This post comes with a TRIGGER WARNING!
This is one of the most frustrating and demeaning viewpoints on eating disorders that I have come across.
Yes, anorexia is characterized by extremely restricted eating and compulsive exercising. Yes, the combination of these two things will certainly cause weight loss, often in an extreme and rapid fashion. Yes, a lot of anorexics suffer from body dysmorphia, leading to a warped perception of themselves as overweight.
But anorexia is not about aesthetics.
Society has drummed this ridiculous idea that “skinny is better” into our heads. We refer to the situation many people in our culture face as “the obesity epidemic”. Wherever you look, you see reduced fat options, “healthy” recipes, and programs and products all promising to make you leaner, stronger, and more attractive.
Let me tell you something. When I was in the hospital, I looked more like a skeleton than a person with actual flesh and muscle on my bones. I had wasted away to a dangerously low weight, and despite the fact that all of my family and friends could see just how ill I was, I could not see the same thing no matter how many times or how long I looked at myself in the mirror.
This is a picture of me from one of my stays in the hospital. My cheeks are sunken, my smile looks like it could break my fragile face in half, and my eyes look dim and lifeless. This is not attractive. This is not sexy. This is not pretty. This is not beautiful. This is sick.
Anorexia has been so glamorized by the media. Any form of restrictive eating with the goal of altering one’s appearance is extremely dangerous and not at all healthy. Though originally my journey began as a desire to become stronger and leaner, it soon gave way to a destructive desire to become smaller and smaller until I all but disappeared.
This is a picture I asked one of the wonderful hospital staff to take of me. My arms look like thin twigs that you could snap into pieces with little to no effort. There’s absolutely no substance to my face.
This is not something to aspire to. This is not something to idealize. This is something to eradicate.
I do not look healthy. I do not look anything remotely positive. I look disturbingly, frighteningly, hauntingly gaunt.
Anorexia is not an aesthetic.
The girl in these photos is dying inside. She is consumed with the idea that she is disgusting and worthless. Food turns to ash in her mouth; her stomach turns with actual physical pain at the idea of consuming anything.
Anorexia is frequently comorbid with other mental disorders for a reason. My depression and my anxiety were, pun not intended, eating me alive. I spent most of my days either holed up alone in my dorm room or sweating it out for hours on end in the gym. I didn’t socialize. I skipped classes. I avoided the dining halls or any other locations where I might run into people I knew. Exercising and restricting became deadly extensions of my obsessive compulsive disorder. Before I knew it, I found myself eating the same bare minimum each and every day. The thought of consuming more than that brought me to tears, as did the idea of going a day without exercising.
Do you know what the saddest part is? Despite how miserable I was, sometimes I still want to be that girl again. I long for the illusion of control and the safe bubble in which I lived. I consider throwing away all of the freedoms and experiences I now have as a result of recovering to go back to the sick shadow of myself that pretended to be me for so long.
I look at these pictures and I see how unattractive that girl looks. I see how unhappy she is; how miserable she feels.
Then I look at this girl. I see her smile and it makes me feel happy. I see the way there is a sparkle in her eyes and feel reassured.
Why would I ever want to be anything other than this girl again? Why would I want to throw away everything that I’ve gained besides weight? Why would I want to endanger my hopes of ever returning to school or traveling the world? Why would I want to relegate myself to a hospital room? Why would I want to look like a walking skeleton again?
Because anorexia is not an aesthetic. It is a very real, very devastating, very deadly disease. It requires me to actively fight against it each and every minute of every single day. I’ve had lapses and made mistakes. This is only natural.
But we need to stop the disgusting mindset that anorexia is a disorder about appearances. It goes far, far deeper than this. It has its roots in lacking self-confidence, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, low self-esteem: you name it. It is born out of an intense dissatisfaction with the person that currently exists and an all-consuming desire to change; to escape the shackles that your mind has put you in. It breeds fear and sadness, which only furthers the illusion of escaping from this unhappiness by using behaviors. Giving into desires to restrict or overexercise brings a disturbing sense of happiness and accomplishment. It’s a sort of high. It’s addicting.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t try my hardest to fight against this addiction each and every day. Because my anorexia will not beat me.