Whale, fatass, love handles, change, be better, be thinner, eat less, so proud, hot, skinny, too thin, take your vitamins, beautiful, doll, stay here, eat less, weigh less, less, less, be less, feel less, do less, hopeless, what was this all for?
It’s hard to tell when anorexia has taken control when it’s considered normal for women and girls to obsess over their weight. As a young child, I was always bigger than my older sister. I was always on the higher end of the BMI scale; my doctor once told me that if me and 99 of my classmates lined up by weight, I would be 99th in line. He suggested I put a little less maple syrup on my pancakes. My family and our friends would comment on my love handles, and when I got a growth spurt they applauded how it made me look skinnier.
I don’t believe this is a particularly unusual childhood. It certainly didn’t cause my eating disorder. I forgive my doctor for trying to look out for my health and the others for the innocently made comments. I see them as a symptom of the state of our society. It was deemed important for my caretakers and loved ones to keep an eye on my weight, yet there was no one stressing the importance of self-love and confidence, which I now see as weapons against insecurity, tools we should all be equipped with and well-trained in.
When I was thinner, the same people who had once mocked my chubbiness praised my physique. They wanted to know how I did it. I got compliments from people who once didn’t associate with me at all. I was told by beautiful people that I made them feel bad about themselves because of how good I looked. I was told my oh so laudable weight loss transformation had served as thinspiration for one of those beautiful people to start purging.
It’s hard to fight triggers because they’re often paradoxical. Those who care have this tendency to tell anorexic people, “You’re so skinny!” thinking it will convince them they don’t need to lose any more weight, but to the anorexic mind this is fuel. It praises the weight loss and encourages it to continue.
That being said, being told that your existence makes people feel bad about themselves or god forbid inspired them to hurt themselves, too, is both discouraging and triggering. It’s a sobering reminder of how little control you really have over what you’re doing, yet it feeds into the insecurity by telling you you’re a bad person.
What I needed was to feel like it was safe for me to gain weight. I needed to understand that I could be loved despite how I looked. I needed to be comforted that I could change and no one would talk about it. But that didn’t happen:
when someone would mention someone else’s weight gain
when someone would comment on how they need to lose weight
when someone would announce how little they’ve eaten today
when someone would be sure to inform their waiter they don’t usually eat this much
when someone would feel the need to tell everyone how full they are
when someone would talk about how they have to start getting ready for summer
when someone would make fun of people for wearing clothes they don’t have the body to wear
when the media shits on celebrities for their weight gain
when someone says fat like it’s a bad thing
when I started to gain weight and people said nothing, as if I didn’t know they noticed and cared, as if I would just believe that now, suddenly, this obsession with weight and body image would not extend to mine, as if I couldn’t feel the compliments of my past thin body fading.
* * *
I thought I needed to feel like it was safe for me to gain weight, but I didn’t, since I didn’t feel safe but I gained weight anyway. But I would have liked it if I had felt safe. It would have helped. But that’s a big ask, especially because the anorexia will notice every food, exercise, weight, shape, and size related comment you make. Anorexia sees the way you eat. Anorexia sees your bathroom scale and knows you care about that number.
It’s not that I am deluded into thinking that there are no good reasons for people to lose weight, and it’s not that I believe people should be banned from celebrating their healthy success. But this fixation on thinness, on looking better rather than feeling better or getting healthier, is more fertilizer for insecurity. And while insecurity does not equal eating disorder, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem worth mending.
I have managed to heal. I am not perfect, I have my moments, but I have gotten so far as to recognize that the answer always starts with confidence. I wish we could all believe this, so here’s my message:
You might be fat and ugly, you might be fat and beautiful, you might be average, you might be thin, you might be #bodygoals with an ugly face, you might have acne, you might have grays, you might have too thick of thighs for your liking and maybe they chafe, you might have food in your teeth, you might have said the wrong thing, you might have made a mistake, you might have very good reasons to change BUT you have a fundamental right and a responsibility to love yourself anyway, to forgive you your imperfections, to accept the you you are right now. It’s not an excuse to not start exercising if your goal is to get healthier. It’s not an excuse to never learn and correct yourself. It’s just reframing your reasons for wanting to change. Instead of being motivated by disliking who you are and hoping that this or that will fix it, it’s discovering that you love yourself so much that you want to be the best version of yourself, by your own standards which you can identify then respect.