*Warning: This post may be triggering to those with or recovering from eating disorders*
This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I’ve been writing regularly for about three years now, and I have written about deeply personal aspects of my live before, but I have never written about my experiences with an eating disorder. I’m not sure why that is.
Partly, I think this is because throughout my teen years when I was suffering, I was very convinced that there was nothing wrong with me psychologically. I told myself I’d made an objective and logical decision to be thin, and that I wasn’t like those girls who actually had a mental illness. Starvation, making myself vomit and occasional laxative abuse were tried and tested methods of achieving thinness and it had been my choice to partake in them – I didn’t think it was a compulsion.
Reading through magazines you would be forgiven for thinking the primary aim of any woman or girl should be thinness, and I didn’t think what I was doing was abnormal. To be honest, I’m still not sure it was. I believe far more people than we realise are engaging in these destructive behaviours, and that as a society, we normalise them. The 5-2 diet, for example was wildly popular last year, but it advocates starving yourself for nearly a third of the time. Most of the people we see in the media are very thin, and the National Eating Disorders Association put the average BMI of professional models at 16.3.* I don’t agree that eating disorders are the fault of thin models themselves – but I do believe my disordered eating was informed by the almost exclusivity of very thin bodies in what is presented as attractive.
Partly, I think it’s not something I’ve spoken about because I never saw a doctor, and never had a diagnosis. I didn’t think I was thin enough to need help. My lowest weight was around 110lbs – underweight for my height, but not especially skeletal, and no thinner than your average model. I think I felt vaguely embarrassed that I couldn’t even do *this* properly, and if I talked about it, noone would take it seriously. The first time I fainted, I wasn’t scared. I was thrilled, because it proved I was actually starving.
There were many occasions where I would refuse to go out because I was too fat to be seen in public, or where I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic because I’d dreamt I’d overeaten. I can pinpoint my lowest point to a single day, at the age of 16, where I burst a collection of blood vessels around my eyes after I made myself vomit for the fourth time that day.
Reading through the diary I kept as a teenager, there is almost nothing except calorie counts and the number on the scale that day. I’m devastated that is the overarching image of my adolescence I’ve left myself with. While I denied to myself that I had a real problem, for years, it was the biggest and most important thing in my life.
So why do I still feel a certain disconnect with the term ‘eating disorder’? I think it is also because I didn’t really have a long, difficult ‘recovery’ in the sense that I’ve read about from others; after a while (well, several years), it just sort of went away. When I went to university, I was too scared to make myself vomit in the communal toilets in case someone heard, so it became something I would only do during the holidays, and then at some point, not at all. Nowadays I am fairly happy and healthy. I still suffer from negative body image sometimes, but I have no desire to harm my body. Going through such self-hatred has shaped my life, but discovering feminism liberated me to see my body beyond its size.
* I should note that this is an old study, published in 2002 and may not be the same as the average BMI of models today – I couldn’t find a more up to date study.