“I Am the Woman of My Dreams”

Kayla Harwick’s Journey of Self-Love
By Terri Allred

“I embrace the idea of loving myself fully. I am a woman devoted to praising my strengths and successes. I assert the notion that I am inherently worthy and deserving.” ~ Author unknown.  

Kayla Harwick sits across the table from me at a local restaurant and describes her ordeal with an eating disorder that nearly took her life. She is calm, yet passionate, and tells me that she is sharing her experience so people know that there can be life after an eating disorder. In fact, she feels better about herself now than she ever has in her life. The journey, as difficult as it was, forged her into the person she is now.

“I used to tell myself that I would only be ‘good enough’ if I was the skinniest, prettiest, funniest, smartest,” Harwick shares. This constant critical assessment inevitably set her up for failure. She saw no value in herself.

“I still have days when I wish I was skinnier, prettier, funnier and smarter. However, I’m now more equipped with skills to remind myself that everything I wish I was is already what I am and what I have always been. I am strong, I am active, I am brilliant, I am hilarious, I am beautiful, I am successful, I am inspiring, I am a hard worker and I am enough. No longer will I use the ‘I’m going to…’ or ‘I will…’ or ‘I’m trying to…’ narratives. I AM the woman of my dreams. I work hard for my successes. I inspire others to do the same. And, I am thankful beyond words for this journey I am on.”

Harwick remembers that as she was growing up, she got a lot of mixed messages about her body and food. That planted the seed for what would happen later. A big theme through her life was “not being enough.” Everything she did, she tried to be the best, the greatest.

When she got to college, Harwick made a lot of new friends, but would compare herself to them. She wondered why she wasn’t getting the attention that they did.  She asked herself why she wasn’t getting the grades that they did. She was unhappy with her physical appearance so she started going to the gym. She wasn’t really eating any differently, but she lost a significant amount of weight because of what she now realizes was excessive gym time. At some point, it became about seeing that number go down on the scale and having more attention for being the girl who lost weight. Ultimately, she spiraled into an eating disorder.

One of Harwick’s favorite quotes comes from “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown: “Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. You are worthy right now, as is. You are deserving of love as you are.” This took Harwick a long time to believe and even longer to apply to herself. She acknowledges that there is vulnerability in examining and discarding your perceived inadequacies.

“You may have to confront things you don’t want to, but doing that is so freeing and life-enhancing. You begin to stop caring what others think and focus on your passion,” Harwick explains. She is living proof that once you put what you love out to the world and find your passion, the people meant to support you and be a part of your journey will be there. Anyone who holds different ideas or a different perception of who you are will fall away. You will find your people.

If you or someone you love has an eating disorder (with symptoms such as being preoccupied with food, appearance or weight), please reach out for help. A great resource is the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.

Terri Allred is the SE Regional Coordinator for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.