This is for day one of14valentines. Today's focus is on body image, and for me, that issue is intricately tangled with eating disorders and the way that that can cause you to form a negative body image. It doesn't matter how many times someone else tells you you're pretty; some days, I think nothing is ever going to change my negative view of myself.
And I'll preface this with: yes, I'm a size six. Sometimes a size eight, but given the way the past several years have gone...well, yeah. I generally swim in a size eight. And I know that I'm small (a grand whopping 134 lbs), but the BMI swears to god I'm overweight, and sometimes that starts to sink in. And then someone points out how ridiculous my body image issues are. So I know that it seems bizarre that I spend half my life worried about the fact that I hate my body and I tend to worry that I'm headed down the path to anorexia.
At one point, near the end of my first year in university, I realized that I hadn’t eaten more than a banana in three days. I remember freaking out; for all that I may hate my body, I have always managed to hide from the lurking specter that I call genetic predisposition and someone else might refer to as “Eating Disorders.” I’ve had more conversations with therapists about disordered eating, anorexia and bulimia than I have about other topics. And yet, here I was starving myself in a manner that I recognized. And someone said, “Well, you’re not actively trying to harm yourself. You don’t see being painfully skinny as a good thing. You’re not anorexic, hon.” And they were right, but they were also very, very wrong.
I had just spent the better part of a year on a campus where the workout facilities get more use than the library, where there is an entire gym that is dedicated to women who want to be as fit and as trim as humanly possible. I understood the feeling of inadequacy about my body—I’m five foot, two inches, 134 pounds, and I hate the people who say, “Well, you’re only a little bit chunky”—and I knew how quickly the disordered eating could spin into something far, far worse. I knew that if I kept hating my body and loathing food, I would wind up on a path that I’d been fighting for six years. I had lost fifteen pounds my freshman fall because I wasn’t eating; while I didn’t mind being skinny—we’re trained by the media, by commercialism, and by our peers to know that skinny girls are the only ones who are desirable—I also knew that it was an incredibly unhealthy cycle.
For you see, I am the daughter of an anorexic-bulimic. I know the cycle of disordered eating that spirals into starvation followed by binging followed by purging. I understand the need to control something, anything, and realizing the only thing you have to really control is your body, your responses, or your eating habits. I know, in some long buried part of me, that eating disorders have a thousand different causes, a thousand different reasons, and that it isn’t as simple as, “But you’re not displaying classic anorexic reasoning.”
And no, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about how much I hated my body and if I just lose a couple of pounds, it would be alright. I was just not thinking about food or about eating or about the need that the human body has for sustenance. I wasn’t thinking that it’s ridiculous to consider myself fat when I fit into ninety percent of all size small clothing and that most mediums actually swim on me. But later, when someone harped on my body image—apparently, I have a negative image of myself; somehow, this doesn’t surprise me—I thought about all the reasons why I could have kept starving myself. All the reasons that I could have used to justify “just a little less food.” I realized at some point that that was probably how my mother’s anorexia really began.
And that was when I stepped back from the issue and got help. I’m sick of the media telling me that I’m not okay at my weight; I’m sick of feeling inferior to girls who are sticks and who don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive. I will not allow myself to slowly die to please some horribly twisted ideal. So I work out enough to keep myself fit, and I eat salad because I actually like the taste, but I don’t take it to extremes as much anymore. I keep fruit in my room in case I end up missing a meal; fruit and packaged tuna might not be the most normal meal in the world, but at least I’m eating.
And if I ever let myself start to starve again, about four different people actually ask me on a weekly (or daily) basis if I’m eating. They smack me if the answer isn’t “yes”. Hell, they smack me if takes too long to remember that I actually ate.
These are, by the way, the same people who remind me that the BMI screws people with muscle mass over. And often, anyone else.