Katina Nikou is an actress and writer from Los Angeles, who also co-hosts a food and beverage show on YouTube called L.A. Happy. Having struggled with low body image throughout her childhood and teenage years, she developed an eating disorder and is now on a road to recovery.
When I sat down to trace back where my body issues began, it broke my heart to know it started as early as Elementary School. It all began in first grade when we were asked to line up in front of our peers and get weighed. Apparently, our teachers felt like this was an appropriate way to see if were in the “normal” range for our age group. This nightmare continued until fifth grade, pretty much setting in motion a lifetime of me comparing myself to other females and seeing them as threats rather than friends. Thanks a lot team.
Ballet class had the same effect. The tiny girls always got the best parts in the recital number. Our teacher lovingly told us that the skinnier girls jumped higher and were easier to lift. Good to know. Que my depressing dear diary entries, “Today I weighed eighty-nine pounds. I’m scared I’ll gain a pound and get to ninety.”
In middle school I kicked my unhealthy habits up a notch with the help of a black and white tiny T.V. from Sams Club. Every morning I would tune in to a fitness program on PBS and workout nineties-style in my bedroom before I left the house. If I had to eat the bagged lunch mom made, I was at least going to earn it.
However, in high school, I never ate. In fact, now that I think about it, no one did. There were probably a lot more eating disorders going on than I realised. Unfortunately, the subject was never discussed.Too bad. It would have been nice to not feel so alone in my crazy thoughts.
Senior year, I walked away with the “Best Body” award in our class mock elections. I worked my entire life for this and now I finally had the validation from my peers I desperately needed. The hard part was officially over and now I could just enjoy life without being so image obsessed…or so I thought.
I felt guilty every day for eating. Yet my young adult lifestyle made it way too hard to starve. Honestly, I really did want to be carefree and own those Coney Island consequences. But in true Katina fashion, I practiced daily self-hatred until I found a new solution to manage it all. Welcome bulimia.
Things definitely got way worse before they got better. One day I looked around and didn’t recognise myself or the life I had created. Who was this guy I was living with who treated me terrible? Why was I not living my dreams like I had promised my younger self years prior? Something needed to change.
I moved out the next day.
Once I made a commitment to myself to treat me better, everything started to shift. I befriended an amazing group of friends in Chicago and shortly after met a guy. Not just any guy, a Chef guy. (Thank you Universe). He taught me to see food in a whole new light. I was no longer scared. I was in love; with him and food. I went from being a woman who wouldn’t dare eat in front of people to where I am today; co-hosting a food and beverage show on YouTube called L.A. Happy.
I think back to all the moments I lost because of my eating disorders. Yes, my body was near ‘perfect’, but at what cost? I was dying inside. That’s why I’m making it my mission to show girls that beauty goes way beyond having the perfect hair, skin or body despite what social media will have us believe. I suggest following people who inspire or challenge you to be your best self. As often as we look at our phones, we don’t need anything there that’s going to sabotage our happiness.
It was not an easy road to get to where I am today. It took a lot of time, patience, perseverance, honesty and vulnerability. (Not necessarily in that order). I still have moments of weakness and judgement, but I am aware of what triggers those emotions. If I go a few days without the gym I start to self-sabotage. The endorphins I get from working out really helps my mental health. Now when I go there it’s about getting strong and not about getting skinny. It’s way more fun that way!
We’re all capable of being the best version of ourselves. Be honest with yourself about what puts you in a bad place and then change course. Also, championing one another is super important. We can’t ask everyone to change how they treat us if we don’t start within our own tribe. So, give out those compliments and take the time to really see one another. We all encounter struggle sometimes no matter what age. Therefore, you never know when a smile or a hello can save someone’s life. Stay strong ladies. You got this. And if you don’t, there’s no shame in that, so reach out. Always reach out. You are loved. And now is the time I wish I could give each and everyone of you a big, a sisterly bear hug.