22 Sep Bonus YSS: Chris’ story
I am 5’8” and weigh 135 pounds. By most people’s standards I have an ideal size and shape.
But, I have struggled with my body image ever since I can remember.
In 7th grade I felt awkward in my own skin. I had long lanky arms and legs but had not developed like the other girls in my grade. By 8th grade I wore huge baggy clothes – I think I was trying to hide my body, but I did not think of it that way at the time. I just liked that “fashion.”
At the end of 9th grade, I was accepted into one of the best private boarding schools in the country. My family headed for the beach that summer and I headed into anorexia. For an entire summer, I decided that one scoop of strawberry ice cream was all that I needed a day on top of unlimited diet cokes. I also felt that swimming 50 laps a day in our swimming pool was necessary along with 100 sit ups before I went to bed.
I was obsessed with staying thin. I wanted my stomach to be flat. It was never flat enough – I wanted my bathing suit to stretch across my hip bones, creating an open space underneath. I never seemed to reach that goal – the space was never big enough. I stopped getting my period. When I arrived at boarding school I made friends with a girl who was very vain. One day she told me the rumors going around about us,
“People say I’m completely stuck up and fascinated with myself, and that you’re anorexic.”
I remember thinking,
Well, they are right about you.
But it never dawned on me that the rumors could be right about me.
Somehow I put weight back on so that I returned to a normal size (although I definitely flirted with being too thin on and off) but the obsession with food and my body never left me. I developed strange eating habits and rituals to stay thin and certainly never thought of myself as attractive. I felt that way for the majority of my life.
Can you image?
I spent 20 years of my life unhappy with my body and my appearance. What a waste! I am writing this story because I do not want one single person to spend their life like that. Accepting yourself for who you are is something I wish every person to find at an early age- not at age 35.
My eating disorder and my feelings about my body were NOT about my body. That’s the hardest thing for people to understand about an eating disorder.
It’s not about food.
It’s not about becoming super thin.
Those are the manifestations of the disease-
just like a runny nose and cough are manifestations of the flu-
caused by a virus within your body.
With an eating disorder, the virus inside your body is the feelings and emotions that you have that you are not dealing with.
Look at my story: I was lanky and awkward looking. The popular girls looked a lot more appealing and I wanted to fit in with them. I was very smart – in fact “a nerd” by today’s standards – but I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this. I was shy to begin with.
Then I was accepted into a very exclusive private school and was leaving everything that I knew. I was scared but nobody recognized that I was scared. Everyone just talked about how great it was that I was going to such a fine school miles away from my home.
My parents didn’t check in with my feelings on this. In fact, I spent a whole summer not eating, and my parents never even noticed that. The details of my family situation are complex, but I think you can get a good idea of what it may have been like when both your parents don’t recognize that you’ve stopped eating.
I had a tornado of emotions going on inside me. Everything felt out of my control, but I could control my eating. And so that is what I did. Instead of dealing with my emotions, I stuffed them away and focused- became obsessed with- my weight. When you are obsessed you think only of that one thing. In my case that meant I thought only about my weight and obtaining the “perfect” body. There was not room to think about anything else… a perfect way not to “deal.”
Again, an eating disorder is not really about food or weight although it seems that way to an outsider. People suffer from an eating disorder because something is eating away at them. When you have an eating disorder you certainly don’t think you have a problem (I knew my friend at school was vain, but I did not believe I was anorexic), which is why treating an eating disorder is so difficult. Giving up control and dealing with the underlying problem is frankly too overwhelming.
Thankfully for me, my story has a happy ending. Although I spent years of my life insecure about an appearance that was really quite attractive, I now feel good about myself- but that has come through many years of hard work and battling “ED.” ED is what writer Jenni Schaefer called her Eating Disorder. She describes her eating disorder as an abusive boyfriend called ED that always tried to work his way back into her life. For anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder, I highly recommend reading her book “Life without Ed.” For those of you who are still in middle school, I suggest reading “Body Talk” by Ann and Julie Douglas.
For everyone, I hope that you find peace and happiness with the appearance you have. It is a wonderful feeling that everyone has the right to. In one CATCH session, a 15 year girl said to me, “My body? Why would I not feel good about it? Or, respect it? Why would I abuse it in any way? It houses my soul.”
Your soul is beautiful and so is its house.
Honor and take care of both of them.