life had decided to never return. Again, I felt disgust for my body. It was always working against me. No matter how hard I tried to be ‘normal’ like the other girls, or the women on TV or in magazines, I could never achieve it.Luckily, my disappointment for feeling abnormal lasted only until high school. It was then that I was accepted into a Dramatic Arts program. Though I continued to hate the way I looked, it was here that I learned that being different was OK and that I should embrace it! But as much as I knew I should accept myself, I could only ever manage to accept my different personality and thoughts, not my body.Years went by and life became monotonous. I was still overweight and I still hadn’t EVER had a second period. I felt betrayed by my body.At eighteen years old, it hit me. Quite literally – it hit me. I was crossing the street and BAM! I was struck by a car.

The car sent me soaring ten feet in the air, slamming my face into the ground. When I woke up I remember screaming, noticing the gap inside my mouth from where my front teeth had been shattered and realizing that I couldn’t feel my legs from the waist down.  As I lay on the pavement staring at the blood fall from my face, I watched the driver of the vehicle flee the scene.  And I knew at that very moment, that my life was never to be the same again.

The accident became a definite wake up call for me. I realized that life was a precious gift and although I was severely injured from head to toe, I was alive and walking again (it was a temporary loss of feeling). I had spent so much time hating the body I was presented with in the past; I had never learned to ‘live’! It was time to change that. So, quickly, my focuses in life changed. I eventually left College, quit my job and shifted my thoughts towards getting married and having kids. I thought to myself, if I could die any day, why wait?!

One day I remembered. I still hadn’t had my second period naturally. I had gotten so caught up with being ‘normal’ that I decided to go on birth control and induce a fake cycle. So I never really knew if my body could do it on its own. At age twenty I made the decision to go off birth control and see if my body could make things happen.It never did.Instead of taking over, my body failed me once again. I began getting hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats etc. and I was eventually diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. It was even in the name: ‘failure.’ I cried and cried and cried. My new-found focus and drive to start a family had just shattered. It wasn’t going to happen. I had a 0 to 5% chance of natural conception. What use was I? And to put the cherry on top, I was also simultaneously diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Small Supernumerary Marker Chromosomes. So rare; it only exists in .5% of the world population.So here I found myself again. I was worthless, served no purpose and had a body that couldn’t even function properly. I was fat, I was injured and every day I was waking up in pain from my accident.  I seemed to have control over nothing in my life.These were my darkest days.At that point, I saw three options in front of me: end my life, keep living in sadness or find a way to triumph. I honestly wasn’t sure which one it would be for a while. Then one day I stumbled across my knight in shining armor: a web site called Little did I know that on that day I had found something that was going to grant me back a sense of control and transform me into a healthier, happier and more knowledgeable me. I began researching, watching videos and engrossing myself in the art of molding my physique. I read articles of average people who had transformed, both physically and mentally and I saw a glimmer of hope on the horizon. I was going to go with option number three – find my way to triumph. From that point on, bodybuilding, training, and fitness became my passion. I learned how to control my health and well-being, and how to use training as a way to de-stress and re-focus. Fitness became my answer.

Today I have lost over fifty-five pounds and am focusing on building my career as a Figure Competitor, Writer, Professional Speaker and Fitness Model. Although I still deal with a lot of physical pain from my accident, I have done everything I can from a health perspective to heal. So I have accepted the injuries that I can’t control and have instead, decided to focus on controlling the things I can.

Bodybuilding has given me my life back and shown me my purpose – to help others conquer their adversities with the help of health and fitness.

The truth is, I’m not normal and I never will be. But that is what will make me great at my career, help me stand out from the crowd and one day make me an incredible mother to a child.

Copyright Ark Stories 2011

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