Elizabeth F. Murphy: Bulb to Blossom
Work hard. Stay humble. Enjoy Life.
This is how after years of struggle, I learned to feel comfortable in my own skin. I finally have the courage to share my story to be heard and to encourage other women to develop their bodies, minds and their voices too.
I’ll begin by saying I NEVER felt good in my own skin until age 30. I have been a late bloomer at practically everything in life. Athletics were of no interest to me through grade and high school. I tried a few sports (soccer, track, tennis) but I didn't enjoy or continue with any of them. I ate without restrictions and any regard to my weight. I was genetically thin, but not without body image concerns. My personal shame at a young age was never about weight - it was about puberty. While all my peers were blossoming into shapely young women, I felt like a stunted dud. My teenage years were tortured by the eternity of waiting for my breasts and hips to grow. It seemed that Mother Nature was cruel and unjust in denying me the womanly development I desperately desired. I took the hurt I felt very deeply to heart as I watched all my peers grow while I remained the same. I lacked all confidence in myself. I never ever felt attractive or of value.
The college years were the toughest and the unhappiest. I started college at 128 lbs. Soon after, I gained 10 lbs in the first semester. This shocked me and was my introduction to the world of dieting. Those 10 lbs were gone by summer and the positive responses I received when I returned home were a tremendous boost so my self-confidence. I thought if losing 10 lbs was good, losing more was even better. If I wasn’t blessed with curves I might as well just be a clothes hanger. So began a very unhealthy relationship with my body. I deprived it, starved it, loathed it, and mistreated it. My body just kept shrinking in response. Soon enough my hip bones made a prominent appearance that I used as a measure. My body stopped menstruating. It’s not something that I could stop doing though - I was lost in it. The stress of my university training fueled my obsession and vice-versa. I weighed myself every day; sometimes twice a day. In 2005 I graduated from college at 5’7” and weighed 102 lbs. Would you believe I thought I was so enviably skinny? But my body and my emotional state were under immense stress from being so thin.
At this point, my life was all about numbers. How much do I weigh today? What size clothing am I wearing - a 4, 2 or a 0? How many carrot sticks did I eat? And my life was also about avoidance because any social function with food was a problem. How will I avoid eating anything “bad” at that luncheon? Will anyone notice if I sip the same watered-down vodka drink all night? How do I avoid questions about what I eat? There was no room for any spontaneity in my life and I was full of self-doubt.
I remember all the people in my life during those years that approached me, in delicate and careful ways, about my emaciated appearance. My parents, my roommate, my peers, my teachers even the school nurse --- as desperately as they wanted to help me, I wouldn't allow it. It's all about mindset and I was determined to stay immensely thin.
Then when I was about 24, at home alone and in bed way earlier than any young adult should be on a Friday night, I had a realization. I had a small circle of friends but I often turned down social invitations or left gatherings very early. Why couldn't I go out and enjoy life as carefree as my peers do? Because I was living in fear. I feared everything from food to doing anything outside my very limited comfort zone. The most uncomfortable place I knew was this isolated place in my own skin. And I was imprisoned here. Did I really want to live the rest of my life this way?? It was then that I realized --- hell no. I wanted freedom.
That was my first seedling of hope, but change did not happen overnight. It would take me another 6 years to cultivate a wholly positive relationship with my body and with food. It was a slow process of letting go of damaging beliefs about myself and about food. Much credit is due to my then boyfriend, and now husband, who has always made me feel beautiful and encouraged me to be myself. I blossomed right before his eyes into an entirely different person through my transformation. He loved me before. He loves me even more now.
My only precursor to group fitness was a cardio kickboxing class I took religiously in college. I was a cardio queen for years following, making most use of the treadmill at my local gym after college. I’ve used my share of home fitness programs from Beachbody programs to Tracy Anderson to the WiiFit. The end goal of all of these things was to stay skinny. For years, my boyfriend told me I should try weight training. I refused to try anything beyond a cardio machine, stuck in the mindset that weights will add "bulk" to my frame. As I result, I stayed enslaved to these machines in an endless cycle of burning calories consumed. I was so thin that even consuming a normal meal made my stomach appear bloated and sent me spiraling through a period of self hatred and abuse until my stomach looked flat again.
It wasn’t until I finally made the choice to get educated about weight training that a real transformation began for me. I started taking an MMA-based conditioning program with a group of women that inspire me and a talented trainer that challenges me (I wrote about this the "Marie Copolla' story). Over time I built curves and added some definition. I stopped paying attention to the number on the scale and started listening to my body. No longer did I gauge my worth by the visibility of my hip bones and ribs in the mirror. As those things disappeared under a healthy layer of muscle, I celebrated the new shapes that developed in my body. Naturally, the only way to maintain enough energy to train and continue to see results is to EAT! And so my relationship with food changed drastically as I learned how to fuel my body. Food was no longer something to be avoided. It was a tremendous deal for my family when I agreed to eat my first steak dinner in at least 10 years (pictured below). The changes I saw in my body brought abundant confidence and a healthy body attitude. It was the greatest blessing when I learned how the discipline of daily activity and proportional eating could keep me mentally and emotionally balanced.
A huge part of my story that had remained untold until recently are my thoughts and feelings on cosmetic surgery. I'm the first and maybe one of the only ones in my local industry to openly discuss this. In my case, the choice I made to augment my breasts was a deeply emotional and powerful decision. I struggled for years with discomfort and shameful feelings about my body that I believe in large part tied into to my battle with eating disorders. Imagine not being able to set foot in a Victoria's Secret store without eyes full of tears. Or turning your back to your significant other every time you undressed. That was me, always guarded - always hiding.
The choice I made at age 28 to have my situation corrected was the best possible choice I could have made for myself when I was ready. I did it for no one other than myself and in the end I felt whole: as if I had the body that was always meant for me. This decision changed my life and I thank my doctor every year. Many people would not even know had I not shared this because I chose a natural and balanced aesthetic. I am openly sharing this as a gift to other women. It is not vain or selfish to address something that is literally paralyzing your quality of life. Cosmetic surgery done for the right reasons can be a wonderfully empowering choice.
I finally feel the best physically, mentally and emotionally that I’ve ever felt in my life. My current training is a balance of bodybuilding style workouts, megaformer and cardio. When I can, I fit in an extra yoga, pilates or boxing classes for variety. I love the mental challenge of highly demanding workouts. I know I am extremely blessed to have arrived where I am. I don’t resent my past - it built grit and discipline in me. I am no longer weak; I am strong. I don’t criticize or judge my body; I treat it with love and respect.
Eating well is a form of self-respect.
MY CAREER TRANSITION
I grew up a creator/crafter in a small Pennsylvania town. My mother taught me how to sew and I spent several of my middle years actually in the 4-H Club. My enjoyment of making things combined with my desire for things I didn't have in my modest upbringing made "fashion design" sound like an exciting career choice. After I earned my BA in fashion design from the Rhode Island School of Design, I spent five years designing at Lilly Pulitzer. Following that, I designed for a range of companies including Ivanka Trump, Destination Maternity and Nautica, designing women’s sweaters, knitwear and activewear.
At one time preppy and polished, my look has evolved to be much more individualistic. When I realized that 90% of my wardrobe purchases were activewear, I acknowledged my changing interests. On any given day I am dressed gym-ready and I prefer it that way. Performance-wear makes all the difference in how we move and sweat. I am constantly scouring social media and following athletic brands like lululemon, Sweaty Betty, Nike and smaller brands like Alo and Onzie to see the latest and greatest.
After about 8 years in the fashion industry, I realized I had lost all heart in the design process. When my long-term freelance job came to a sudden close, I stepped back from the industry and took time to reevaluate my interests. I took a seasonal retail sales position with Lululemon to do something that seems "fun" while I contemplated my next move. It became clear to me that I did not wish to pursue the rat-race of finding another freelance design job at a company I didn't feel connected to. That seasonal retail job became a full-time 18-month long role and honestly I learned more about myself in this job than I did in any prior fashion design position.
I used this period of time to network with my local health and fitness network and earn my Certified Personal Trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (N.A.S.M.). When I was ready, I made the full-time leap into personal training. I made the right choice: this is without a doubt my most fulfilling and enjoyable work.
I'm not saying you everyone should get tattoos or appreciate the my own. It makes no difference to me if you like my tattoos or not. Keep in mind, I am a creative thinker. Key traits include independence, unconventionality and a willingness to take risks. My hair has been red, purple, blue? and I have no idea when I will go back to my natural brunette.
Arms that were once the weakest part of my body have become defined. A garden of flowers signifying personal growth and blossoming has started to spread from my shoulder down the length of my arm. It will one day cover the muscle that I have proudly built. A bee buzzes among the flowers, representing my busy and charming grandmother.
The swallows on my stomach are symbolic for the 10 years I have spent with the wonderful man who is my husband (he has similar swallows on his chest). The swallow tattoo was historically used by sailors as a symbol of 5000 nautical miles traveled. 10 years = 10000 nautical miles = 2 swallows for us. And my thigh tattoos are just fun as hell because how often have you seen that? Yup, not often. I find body art on women to be beautiful - not only the expression of the work, but also the way the art lives on the shapes of the body. It's certainly not for everyone, but I never judge anyone's deeply personal choices. You be YOU and I'll be me.
All of my work is the artistry of Dave Shoemaker at NinthWave in Asbury Park, NJ.
MY BODY GOAL
My goal is to continue to feel my best every day, find happiness and appreciation for what my body continues to do as I progress through my thirties. Some of my goals this year are to increase my lean body mass and better understand what foods do and do not work for my body specifically. It has always been important to me to continue my education. Two of education my goals this year: complete my Pilates Mat education and travel to the Onnit Academy Gym in Austin, TX
MY BODY INSPIRATION
All the women I post about here are wholly inspiring to me. I am honored they shared their stories with me because there is something to learn from each of them. I also find inspiration in professional women athletes because they train for excellence in performance, not aesthetics. On the other hand, the aesthetic beauty of Suicide Girls and Inked Girls is also something I find stimulating. Women that are positively empowered through their body are fascinating: their energy is on a different level. When you know yourself, you show up powerfully. When you show up powerfully, everything changes.