Have you ever looked at another person and thought “wow, I wish I looked like them” or “jeez, I’m glad I don’t look like that.” Well, today I’m here to tell you that I have. Today’s topic is something that I’m usually not very open about and have actually kept hidden and buried until the past couple of years. I’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
I’m sure you’ve all heard how today’s society has impossible standards for beauty in women. In the past couple of years there have been noticeable efforts from different groups to break these false ideas of beauty. However, we all know them when we see them. I mean, have you ever heard what Barbie would look like if she was a human? The answer is pretty scary, she would look like a terrifying plastic surgery monstrosity. Anyway, you already know this. So, I won’t bore you with the long-winded explanations or examples. Instead I’m going to talk about something a little different and a little more personal. I’m going to talk about the way we handle eating disorders here in American society.
I was always considered “skinny” as a child. I wasn’t too short, but I was always thought of as small because of my waist. In fact, one nickname that I really hated was “spaghetti legs.” I mean, come on! Who wants to be called that? So, then I entered junior high and high school. Around that age the pressure was on and I thought that I had to look like a supermodel. Actually, I was so obsessed with the image of supermodels that I was convinced it was my calling to become one. My grandma even paid for me to attend a modeling school in the 9th grade. (Click here to read more about her and the influence she had on my life.) I was a runway wannabe and went to every casting call and agency that I could. I had professional headshots taken. What 14 year old does that? So, after a couple of years of modeling obsession I started to become more aware of my body. Have you ever heard of “body image distortion?” Well, essentially it means that how you see your body is different than what it actually looks like. I started to fall down a dark hole of that distortion. A very dark hole.
Cut to the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I was in a dental chair with my dad and grandma, we were waiting for the dentist to come in and check my wisdom teeth out. My dad made a comment on how skinny I looked (I thought that I looked great) and my grandma replied “I know! She only weighs 95 pounds!” After that exclamation, my dad was furious. I’m not going to get too into my family life or that background. That’s for a future time and place, but let’s just say that my weight changed everything and had the potential to turn my life upside-down. So, even though I had my wisdom teeth removed and couldn’t eat solid food, I still had to consume at least 2500 calories a day, according to the Children’s Hospital dietitian that they dragged me to.
This was not a short experience. I went to that dietitian to be weighed, criticized and told what to eat once a week for the next several months. They told me that I didn’t have a choice until I was out of the “danger zone.” Now, every person has a weight “danger zone.” It’s basically when your weight is so low that not only is it unhealthy, you’re at risk of strokes and other things that can happen when your blood pressure is too low. Also, for women you can lose your period, which leads to a whole myriad of problems. I was in the danger zone by a large-ish number. After months of over-eating, stress and lack of exercise, I was finally out of the danger zone. Then, I was allowed more time between my hospital visits. However, I wasn’t fully released from that routine until about 6 months before I graduated high school. I was watched, observed and analyzed for a year and a half.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I should really break this into a couple of posts and I just might. But, the reason is that not only do we create a fake ideal for the perfect female body, we also criticize and shame those that go to great lengths to achieve it. I’m not saying I did anything right. In fact, I know now how wrong I was to subject myself and my family to everything that happened from my eating disorder. However, what I’m saying is that when someone needs help, don’t create more pain. I was treated with anger, shame, and a lot of rage. It was a horrible time and not only was it normal for me to be shamed on a regular basis by those around me, they made me feel stupid. I was told that “it was stupid” that I had an eating disorder. People thought that I chose for it to happen and that it was just a dumb choice that I could easily change. That’s not what happened. There are a lot of things that lead to eating disorders and I’ve since talked to my therapist about it. (Yes, I have a therapist and I think everyone should.) When I mentioned that was part of my medical history, he told me that he wasn’t surprised. There are a lot of triggers that cause eating disorders. None of them are things that a teenage girl can control. So, what this post is about and the moral of my story is this: If someone you know or love has an eating disorder, please don’t yell at them or shame them. Treat them with love and kindness. Show them support during this time. Odds are that the effects of the disorder are clouding their thoughts and making it hard for them to change or become healthy. It isn’t their fault. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “a cured eating disorder.” From my experience, I know that it’s always in the back of your mind. It’s buried pretty deep and I try to keep it there. I like my life and don’t want to go down that path again. In truth though, we don’t always have a choice. The next time someone asks you “does this make me look fat,” their question may be deeper than just that.
Have you ever been shamed for your body type?
This is my second post in the series, The Things We Hide. Check out the first one here.