In about a week and a half I will get some photos taken to commemorate my new blonde hair. When I think about how I will look in these photos, I sometimes start to feel icky about the weight I’ve gained during the pandemic and over the past few years in general. Some of the disordered eating thoughts from my early adolescence emerge all over again. How nice would it feel to have a completely flat stomach like before? Remember that time when your face looked so much thinner and more angular? If you start cutting back on some meals, you could have your super skinny body from 2009, it wasn’t even that long ago.
These thoughts and emotions feel odd to experience because on an intellectual level, I recognize that a desire for thinness is fatphobic bullshit. I firmly believe that patriarchy teaches those of us who are more femme to pursue thinness to appeal to the male gaze, which diverts our attention from destroying the patriarchy in the first place. I don’t care about whether men find me attractive; on a somewhat inverted level, I don’t even find myself attracted to (or at least only to) super skinny guys. For me, the desire for thinness may stem from my early adolescence, the time in my life when I used disordered eating to cope with an abusive and unstable home life, where my weight felt like one of the only things within my control. Those several years of restriction may intertwine with society’s general fatphobia to bring back some of my disordered eating cognitions.
I have felt some guilt about experiencing these thoughts and emotions. It’s been over a decade since the worst of my eating disorder, I’m a literal therapist now, and I’ve published peer-reviewed articles on disordered eating, so shouldn’t I be over this? However, after talking with my therapist about this and engaging in thorough self-reflection, I’m reminding myself that healing takes time. It makes sense that after having engaged in restrictive behaviors for so many years that the urge would emerge. The difference is that now I feel more empowered to practice self and community-care to prevent anorexia from overtaking my life once again.
When I reflect on the disordered eating years of my life and even the disordered eating cognitions I have experienced more recently, I feel most struck by how it all comes across as such a big waste of time. It sucks that I spent so much of my mental space obsessing about the size of my stomach, the angles of my face, and how I looked in pictures. Now, though, I have much more important and fulfilling things to think about: how to integrate different therapeutic techniques like CBT and DBT with indigenous and non-western healing methods, whether it’s possible to conduct research that helps dismantle cishet white supremacist patriarchy when academia itself was largely built on anti-Black racism and the erasure of Indigenous folks, and how to continue thriving in relationship with my two closest friends who are funny and compassionate and wise. Focusing on altering the size of my stomach would mean less time to think about these more meaningful questions, time that now I refuse to give up.
I’m not sure if I still would’ve developed an eating disorder if I had been introduced to more radical and strident social justice ideology and actions earlier in my life. Maybe the trauma of my home life would’ve led me to anorexia anyway, maybe not. Regardless, now that I’m more in control of my surroundings and self-aware and empowered, there’s no going back. I’m only moving forward, to savoring delicious meals and foods, basking in the company of myself and good friends, and doing my best to help others help themselves out of disordered eating’s heinous clutches as well.
For those who have struggled with disordered eating or other mental illnesses, how have you practiced self-compassion when you experience a relapse in any form? How do you cultivate appreciation for your body amidst a fatphobic society? General reactions to this post? Ugh I’m visiting one of my best friends for a week starting two Thursdays from now then I’m visiting another one of my best friends for my birthday week and we’re going to eat so much good food! Until next post.