How Scoliosis Surgery Helped Me Accept My Body


"If I can only lose 10 pounds, everything will be perfect."

This was my mantra when everything else in life was going right. I had the perfect job, the perfect apartment and the perfect boyfriend, but somehow I always spent time obsessing over those 10 pounds that would somehow make me feel like I truly had it all.

At 5 feet tall, I'm petite and not built like a Victoria's Secret model, but that had always been my standard. I'm one of millions of women who read stories about people shaming celebs for their post-baby weight gain and are egged on by magazine covers to "try this diet to look great in that little black dress."

Alexandra Sanders

I have always been active and eat a mostly healthy diet, but I have a passion for baking confections and a penchant for craft beer and cheeseburgers. In the modeling world, a size 6 can be considered plus size, so the fact I had always been at a normal weight didn't mean anything significant to me. I meticulously counted calories to ensure I wouldn't grow beyond a size 4.

This all changed in 2014. I dropped 30 pounds after major spinal surgery to mitigate pain caused by scoliosis. After the procedure in March, I had spent three months without the ability to really digest food without getting sick thanks to the pain medication I was on. Because we all want to look flawless, proclaiming we "woke up like this," I briefly relished the moment I became concave and angular. I lived in a bikini that summer during the moments I wasn't ill and bedridden in my Brooklyn, New York, apartment.

It wasn't until I tried having as much of a social life as one can after major surgery that I noticed the thing I had ultimately thought would make my life perfect was destroying me. By August, all I wanted to do was eat. I wanted burgers, ice cream, salads — everything.

I heard "you look amazing" more times than I can count and quickly grew to resent the statement. Acquaintances would quip they wished they were overcome with nausea when presented a cookie — just so they could slim down a bit. And these small excursions out of the house made me realize that when your body is waif-like, you can't actually do anything with it but stand there and look pretty. Walking one city block tired me to the point I'd have to lie down for hours. Dinner with friends meant staring at my friends' plates of decadent poutine and steaming sliders I knew I couldn't have.

By July, I had made myself a promise that if I could ever eat normally again, I would stop shaming myself for every chip and spoonful of ice cream. Running would be a way to stay healthy and relieve stress instead of being a punishment for drinking a grande frappuccino. I promised myself I would use my body as a tool to accomplish goals instead of a thing to look at. Mostly, I promised I would never add "lose 10 pounds" to my list of life goals ever again.

 I made myself a promise that if I could ever eat normally again, I would stop shaming myself for every chip and spoonful of ice cream

A recent study showed women spend an average of two full weeks plucking, highlighting, bronzing and beautifying per year. Add to that the time we spend thinking about whether we should order dessert and making promises of 5 a.m. gym sessions if we do. A year ago, I didn't have the luxury of thinking about my calorie intake — and back then, eating was truly a luxury — so I focused my energy elsewhere. I spent a total of 15 minutes a day on my makeup and hair, and only on the days I felt well enough to leave my apartment. Without striving for perfection, I found I had a shocking amount of free time. So I did things. I wrote the first draft of a novel, took a class on Photoshop and started freelancing from my couch.

During this time, my doctors figured out the pain medication was making me so sick. With new meds, I was finally able to eat again. If you're wondering what a cheeseburger tastes like after not being able to enjoy one for months, the answer is you'll forever remember it as the best burger of your life.

Alexandra Sanders

Once I started to feel better, I went out with friends again and started baking sweets. I continued my low-maintenance beauty routine and devoted more time to my passions. I began reading photography books and snapping photos around New York. Soon, I was getting requests to shoot engagements and produce photographs for the living room walls of friends' apartments, so I built a website. It's truly amazing what you can do if you focus on your passions instead of that little voice in your head saying you can totally write a novel — but first, the gym.

It took two decades, but I no longer consider eating a character flaw women in society have to cope with. I still value health, but my relationship with food has completely changed. It's fuel to keep my brain sharp at a job that I love, it's energy that moves my legs through the streets of New York on long runs and it's love I can share with friends and family through my oven.

And now when I go out to eat with friends, I always say yes to dessert. Maybe I'll go to the gym tomorrow, but I might have more important things to do like getting that novel published.