**trigger warning – eating disorders**
Recovering from an eating disorder, if indeed you reach the point of accepting you’re even ill in the first place, is no easy task. I know – I’ve watched people struggle with them, and now struggle with my own. Aside from the illness itself controlling me, making me miserable, choking me and making me feel hideous everytime I eat, I have a major problem/barrier to deal with if I am to recover. That problem is SOCIETY.
I have spoken before about the difficulties I face with people trying to dismiss my illness – including myself. I try to dismiss it too. This means when other people dismiss it, it not only fuels the eating disorder voice, it also convinces me there’s nothing wrong with me at all. When, really, there is. And it’s not that people are being mean or wrong by dismissing it – it’s just that there are so many misconceptions and incorrect images of what an eating disorder is, fed to us by the media, that people simply don’t understand. I don’t look so thin I could be on death’s door, and I do eat. The number of people who see me eat and decide therefore I’m cured is unbelievable. I would just like to put this out there: having an eating disorder does not mean I NEVER eat EVER. In some ways an eating disorder shouldn’t be based on how little or how much a person eats – it’s about the mentality towards food/eating where the issue lies. It makes me very sad that a person can only be deemed of ‘right’ to have an eating disorder based on what they look like, particularly when so many people develop eating disorders because of their own insecurities of what they look like. Society then saying ‘you’re not thin enough’ is one of the most ridiculous and damaging things. And eating disorders are not just those who eat less. Some people with eating disorders are those who over-eat, and get lost in a spiral that way, and need counselling and help. What makes me sad is that fat people are so hideously judged. Nobody is allowed to just…be. If you’re too fat, you’re lazy. If you’re too thin, you’re ill. What if you’re naturally thin? Or naturally overweight? Whose business is it anyway?! But the pressure of how we’ll be viewed cannot be helping with eating disorders.
But… my current biggest issue is the idea of putting on weight. I have my own fears, some irrational, some not. Eating makes me panic. Sometimes I will have panic attacks and frequently after eating I’ll run to the toilet to throw up, to get the ‘badness’ out of me, and then I’ll sink to the toilet floor with relief….then I’ll feel hideous for throwing up, and tear myself to pieces for the rest of the day. The way I see my body is apparently different to how others see it. Yes I’m bony and thin but I’m not bony enough, I think. I’m not thin enough. I can still grab my skin, so therefore I’m fat. And therefore I’m in danger. (Long story, links back to the abusers). Panic panic panic. It’s never thin enough. It’s never right. My body is hideous.
And yet close friends and alter-personalities and professionals gently try telling me I’m underweight, that my clothes are falling off me, that I look tired and gaunt and pale…
I’m beginning to reach a point of realising that maybe they’re right. More and more people I’m meeting are mistaking me for a 15 or 16 year old. Underneath my hoodies and baggy jeans is the body which doesn’t belong to a 20 year old. I can no longer lie on my side comfortably because my elbow presses into my ribs. My morning ritual has been the same for months, if I can’t fit the width of my finger between each rib, then I make myself sick. My hips are jutting out but are hidden beneath jeans. If I move even slightly too quickly or suddenly I get strong heart palpitations. Dizziness is a near-constant. I feel like a defenceless child with no voice, and I’m starting to look like one too. The only problem is, I hardly lose weight off of my chest. So I have no waist, but 20 year old chest.
Those who know I’m ill are trying to persuade me to put weight on. But the vast majority of students, and wider society, don’t seem to agree. Most have no idea I might be wishing to put some weight on, if only I could deal with the demons. More people than ever are saying to me how ‘gorgeous’ I look and that my figure at the moment is ‘stunning.’ I have had one person say to me, ‘look at your collarbone! It sits just perfectly, you’re so beautiful, I’m so jealous.’ Suddenly even my collarbone is a fashion accessory. A lot of people have said the new ‘skinny’ me is the prettiest I’ve ever been and that they are jealous, jealous of my bone-like structure, of the sharp image it gives my body. They are jealous of how white I am now, and jealous of how very thin I am. My frame, which is only like this due to an eating disorder, is a frame which ignites envy in so many – and this is frightening and shocking. I hadn’t realised society had grown so lost. Not so long ago people would be telling me I’m too thin, that I need curves. Now I’m ‘perfect.’ I am the image of the ‘perfect’ body. Which doesn’t really help with the whole eating disorder business. A few people have expressed their envy at how my jeans hang on my legs. This stunned me. My jeans don’t fit me. New jeans which I bought as I lost weight, now no longer fit me – they’re now too big. But apparently the lack of any body shape, just the hanging jeans clinging onto my hip bones, is the new ‘perfect.’ If only one or two people had commented on this, I’d maybe be less concerned. But it’s not just one or two. As I say, more people than ever are complimenting me on my body shape – unbeknown to them that I’m ill – they genuinely believe this new skinny pale skeleton version of me is the perfect body.
And that scares me. They don’t scare me, but the fact remains that clearly this idea of the ‘perfect’ body being super skinny, the more bones the better, and pale has been put into a lot of people’s minds. In a relatively short space of time, I hasten to add. Once upon a time people were horrified if they could see my shoulder blades. Now? The number of people who’ve actually commented on the perfect shape of my SHOULDER BLADES is staggering. I won’t generalise – there are still a lot of people who prefer the healthier, curvier shape and a few people say to me ‘you need to eat a burger’ and smile at me encouragingly, but nonetheless…there’s a big change in wider society…that I’m no longer seen by many as having an ‘ill’ figure, but instead of having a ‘perfect’ figure. Even some mental health professionals have said this to me. Despite knowing I’m underweight, and despite the jutting bones, they also believe I have the perfect figure and I should be thanking my ‘lucky stars’ to be blessed with such a figure.
I can’t say I’m surprised…more and more I see pictures of photoshopped skinny celebrities on the front of magazines or websites. The media is trying its damned hardest to convince us that skinny is the new ‘perfect.’ The no waist but womanly chest that I have is the same ‘perfect’ image thrown out by the media – stick thin but with a bust. Trust me, I wish I could lose weight from my chest. But because I can’t, my thinness is enviable, my frame causing jealousy, and the idea of me putting weight on shocks a lot of people. (and reassures others.)
What’s frightening is that I’m walking evidence that the media’s attempt to convince us that skinny is ‘perfect’ appears to be working. When I’ve said to some people I think I should try and put weight on, some have smiled and nodded at me, saying ‘well done, I believe in you.’ But others? Quite a few others have looked at me in genuine shock, and said “but WHY?! You look perfect as you are!!” Now, I remember that being the response if anyone talked about going on a diet…rather than someone talking about putting weight on. The pressure seems to be shifting – it’s no longer about being a healthy shape, or even just about being skinny… it’s about staying skinny, because skinny is perfect.
And so, as society shifts it’s idea of ‘perfect’ almost unconsciously, I am in a very difficult place. Each time I feel like I’m perhaps brave enough to try and put weight on, I’m not only fighting against the illness and the echoes of abusers, I’m – to a lot of people in society – making a deliberate choice to move away from what’s now seen by many as ‘perfect.’ I’m going against what so many others wish they had. I dread to think how that could play with some people’s heads.
So…here is my message to anyone who thinks skinny is perfect. It’s not. It hurts, it aches, it leaves me constantly queasy and tired and emotional, nothing fits me, I feel vulnerable and fragile, I get chest pains frequently, I can’t concentrate properly, and I have no energy. If you’re skinny naturally then that’s fine – you’re body will be fine with it, because that’s how you are. But please don’t force yourself to be skinny because that’s what you believe ‘perfect’ now is. Take it from someone who’s there – it’s not perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect. But being yourself, being happy to be yourself, letting your body be how it’s supposed to be – that to me is the most beautiful thing, the most naturally beautiful and attractive asset anyone can have: confidence in their own body, irrespective of whether it’s what the media says is ‘perfect’ or not.
So I’m going to, if nothing else out of a matter of protest, try and put weight on. I don’t want people to envy me at this size. I don’t want people to be jealous and wish they were this size – I’m so scared people will try, and will make themselves ill.
You deserve to be just how you are – don’t try and force yourself based on someone else’s/the medias perception of what you should look like. Only you know what feels right, not them.