TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains graphic depictions of living with eating disorders.. We share it today in observance of the National NOW Foundation’s 2012 Love Your Body Day. It is our belief that telling our stories is a powerful and transformative feminist act. A list of resources is available at the end of the post. All images, except the 2012 Love Your Body Day contest winner, were taken from online “thinspiration” sites that Andrea refers to in her essay.
By Andrea Persephone Sand, Minnesota NOW Affirmative Action Chair
Hipbones and collarbones, muscles and tendons, that space between your legs. The more I found, the better and worse I felt about myself. The less my scale showed, the greater the accomplishment and the further the goal was pushed back. It felt like the only real control I had over anything in my life was over what and how much went in to my body, and how much of it made it to digestion. Nobody noticed my warning signs, and since nobody seemed intent on asking if I was okay, I never really mentioned what was going on. I even began using it as a joke, to see if anyone took me seriously. When asked how I was dropping all this weight, I just responded “lots of exercise and a diet low in food.”
By the time I sought help, my weight had dropped 70 or so pounds in under six months. It became something more like 80 or 90 by the time I dropped out of a treatment program I felt was counter-productive. As I write this, over a year after the fact, I have lost about 100 pounds. I’m happy my weight loss has slowed down or stopped, I hope that I’m holding at what I was the last time I had to go to the doctors. I don’t know. I had to have a friend throw away my scale for me because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. How do you throw away something you use 8-10 times a day, even if it’s destroying you? An addiction is an addiction, no matter how you look at it.
I’ve lost so much over the last year, it’s heartbreaking for me to have to think back over it all. The money I’ve lost replacing things I’ve forgotten, or the money I’ve lost when I’ve misplaced my wallet in public spaces. Your memory fades from you, you see, and eventually you have trouble even holding a conversation. I’ve lost all semblance of self. I feel I look physically similar now as I did over a year ago, and my obsession and addiction to weight loss even led me to sell my car and upgrade to a nice bicycle to get everywhere with. I’ve lost any form of confidence I had in myself. My tiniest transgressions in public or private will cause me to not only immediately apologize, but also dwell on it from between the next few hours to the next decade or so. I have no idea how to forgive myself for anything I’ve ever done wrong.
Before my computer melted down and I had to reinstall the operating system, losing all my information, I had a large folder of what some people refer to as “thinspirational” pictures and images. These are pictures of naturally skinny people with things like hipbones and collarbones, ribcages and spines. It is essentially holding up a picture of what you really wanted to compare against what you have. These people though, they aren’t starved and they aren’t hungry. They’re naturally healthy, and were born that way. It’s not healthy and now that I’m in struggling through recovery, when I see my friends who battle similar food demons post pictures like this on their facebook or tumblr, I become worried and talk to them. The hardest part of recovery with any addiction is it’s so similar to cancer. You never truly beat it, you’re just in recovery or remission until your next relapse or death. Even now, there are still days where I do not eat. Even still, there are times where I feel I’ve eaten far too much and need to purge, lest my weight returns.
There is nothing quite as sobering as having to have a tooth yanked out, and having it snap off in your head with the healthy roots still dug in for dear life. I rotted away enough of my wisdom teeth that two were just yanked out today. The only thing more sobering than seeing a tooth in four pieces is later weeping in to your pillow, crying “what have I done to myself” as you drool blood on your bedsheets. I swear I have to recover harder. I am so scared, because now that I’ve stopped intentionally starving myself I’m waiting for all these health problems to boomerang back around at me full force. From the first time I had to beg my brother to take me to the hospital, to him being here now helping me deal with two missing teeth, anorexia and bulimia have robbed me of everything it tricked me in with. I feel fatter than ever, I have no self-esteem, my teeth are falling out and my hair is still coming out in clumps so I feel pretty ugly and misshapen, and my body is slow to heal and doesn’t feel much pain below a threshold of ‘sheer agony’. My nerve endings died a little, became less responsive to input. Where my hand could feel chilly or cold water before, now it can’t; not until it feels like frostbite. Peripheral neuropathy? What the fuck is that? My hands and feet will randomly go numb; do you know how scary that is to just lose feeling in parts of your body for minutes and then have it come back? This happens far too fucking often for me!
They need to have warning labels on beauty magazines like cigarettes; warning: Not all people are meant to look this way.
Anorexia and Bulimia can and will greatly reduce your quality of life. You are beautiful, and shouldn’t aspire to be anyone other than you.
So I’ve had enough trying to fit a cultural definition of beautiful. I’m still not skinny and I don’t give a fuck. I can’t believe I’ve been had so hard by the ad industry, by the health industry, by far too many industries telling me I’m fat, that I’m worthless, that I’m ugly and undesirable, and that there is something wrong with me that needs to change and/or die in a fire. I’m still “overweight” and I can count my ribs, I can see my spine, and I FINALLY just lost the little baby hair growing on the back of my neck; my memory’s almost back and I can carry a conversation again. You know what? I’m not having them rip out the other two wisdom teeth. I’ll be “fat” and “ugly” and healthy and happy. We’re built the way we are. Can we celebrate this fact for once instead of mourn it every time it doesn’t line up with a Victoria’s Secret or Calvin Klein model? Can we give each other a fighting shot at not crying our collective selves to sleep at night?
National Eating Disorders Association (includes a toll-free help line)
The Joy Project (a Twin Cities-based ED support & advocacy group)
Sex, Stereotypes and Women (a project of the National NOW Foundation)