During my junior year of college, I took a course eloquently titled, “The Politics of Aestheticism.” The name-dropping potential of such a course was extensive – I could use it to appease any and all parental queries into “how things were going” by reassuring them that their daughter was delving into some grade-A deep thoughts. When my narcissistic ex-person-I-slept-with-occasionally came running (and by running I mean lumbering along with little-to-no urgency) with a plea for sex shrouded in some bullshit conversation, all I had to do was hit him with a little Oscar Wilde. “You can never be overdressed or overeducated, jackass,” I would say, keeping my clothes on and my eyes on being Earnest.
The flowery language of Swinburne and Salome was much more rewarding anyways, I assured myself (“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”), but I was unaware of how apt their anatomically obsessed messages were for my life at the time. In class I wrote, “What do we make of this strange relationship of honoring the body while simultaneously hating it, or wanting to do it harm?” without realizing that my own body was screaming SOS. Though I had yet to face this reality, I was entrenched in a severe eating disorder that was eerily close to taking my life.
See, there was a time, not so long ago, (every-story-you’ve-ever-heard-vibes, unintended) when I would force myself to run seven miles a day, with zilch wiggle room and a no days off policy fit for a marathoner-in-training (or some other breed of psychopath). Being that I’m not a hamster, or a professional athlete (although I do lust after Amar’e to the point of wanting to be him), this behavior was not normal, nor was it healthy. But for a while, I managed to delude myself. I didn’t notice when my love of running warped into a running addiction, or when said addiction began to wreak havoc on my eating habits, or lack thereof. I wish I could blame this on my overeager endorphins, or an-all-Gucci Mane-iPod shuffle, but though they were privy to me hitting rock-bottom, it was the extreme loss of weight, and a concurrent disease – anorexia – that led me there.
I have always been naturally slim, and growing up I ate what I wanted, when I wanted (my parents, be damned). Sometimes it was a carrot (good for vision n’ shit), but more often it was a cupcake (red velvet, am I right?). I pored over fashion magazines for years without all of those ultra-skinny limbs talking smack to my body. This recent onslaught was about something more than beauty as decreed by the upper echelons of Vogue–it was an act of self loathing cloaked in a seemingly-enviable glow of health that almost every woman I know seems to chase after. I thought I had accomplished something, until that accomplishment deteriorated into anemia, a new layer of body hair rivaling my mutt’s, poor eyesight, an inability to focus, a thinning head of hair worthy of an octogenarian, and a body that looked more E.T. than Elettra Wiedemann (requisite Isabella Rossellini shout-out?). A girl who was notorious for strange outfits and a Cher Horowitz-worthy process of getting dressed (but with a little less plaid – no disrespect), I was now living in three layers of Uniqlo Heattech long underwear and swallowed daily by a giant, black L.L. Bean parka. Sure, it was winter in Chicago, this was just practical – I told myself. But everyone else knew I’d never been ‘practical’ when it came to clothes.
My friends and family noticed my deteriorating body and tried to salvage my personality, which had made itself scarce. Once they intervened, I began the long slog to recovery. It was a bitch and then some, but a worthy bitch, for sure. During my first week at inpatient treatment, I developed shingles (paging every Grandma everywhere) due to a weakened immune system, cried over a slice of pizza, and hid in the shower to avoid summer-camp-era daily activities (drawing your feelings, anyone?) I tried to read my Adorno, but was captivated by coloring books instead. It was not a glamorous hotbed of the uber-slim, not some Lohan circa Promises escape. I woke up every night in a pool of my own sweat as my newly roused metabolism raged and lunged at the newfound calories to rebuild me from the inside out. Honeymoon period this was not. I was surrounded by fourteen and fifty year olds in equal measure, along with a handful of pregnant women whose presence surprised and saddened me on a whole other level. My naiveté was turned entirely on its head – I knew eating disorders existed, but their prevalence was news to me. Self-pity soon turned into panic that even if I fixed my own problems (…they told me to dream big…) in this slightly regressive safe zone, I’d be returning to a world that catered to my illness.
I’ve been home for almost a year now, with plenty of ups and downs, but I consider myself to be in a post-Anorexic state (if college has taught me anything it is how to transform turns of phrase into seminar-worthy titles). Despite my rediscovered love for all things caloric, I am still required to follow a meal plan, abstain from exercise until further notice, and bide my time waiting for the menses train to return to the station. This has resulted in some injuries (metaphorical) stemming from my new lifestyle colliding with not just the fashion world, but the world at large. With ample time to sit on my ever-growing (but wholly appreciated) ass and reflect on my situation, I’ve begun to wonder, is there room for self-love in the age of the juice cleanse? [Carrie Bradshaw moment, sine qua non.]
How do I focus on maintaining my health in an environment where food-hate is rampant and Cycle is a prerequisite of Soul? The fact that we speak about food in terms of morality is a blaring sign of the times. Food is not bad or good – though I’ll admit, it can be delicious or disgusting. Eating that brownie is surely not a crime… and, trust me, whatever power you feel in abstaining from that cookie (you know, the fresh-from-the-oven-peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-what-dreams-are-made-of situation?) is fleeting at most. On Thanksgiving, when my Twitter feed filled up with warnings re: over-indulgence, many written by people I had grown to admire, I felt angry, but also betrayed (my Twitter friendships have deep roots!). Who denies themselves stuffing, I marveled? A lot of people apparently, including me, last November. We outline and applaud grandiose health initiatives, but does our individual behavior correlate? An editor can vow not to use models who struggle with eating disorders, but does that hold weight if said editor subsists solely on green juice and preaches to the ever-growing choir of fat-fear online? The cleansing to cookie-eating Instagram ratio is entirely unbalanced and I worry about it’s effect. I’ve been reading blogs/magazines/newspapers since I was pre-pubescent (a state that Anorexia unappealingly brought me back to), and I worry that today’s young girls are consuming a whole lot of food discrimination and not nearly enough nutrients. When the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence deems herself obese by Hollywood’s standards, it stings because it feels true, albeit absurd.
I’ve learned firsthand that the woman who eats what she wants, when her body asks for it, is a much more fortunate femme than the woman who wages battle on her own body and mind, enforcing strict laws and swiftly eliminating pleasure. At my lowest weight, life was anything but enviable – aside from the fact that my body was shutting down rapidly and struggling to get by in survival mode, I lost the ability to think straight, and, lacking energy and any semblance of positivity, I retreated from my friends and social life in general. It wasn’t until I gained most of it back that I could comfortably dance around my room naked to “This is Your Night” by Amber (highly recommended, FYI).
So, am I calling for a mass exodus to the bakery aisle of Whole Foods? Not quite (although their Snickerdoodles are dope). I believe in mindful eating, but when health is equated with stick-thinness and an ability to abstain, at all costs, from what you desire, we have to reexamine. If our bodies are temples then why are we stripping them of all their unique embellishments (shout out to my stretch marks!)? Is this effort to blend in worth the risk of downright disappearance? I love a long run, and I could eat broccoli (with a little butter, mind you) ‘til the cows come home, but I don’t want to reflect on my life at one hundo and see it as a string of workouts and leafy greens. (Louis C.K. had a point when he joked that he, “only ever eat(s) Kale… and human flesh.”) Life, after all, is nothing but the result of innumerable moments, experiences, and impressions – an existence that won’t be fulfilling unless you allow yourself to occasionally be full.