This is a guest post from Chanelle as part of the Exposed Movement. Thank you Chanelle for joining this powerful movement and sharing your story!
Chanelle Felder: Exposed
I almost didn’t do this. I let fear and shame constrict me, as I’m wont to do when pressure mounts. The cocktail of obsessive compulsive tendencies and plain vulnerability that swirl around inside me when I imagine my body—myself compared to all the “perfect” ones out there would be enough to stop a train coming at full speed. But the logical part of me knows those feelings are hardly my fault, and I chalk it up to the society that we live in, and my own insecurities.
The internal irony is not lost on me. I identify as a feminist; a woman who advocates strongly for all people to embrace their perceived “flaws”, real or imagined; I balk at The Patriarchy on a daily basis, fearlessly calling out the double standards and marketing practices that keep women in constant competition with one another while simultaneously riding the merry-go-round of self hatred. I know all the tricks. I know all the schemes. I know all the games…so why is it so hard for me to reveal the one part of me that I pray would just disappear? Why, when I know that the content of my character is the most important thing about me, do I still quiver when people catch a glimpse of my upper arms, sides, or thighs? Why can’t I just pick up the camera as expose my outside as willingly as I talk about some of the most painful moments of my life? I don’t know. But sometimes instead of being too scared to do something, it’s best to be scared and do it anyway.
This is the body of a 23-year-old woman. A young woman who once thought that she was invincible at the age of 16. A young woman who, 7 years later, learned the hard way that she was very naive.
This is also the body of a woman who suffered from one of the most agonizing, and rare, hormonal diseases that you’ve probably never heard of; the body of a woman who, in 5 short months, went from a vibrant, athletic dancer and cheerleader, to an acne-ridden, fatigued, Cortisol-fueled and 40-pounds-heavier shell of herself; a young woman who, before the age of 21, diagnosed her own disease when the doctor’s told her she was “just gaining weight” and put her on antidepressants, underwent 2 brain surgeries and had both of her hyperplasic adrenal glands removed through a small incision in her belly button. Those pictures above show the same woman who has just finished CyberKnife Radiotherapy since her aggressive brain tumors just keep coming back. But I make the choice, every day, to not let my past dictate my future.
And even as I typed that last paragraph, I silently shame myself for coming this far and fighting tooth and nail for my health, but constantly criticizing the body that I did nothing to deserve.
Cushing’s disease took a toll on my body and my mind ever since I realized that my teenage life wasn’t just falling apart for no reason. The astronomical amounts of the stress hormone, Cortisol, which was coursing through my tissues, had brought on so many symptoms that I eventually dreaded keeping count: my cheeks expanded like someone overdosing on Prednisone, and acne covered every inch of my face. The sudden weight gain and influx of hormones caused bright purple striae (read: gaping, inflamed stretch marks) to cover my arms, sides, and thighs almost overnight as my stomach became rounder and taught like a drum. I struggled to force myself to fall asleep every night, yet I could hardly make it through the day without a 4-hour nap right after school. I was constantly on the brink of tears—an emotional wreck, I could barely focus or put together a sentence, and a pad of fat was slowly forming a “buffalo hump” between my shoulders. But the most gut-wrenching side effect of Cushing’s was the fact that my wispy ballerina body wasn’t just swollen; it was also taking on more fat than it had ever carried in my 16-year-old life.
To a junior in high school, any sudden change is devastating, but being so unexplainably sick with a disease that strikes 10-50 in 1 million people, in front of your entire high school, is certainly a defining, yet horrifying moment in one’s life.
It’s taken me 7 years to gain control of my health since then, and due to my Bilateral Adrenalectomy, I have lost all the weight, and then some, but the shift from 180 pounds to 125 didn’t mean that my body became svelte and toned. The presence of high amounts of Cortisol in my body had chipped away at my bone density, moderately atrophied my muscles, and left me with 29% of my body mass as stubborn, rippling fat. And along with that, a GH deficiency that makes it almost impossible for me to lose that fat without a strict eating plan and strategic exercise, or synthetic hormone injections, but really, I could write an entire other essay on just my hormonal issues, alone.
I am still actively working to be more accepting of myself and what is left of my previous illness—namely the stretch marks that are still most noticeable on my upper arms and sides. Some days are worse than others. I sometimes look at myself and can’t look away at my arms. Then there are the days where I wear short sleeves, and could care less who sees the shiny little squiggles that run from shoulder to elbow. I have come such a long way from never, ever, EVER allowing my upper arms to go uncovered (yes, even in the summer), to, most of the time, forgetting my stretch marks even exist. Nonetheless, I still get week in the knees when strangers come up to me and ask me why a girl “as little as I am” has so many stretch marks. Those are the days I want to crawl up and hide. Those are the days that defeat my progress.
Despite it all, I have never been the type that was short on confidence. I am one of those girls who can approach just about anyone, and walk away with a new friend. I have no problem speaking to a room full of people or appearing on the front page of my local paper talking about my health journey—both things that I have done, and am very grateful for the chance to do—but I am still learning, every day, to love myself more and appreciate my body for all the things I know it can get me through.
My arms are not perfect, but they help me write poetry.
They help me show my love to my parents, boyfriend, and my little Papillon named Coco Chanelle.
They help me indulge my love of apply my makeup.
They help me raise my hand to be the first to answer a question in class.
They help me express myself when I engage in my #1 passion: dance.
My stomach and sides are not perfect, but they hold me upright and support me.
They twist and turn as I move through life.
They hold my diaphragm, which powers my words and my voice when I speak and sing.
They display the scars from my BLA, and display the results of my triumphant defeat of Cushing’s disease.
But most importantly, they tell an amazing story about whom they are attached to.