I got invited to a screening of a movie, which shall remain nameless, about a woman who learns to accept her body and then goes around teaching body acceptance to other women. On the poster was a hot yoga-MILF-y looking blonde (the one who had accepted her body) seated nude. In researching her story, it appeared as though her body acceptance occurred as an epiphanic moment that had somehow then sustained itself through time. This has not been my experience with epiphanic moments, particularly in regards to a lifelong struggle with body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Rather, my epiphanic moments are usually of the self-destructive variety. If I feel dramatically inspired to do something, it's probably a bad idea.
Seems easy to radically accept your body when you're that hot, I thought.
Of course, this is reductive. My experience with eating disorders has never been solely about hotness. Sure, hotness is some sort of North Star, guiding me toward an unattainable illusion of "OK-ness." But the ship itself (and one might say, the rowers thereon) are about creating an illusion of safety in what feels like an unsafe world. Give me something within my control, in spite of all the chaos. Give me something that is mine all mine, which no one else can touch.
After declining the invitation, I ate two 100-calorie muffin tops, a pint of diet ice cream, and a half a cup of cereal measured out in a measuring cup. It was 6:30 PM. This was the first thing I had eaten all day, aside from another 100-calorie muffin top and a yogurt at 1:00 PM. I restrict my eating throughout the day and allow myself mini-"feasts" of diet junk food at day's end. Later that night, I also had a chocolate protein bar, another pint of diet ice cream (my diet ice cream habit runs between $150 to $200 a month) with a full measuring cup of cereal in it. The day had been difficult, but the evening was delicious. Every calorie had been counted.
This is not the first time I've written about my fucked-up relationship/ongoing journey with food and body image. It isn't the second time, either. What's more, not much has changed for me since I've last written about it. I am still unwilling or unable to change—perhaps because I have not reached my rock bottom with these behaviors: the place where the pain of the behaviors outweighs the comfort.
On Twitter, I very rarely share about my eating disorder. This is because I get a lot of pushback when I do, particularly if I do it in a humorous way. More than tweets about anxiety, depression, addiction, or romantic obsession, it's the eating disorder tweets that get the most negative reaction. I don't want to hurt anyone (or be perceived as hurting anyone), so I usually hold back.
But the truth is, when I tweet or speak humorously about my eating disorder, I'm not promoting eating disorders. I'm sharing my own experience and using humor to find some empowerment in an otherwise painful narrative. Through being truthful, I'm practicing my belief that what is kept in the dark is always more dangerous than what is brought out into the light. If one has an eating disorder, why should she have both an eating disorder and shame around it? Secrecy has never benefitted anyone's recovery.
How well do we have to be in order to speak about something? Can we only speak about it when we are safely on the other side, having been there done that? Is it wrong to speak from where we are when it's an imperfect place? What if having a sense of humor about it helps both ourselves and others to feel less alone?
"You are not a mistake," says Geneen Roth in her book Women Food and God. "You are not a problem to be solved. But you won't discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself."
When I say "I'M FUCKED UP!" in a way that embraces where I am (and where other people are as well), I'm not creating an advertisement for fucked-upness or trying to convert anyone. I'm reporting from the trenches: turning on a light for others who are here too, so that we can see one another.
"When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you," says Roth. "You walk around ashamed of being yourself... You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself—that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control..."
There seems to be an idea in wellness circles that we can fix ourselves and be forever rendered whole, OK, and sane. We forever have the before-and-after shots: I was where you are, but now I am not. I'm a new person. You too can be a new person. But does that mean that until we get there, if we ever get there (assuming "there" really exists) that we should remain silent? What if we never get there? What if we die before we finish our journey to perfect wellness?
And who is that perfectly well person anyway? Is that even real? Show me a perfect person, and I'll show you a paper doll. Show me a perfect person, and I'll show you someone I'd never want to know.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association.
Illustrations by Joel Benjamin