(TW Eating Disorders)
I was 15 when I first felt that there was something ‘wrong’ with my body. I was visiting my dad in Cork and he made fat jokes. Pretty much constantly. He then apparently had a go at my mum about my weight. I was 5’8 and a size 12 – perfectly healthy and a fairly average weight. But this was a man who oinked at women in car parks when he didn’t feel their bodies were up to his standards. And apparently, mine wasn’t either.
I had never really felt negatively about the way my body looked before then, and all of a sudden there was this overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. It didn’t matter how smart I was, or how creative I was – my body was ‘wrong’, and therefore I was ‘wrong’ too.
Today, I’m 30lbs heavier than I was a year ago. And I felt the same way about my body then as I do now. And that’s kinda terrifying because it shows the extent to which my mind is/was warped by my overwhelming feelings of negativity. Having never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and having needed gotten to the point where I needed (as in, desperately needed) medical attention, I’ve found it really difficult to talk about my issues with food and my body. I feel like I’m not ‘allowed’ talk about my experiences, because I’ve never been ‘sick enough’. But a wonderful friend once told me that you don’t wait until you’re literally at death’s door to go to the doctor, to think you’re ‘sick enough’ with a physical illness, and so it should be the same with mental illness.
While I’ve had periods where I haven’t felt overwhelmingly negatively about my body, where I haven’t forbidden myself certain food, or food at all (ranging from weeks to months to maybe even about a year), it’s definitely a coping mechanism for when things get tough. When I started college, when a long term relationship started to get shitty and abusive, whenever I was dealing with things that were out of my control, I looked to restricting and over-scrutinising my body as something that I could, at least, control. If I could ‘fix’ my body, which was so clearly ‘wrong’ because it didn’t look like the bodies of people we constantly hear are the most beautiful and attractive etc., then maybe I could fix all the other shit in my life.
Rationally, of course, I knew all this was ridiculous. I knew that losing weight wouldn’t make me happier, make me more liked by people around me, give me an easier life. I knew that I was seriously harming myself and that I wasn’t able to function properly on fuck all food. I’ve been involved with Bodywhys for 4 years now, I’ve helped develop their youth program. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t healthy or good or ok. But I did it anyway.
It’s almost harder dealing with this kind of thing when you know about it. It becomes this horrible struggle and this vicious cycle where you can never win. You try and get better and eat, and you feel like a failure with no will power for not managing to stick it out. You give in to your demons and you’re an idiot who should know better. You’re a shit feminist. You’re body positive, but not when it comes to yourself.
I spent a lot of time basing how I should feel about my body on what other people told me, on what other people felt about it. And that really doesn’t work. While it’s great for a partner to think you’re beautiful or sexy or whatever, if they go away, it can be really difficult to feel good about your body on your own terms. I’ve spent the last 8 or 9 months trying to do that – trying to ignore external influences and like my body because I want to, not because someone was telling me I should. I gained a lot of the weight that I’ve put on during this period, and I also really struggled with that. I relapsed into bad habits and attempted more extreme way of dealing with my body image issues and unhealthy relationship with food. And then, I think I just got exhausted of feeling so miserable all the time, of having a constant battle with myself when I wanted a bowl of cereal. And so I’m making a conscious effort to treat myself with considerably more kindness and understanding. And it’s going ok. I’ve found a real love of selfies and (although they do manage to attract some creepers) bra selfies have been phenomenal in getting my confidence up. For the first time in a really long time, I feel confident enough to be like ‘yeah, here’s what my body looks like’. And that feeling is really great.
My body is far from perfect – by society’s standards or my own. But I’m trying to love it, or at least not hate it, the way it is. I gave up trying to fit into my old jeans and bought new ones a size up. I’ve embraced the fact that I have pretty decent boobs now that I’ve put on weight. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me, a fairly big part, which would love to be back at my old weight. But then I think about how miserable I was, how hungry I was, and it doesn’t really seem worth it.
I’m not ‘better’, not fully. ‘Better’ for me means being able to live without worrying about calories and putting on weight and what weight I am. It means being able to enjoy food and moving my body without an ulterior, weight loss motive. And I’m not there yet. But I believe that it is possible, and hopefully one day I will get there.