WARNING: Potential anorexia triggers.
I am 22. From age 8 I can remember thinking “I am fat.” I wasn’t. But because I could see people who were skinnier than me, and because diet culture exploded into the popular mainstream around that time, I inadvertently became conditioned to thinking that if I could see someone smaller than me, I must be ‘big’. The first time I threw out my lunch I was 10. I had read about an Olsen twin who lost weight because of anorexia. I didn’t know what this was, so I looked it up. Although the concept wasn’t fully graspable to my prepubescent brain, I understood enough to know that if I didn’t eat maybe I wouldn’t be what I deemed ‘fat’ (a dangerous word that I will come back to later). Little did I know that one Google search would lead me down a path that was to consume over a decade of my life.
In secondary school I started to throw away food and skip meals. I hated everything I could see about my body, with everything I had and although I wasn’t totally restricting at this point I had already developed disordered eating habits that would eventually become a very destructive eating disorder. I would tell myself if I didn’t eat all day I would be able to lose weight. This would last until evening time when I would be so hungry that I would snack on anything available. Unsurprisingly I didn’t lose weight. Over the course of a year or so when I was about 13, through eating less junk food and exercising, I lost one stone but was able to still mainly focus on school, friends and the things that a teenage girl should be worrying about. Still, every day in my mind laid thoughts of “The other girls are skinnier and better than me.” “If I was smaller I would be beautiful.” By 17 I was convinced I was enormous. I don’t know what happened, but one day I snapped. I came home from school and collected every ‘thinspo’ image I had ever poured over in one word document detailing my plan to achieve what I saw as the ‘perfect’ body. The next four months saw me lose almost 3 stone in weight through severe restricting and compulsively exercising. I threw away food, I lied to friends and family, I agonised over every trip to a restaurant where I might not get away with skipping out on food.
Of course, that kind of lifestyle is not maintainable. As A-level exams approached, my brain screamed at me for food so that it would have energy to do what it needed to do to learn and remember the information I needed to secure a university education. I cracked, unwillingly, and gained the weight back over the next year. I hated myself. Every piece of me seemed more disgusting than before because I knew how ‘beautiful’ I could be. My three years at uni were spent trying every week to eat as little as possible and get back to my ‘Goal Weight’. My body resisted. This time around it knew my tricks, so no matter what I did I could not drop the weight as quickly. As much as I wanted that body back, another part of my brain, a part I only wish had developed sooner, started to realise that even at what I deemed my ‘big’ weight, I was by no means ‘fat’. I had fat which, looking back is what annoyed me, but there were any amount of stunning girls around me who were of all different shapes and sizes. Over the next few years, I definitely still had disordered eating even if it was no longer technically an eating disorder. I had physically gained the weight back, but my mental state was not at all recovered. The sensible part of my brain was still vastly underdeveloped. I skipped meals most days, in restaurants I never ordered what I wanted, but what I thought I should have, that is to say whatever the healthiest seeming or lowest calorie option was. I loathed myself as much as ever, somehow berating myself for daring to think that I could maybe be acceptable, that I could turn my back on restricting. I was too worthless, too fat, too imperfect and I needed this lifestyle to be flawless. My brain was poisoning my body and I didn’t even really know it.
Today I am finally on a journey to body positivity. In my mind somewhere there has always been a part of me questioning why weight is connected to my sense of self-worth. This girl inside me has been struggling to get out for a few years now. I guess it’s why I never successfully managed to get back into the dangerously restrictive mind set of my high school years. This part of me was telling me it was ok, the world wouldn’t end if I ate a cookie. The clothes I was wearing would not suddenly start to rip at the seams if I had one McFlurry. That if I sat in on a rainy day instead of going jogging that I would not suddenly gain weight. Although, for a long time I felt guilty about letting her speak and so I never fully allowed myself to be free to enjoy food, I never completely stopped restricting or worrying and I never learnt about ways to manage my thoughts or my eating habits in a way that was healthy. Eating an apple is good for you sure, but not if it’s the only thing you have all day.
A few weeks ago, although really the build up to it was much, much longer than that, I realised that I NEED TO STOP CARING and worrying. I am just a normal person, no one is looking at me and trying to figure out what size I am or how much I have eaten today. No one is looking at me period. I do not need to care what other people think and more so than that I need to not care what I think. Because it is not important. As long as I am healthy and content why should it matter? I am not in a position where what I look like is under scrutiny, I am not a celebrity or a bodybuilder, there is no spotlight on me and there likely never will be, so why am I impacting my life in this way? Of course, that old residual hate, that tendency to nit-pick myself down to nothing and wage myself against every woman that walks towards me in a never ending, losing battle of comparison is still there. I am not perfect, but my goal is to just be more positive and stop missing out on life. I don’t want to feel guilty for the simple act of eating food anymore. I don’t want to miss out on a full life to try to weigh less. I have more bad days than good if I am honest. But for the first time ever I am trying to mentally win this battle against body image. So if you feel like you are in a similar place or are just sick of mass media perpetuating a body/beauty ideal I hope that you will come on this journey with me.