Cheerleading for Others, Never Myself
When I was 15 years old, I was a dancer on a cheerleading team. I wanted to measure up to other girls, and it was important for me to not only be the best but to look my best. I had currently recovered from colitis, and I was in remission. So when I began feeling pain every time I ate, I attributed that to the colitis and not to anything else new lurking.
The more pain I felt when I ate, the less I wanted to eat. As I noticed my weight loss growing, the happier I became. I was losing inches; I was looking better. If I did not eat, I did not feel pain.
My name is Ashley Beloat and I am Kintsugi
My parents started to suspect something was wrong. They intervened. At that point, it became about my level of control. My parents were very conservative, and my home had many rules. Today, I am grateful for them but at that time I was fighting them the one way I knew how. I was rebelling.
I developed what is called body dysmorphia, a disorder that leads to obsessive thinking about a perceived flaw or body part that is out of control. As more of my bones started protruding, I only saw my hips getting wider. Before you realize it, your life is intertwined with this lifestyle.
Within four months, I had lost more than 20 pounds, and I was already too thin before that loss. My father used to drive me to cheerleading practice, and he noticed that I was weak and unable to perform as before. It was more than weight loss. My body was becoming weaker and weaker.
My parent's first approach was to speak to the pastor of our church. They talked to me about it too, but they did not understand why I was engaging in these behaviors. Their initial response was to add more rules, giving me less and less control. My father also never believed that I felt pain when I ate. He discredited me and that was incredibly painful. They wanted to help me in any way they could and knew how, while my dad was threatening to send me to a facility that deals with eating disorders, my mom was trying to find help through our existing specialists so I could stay home with them.
My father was very much a “You will do as I say” sort of parent. He took my reaction about the pain as a challenge and made that control dynamic heavier for me. I remember going to doctors very frequently, as they were monitoring my weight. I used to drink a lot before appointments, in hopes the water weight would show on the scale.
The doctor would ask what I was hiding in my bra or in my underwear. I couldn’t believe how that doctor was treating me. He was making it more traumatic with his insensitive questions. I don’t think my father understood how this affected me negatively.
My Mother My Rock
She was the one who helped me get through it all. As I gained some weight, they stopped forcing me to go to the insensitive doctor. My mom took me to some research hospitals to investigate the source of pain.
I had to introspect and really learn why it was so important for me to lose weight. I so dearly wanted to seek the approval of others. I was giving people too much of a say in how I should look. I literally assumed how they wanted to see me, too. It was not all coming from them, so much of it was my own thoughts. In reality, it was so far from the truth.
I learned so much of the peer pressure we feel is imagined. So, I decided I needed to push myself out of that place where I felt pressured to please others. I started working on not allowing what I thought was required of me to become a reality.
Ultimately, my mother was my role model, she was always the peacemaker, extending unconditional love, and giving kindness and forgiveness. I have always wanted to be these things in all areas of life because I’ve witnessed how she treated everyone around her up until the day she passed.
What Modeling Showed Me
At around the age 19 or 20, I had recovered most of my weight. I still counted every calorie, I knew times I should eat; I exercised to keep specific measurements. I was still very thin, and my mind was not in the best place. A friend of mine asked me to pose for her, because she was starting her photography business and wanted a model. I felt I needed to help her, and so I agreed. I had never posed before; I did not know what I needed to do, but the point was how that day affected the trajectory of the rest of my life.
I was literally shaking. It was so hard; I had a strong feeling I needed to hide from the camera. I was so uncomfortable, and I actually felt like I was passing out. I realized I had such a big problem, that this reaction was not normal. I decided that I had to stop being that afraid of the imaginary preconceived notions I was feeling.
As I worked on myself, I wanted more and more to show other women that we don’t have to be a perfect Barbie doll to be beautiful. Rather, we should feel content with the way God designed us to be. The shoot was a major turning point in my life. Modeling brought terrifying fears and feelings to the surface that I had to fight, and because I was committed to fighting them it ultimately led me to a better place.
There were many photo shoots after that initial one. There were shoots where after I would cry for days because I would see myself as “big” and not “beautiful.” With time and tenacity, I began noticing that my inner beauty was showing, the person that I was inside. I started admiring instead of judging.
Unfortunately, I did not go through therapy. I did read a lot of the Bible, which lead me to the strength I needed to overcome this battle. Through my religious studies, I learned how God was intentional with how our body is made. Yes, my hips would grow as I got older because my body needed to make the space to accommodate a baby one day.
I started pouring my energy into something that created beauty, not judged beauty. I decided to surround myself with things that brought me comfort and joy. I began to heal.
At that point, I was in nursing school, and my father took care of my mother. My mother did not want me to stop nursing school, and I had to get through while hearing her in pain, screaming in the next room. My mom passed away when I was 21 years old. I am grateful for my mom who believed in me and did as much as she could to support me in my healing journey.
When I was 15, I was on my death bed. I was at my smallest 40 pounds lighter than a low body weight. I was always thin. My heart was not working properly, and I was very weak. I felt that I was dying, and I was ok with it. At that time, I felt I was here on this planet for only a short time. I had accepted that. I am blessed today to have lived and created a life with love and harmony.
I limit how often I go on the scale. I remind myself what true beauty really is and that it is not the size of jeans you wear. Being a good human, kind and loving, is really what makes us radiate outwardly.
I feel stronger now that I am not ruled by fear. Our path leads us to make peace with our biggest giants. I want to be a role model for other models. I have many opportunities for that, and I often pray with them, and we share our thoughts and feelings. This empowers me and gives purpose and meaning to my journey. Ultimately, I want to make my mother proud who taught me so much in her short years.
My name is Ashley Beloat and I am Kintsugi.
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