on Body Image--and why I write about it.

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It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 24-March 2). Because of that, there's some great literature on the internet this week, including this piece by Kate Fridkis which I read on Huff Post Women this morning and inspired me to write what follows...

 

I write about body image because "How can I know what I think until I see what I say."*

I write about body image because I hardly ever feel beautiful, but know that I am.
I write about body image because beauty is an alienating thing--a terribly lonely thing--belonging not to the the person in possession of it, but to all those with the eyes to behold it.
I write about body image because at the age of nineteen, heartbroken and homesick and absolutely out-of-my-depth, I learned what a calorie was.
And I followed a false god home.
I write about body image because it took five minutes in front of a mirror to reshape how I perceived my own body. Not thin, fat.  Fat, now.
I write about body image because the body is flesh and bones and tangible in a way that everything else is not.
I write about body image because it's easier to think a man doesn't like me because-of-what-I-look-like than to hang in the gray space of the-infinite-uknonwn. But why, why doesn't he like me?
And I'm not good at the gray space.

I write about body image because body-image sometimes seems like a life-raft worth clinging to in the choppy waters of this impossible sea we call life.It isn't.

I write about body image because for many, many years when I would feel too much, I would eat too much, just to sleep, a little. And then, to feel nothing, if only for a moment.
I write about body image because some days it is absolutely unbearable to live in my skin. And I think I cannot endure this sensation a moment longer. And I know it has nothing do with my physical body...yet it feels like it does.

I write about body image because for a long time it was easier to hate my thighs and my hips than admit I really did not like myself. I write about body image because it is the prism through which we, as women, see and talk about the world.

We talk about wanting to look this way or that way, when (I'm convinced), what we really want is love and acceptance and life-alteringly-good-things. (And appearance, for the most part, does not alter one's life--not in the big ways we always imagine it might. This, I know from experience).I write about body image because it is the code by which we discuss things so large they scare us to say aloud.

I say I'm fat when what I really mean is I'm sad. And I berate the size of my thighs because that is easier than admitting I am untethered and adrift and totally lost at this point in my life--that notion is too big and too true and will surely make others uncomfortable, so I make it small...so small that it is about the size of my waist and the color of my hair and the awkward arrangement of moles on the left side of my face.

I write about body image because before I can tell you just-why-it-is-I-really-don't-care-for-a-particular-woman (and sometimes, I really don't) I can say no less than five judgmental and evaluative things about what-she-looks-like. (Think about it, I bet you can do this too).I find this both appalling and fascinating.

I write about body image because it shouldn't be a thing, but it is a thing, and more than that.. it points to THE-THINGS!(all the big and significant things that life is really and actually about and therefore difficult to break down into small, manageable pieces).

I write about body image because my eating disorder wasn't about what I looked like, even if for years I thought that it was. And so body image isn't really about what we look like, even if we continue to cling to the notion that it is.

I write about body image because I'm so much better now and so much happier and I still have a nearly impossible time having my photo taken...and what the hell, you know?

 
 
 
 
*E.M. Forster said this. And he's the coolest. 
 
 

Infinities

Screen Shot 2013-04-01 at 2.08.03 PM "I am not a mathematician, but I know this: there are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities."

The Fault in Our Stars | John Green I don't know how to write about the end of it. Now that it's ended, I don't know how to write about the end of it other than to say that it's ended.

It was a quiet thing.  A silently-slipping-out-sort-of-thing.

I can't tell you how it happened, only that it did.

And only that I've just now realized it did. Only now, some weeks or months or some unknown amount of time after.

I wrote recently that the opposite of love is not hate. It is simply the absence of it. The opposite of an eating disorder is not health. It is simply the absence of it.

It will last forever. It will be a forever-sort-of-battle. How many times people said that to me. Smart people, wise people, people with degrees in how-to-fight-the-thing.

How many people say that still, day after day. I think often on why people say it. And why we accept it.

It was always clear to me that I would not accept those words. I would not accept that notion. And if it was true than I would go in search of a different truth. And if that different truth was not anywhere to be found then I would write my own.

An infinity. An unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity. There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. And even more between 0 and 2. And how can that be? How can one infinity be greater than another?

There was a timeline of events:

At nineteen I stood in front of a mirror and convinced myself I was fat. Five minutes it took me to rewire a small bit of the brain that perceived weight and shape. Five minutes. An infinity.

At twenty I starved myself for two months. That was it, just two small and insignificant months. An infinity. 

And for the next three years I binged. And my body ballooned. And every bit of who I was as a person shrank in direct proportion. Three years in which an eating disorder hijacked my every thought and my every action and I felt as though I was drowning at all times and everywhere, above ground and in plain site. And it was an infinity somehow greater than those before. 

And then slowly breath and breadth restored some sort of life. And inch by inch ground was gained. And then some. And things got better. And I got better. But there was always more to go. There was always an infinity stretching before me. And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.  Five years trudging towards recovery. An infinity.  I remember having a conversation with one of my dearest friends about a year and a half ago. I was not feeling well--I was blue and low and bruised and I told her so and she said to me, Meg, we all have those moments. We all live through stretches in which we think we're not doing so well--in which we're not in a tremendously good place. And I remember listening to her as she was saying this and feeling a distance much greater than the small, marble table between us. I remember being aware that we were using similar words to describe two totally different experiences. That's not what this is, I wanted to say. We're not talking about the same thing. But instead I sipped my coffee and smiled and nodded, because, much as we don't always want them to be, some battles are private.

But just the other day I was walking east on 49th street and I though, I'm not doing so well. I'm having a rough time. And quick on the heels of that thought came another, This must be the not-so-good that everyone always told me about. I'm right now, at this very moment, going through a totally normal rough patch. And heaven was that thought--heaven was that notion of normal. My not good now is different. Shallower, more bearable, not so overwhelming. A little bit lighter, if you will. There are still plenty of tears and it feels like its own infinity, but it only feels that way, it never is.

I knew that one of the last steps on the timeline would be to divorce guilt-about-what-I'd-just-eaten from eating-more. I didn't know how to do it other than to create awareness around that intention and let it live in me, but not force it--to create enough space for healthier thoughts to grow.

I think about the notion of divorce a lot. About why people get divorced. Of all of the unknown forces at work. Of how impossible and traumatic it must be. And how it is not for someone like me to comment on it, ever. And yet, I think of myself at twenty-one and twenty-two and how at such a young age I'd already been doing battle with myself for so long. And I imagine that had I been in a marriage--if I was married to myself, I mean--then everyone around me would have said, with great love, maybe it's time that you think about divorce. Maybe it's time you leave this person. Because you are not good for each other. And it is not as though you haven't tried. For years you've tried. 

And the thing is, they would've been right. Divorce would have been the best option. But it wasn't an option--and that lack-of-an-option proved to be the blessing of my life. Because I had to stick it out. Because I learned about love by loving myself. And I'm so much richer and so much better and so much kinder for that period in which the best option was not an option and the infinity before me felt impossible.

This is where words fail. In explaining the end and explaining why I'm thankful and explaining why I wouldn't change the thing. This is where I get overwhelmed by just how much there is to say--and how many of the the things I want to say are consistently failed by the limits of language.

So I will say this, I will try with these words:

I remember being a little girl and going to school with another little girl. And I remember the moment that someone else said to me, she's fat. And I said, she is not. She is not fat. How can you say that she is fat? Truth it, I don't know if she was fat or not. I can't tell you anything about the shape of her body other than that she was tall.

As a little girl I didn't look at others as fat or not. My eyes didn't register that as a thing to take note of.

Sitting in Tom's office, years ago, I said, I want to go back to that place. I want to not know if someone is fat or not because I simply haven't noticed. Because it's not part of my visual vocabulary. But I don't think it's possible. Because once you see something, how do you un-see it?  And he said, you can, you can return to that place. 

And here I am, returned. To that place. To myself. I am well and whole. In this way, at least, I am well and whole. And this is a whole new infinity. This is the infinity that will dwarf all those that came before.

Now if I lie in bed next to a sweet boy I'm so busy thinking about his long eyelashes that I never once think about my body--whether it is thin or not--whether he thinks it is thin or not. Because it is my body. And it is healthy. And it is remarkably free of the notion of fat or not. It just is.

And this will be the infinity that will dwarf all those that came before.

i own jeans now. (in more than one color, even).

i've been thinking about how i wrote this post nearly three years ago. four years without owning a pair of jeans. which was really five. or six.

and then after that, came this.

jeans and pants: the eating disorder's worst fear and largest enemy.

so here's what i want to say:

i have one pair of boot-cut-jeans that i've owned since my second year of college (they've now reached vintage-esque status). i occasionally pull them out because they fit now and they really do look damn fine with cowboy boots.

i have a plum pair of skinny-jeans (cotton pants) from ny&co that always makes me feel more petite than i actually am (i like to wear them on dates). i have the same jeans (pants) in bright blue and while they aren't as forgiving, i've never wore anything more then i wore them last spring.

when i visited home last August i got two pairs of classic jeans. one was a twelve dollar pair from the banana repulic outlet store and they may very well be my favorite pair of pants (jeans) ever.

i own black corduroy pants. and gray ones too. i love them. (black corduroy pants can be worn with anything and dressed up or down--i can recommend nothing more).

i even have like three black stretchy exercise pants that cling to the curve of my but. and somedays i love them. and somedays i don't. but i have them. and i wear them. (in public, even).

i don't say all this to brag. to parade out a laundry list of pants so you can see just how many i have. (in my defense, i 1. never throw anything away and 2. am making up for a lot of lost time {four or five or six years}).

it's to say this: it gets better. life continues on and it gets better--and sometimes you have to fight for it to get better and sometimes you just have to wait for it to, and it's not always easy to know the difference, but there is one.

i went about six years without wearing pants. so deeply did i loathe my thighs and wide hips and large bottom.

and now i hardly wear anything else.

and the move from no-pants to pants was brought to you by relatively normal eating. no diet. no restriction. no ban on hamburgers or doughnuts or twizzlers. it was the product of exercise and vegetables and experimentation and a hell of a lot of patience.

honestly, it was the product of saying, my worth is not tied to how i look it jeans. i am worthy. period. and so i'll wear pants if i damn well want to.

i will choose to feed my body because i love it. i will not starve it into submission or starve it in pursuit of an industry's narrow-minded beauty ideal.

so at the start of the new year when we're all inundated by diet ads and weight-loss programs, i thought i'd offer up this little testimonial instead. just something to chew on.

(oh! and i did it by drinking as many lattes as i wanted. because i love them. and find them deeply comforting. and they bring a certain sort of happiness that i never want to deny myself). so there.