My eating disorder did not make me a beautiful mess, a tragic beauty, or whatever else the Internet tells you starving yourself will do. It was not glamorous. It fucked me up, and it was horrible.
A few years ago on a trip to the Dominican Republic to aid Haitian Refugees, my boyfriend and I were asked to walk to the poorest village in the area. We were told that there was a very sick woman there and we were to bring her protein powder.
This village is bleak. Voodoo priests who exploit their people by taking their money in exchange for voodoo objects, are in control. The refugees need their money for food, but instead believe that their livelihood depends on objects blessed by abusive despots. The houses are either 10×10 cinderblock rooms that trap in heat and moisture, or crude scrap metal constructions that are likely to fall apart from the heavy rains and tropical storms the Dominican Republic experiences.
We find the woman’s house. There are members of the village standing outside the cinderblock home with arms crossed, not knowing what to do. When we walk inside I am stunned. It is dark and sticky-hot inside from summer rain. The room is full of silent people whose faces go from expressionless to desperately hopeful when they see us walk inside. They greet us with smiles. It smells terrible. The room is filled with flies that haven’t yet stuck to the old fly tape hanging from the ceiling. There is trash everywhere, which I promptly realize is not trash but actually this woman’s possessions. Then I see her. Her skin hangs from her face and shoulders; it has worked too hard for too long. She sits on a dirty, torn up mattress, no doubt inhabiting scorpions along with years of built up mildew. She is emaciated. I can see every bone in her face. This is the thinnest woman I have seen in my entire life.
She smiles at us when we show her the protein powder. Her daughter, who is sitting next to her in a plastic chair, thanks us in Spanish. We proceed to show her family how to mix the powder into water so she can drink it. She has a plastic cup that someone has filled up with water. We show her daughter that we put two scoops of protein powder in the cup and then mix it with a spoon. Then we stay and make sure she drinks it. As she slowly sips the mixture we realize that this will take a while and we need to get back to the other village. In a symbolic gesture of solidarity, we hold hands with the people in the room and say a Spanish prayer. I touch her face and hold her hands, almost as if I was making sure we were both humans. We tell her daughter that she needs to continue to drink more of these mixtures, and then we depart.
Later that night during dinner my boyfriend looks at me through discouraged and not at all understanding eyes as he asks me to eat. I smile at him. I will not eat dinner.
We find out a few days later that the woman died.
When I finally return home to the United States I cry on the cold tile floor of my parents bathroom after I step on the scale.
The woman’s cadaverous body was not haunting enough. I rejected food while I was administering it to starving people. I saw what real, not self-imposed, starvation is. Still for years afterward I regurgitated my privilege into the toilet.
Eating disorders are not about waif-like girls martyring themselves for love. They are not about being stronger than nature. They are not about the images of tragically beautiful girls purging for their salvation. They are not about an ethereal representation of inner struggle. They are not glamorous.
My eating disorder allowed me to look into the eyes of a dying woman and not be moved. My eating disorder made me inhuman. My eating disorder is not fucking glamorous. It is horrible.
Stop glamorizing eating disorders.