I wasn’t really good at anorexia. I lack the will power or self-hatred to really starve myself. I gave it a shot though. I lost 40 pounds off my pretty average frame when I was 15. I was never a Cassie Ainsworth or that Emma chick from Degrassi, I was never hospitalized and never spent hours picking granola out of my yogurt. But it happened.
Dark humor aside, I was really very lucky. I did Intro to Anorexia and several years later I rarely if ever find myself reliving the glory – I mean, terrifyingly self destructive – days. I stopped eating because I wanted to lose weight. What I didn’t understand is that eating disorders aren’t really about weight kind of like rape isn’t really about sex. Maybe these ideas are all conflicting. Good. They should be, because that’s what it’s like to stop eating.
One the one hand, you know you need food to survive. You also know that anorexia is a bad idea, that it sends you to the hospital and kills you and makes you crazy. Actually, I’m not sure if at age 15 I knew that anorexia drives you crazy. I’m not sure I noticed my mentality start to change. Those things are always more subtle than you expect them to be. Like, maybe it’s crazy to try and find things to stick down your throat so you can throw up your last meal and feel only disappointment when it doesn’t work. Maybe.
But the most important knowledge is that you lose weight when you don’t eat. You know that being skinny means looking gorgeous in whatever you wear, having attention all the time, having power. You know it in the way we fanatically know things that we worry might not actually be true.
I should explain here what I meant by saying I wasn’t good at anorexia. I by no means wish to undermine the experiences of individuals whose experiences were like mine. I’m aware of the fact that many people experience eating disorders the same way I did, and between all of us there is a very large scale of how badly we hurt ourselves, how badly we were traumatized, and how seriously we take it years later.
At the same time, I don’t wish to say that my experiences were as serious as the Cassie Ainsworths of the world, or that anorexia is something someone should get over just like I did. Maybe I just went through a phase that many teenagers go through. Either way, it sucked. My experiences were mine and no one else’s, but here they are.
With anorexia you can’t spend time with people. People offer you food. Or maybe they’ll eat in front of you. So I stopped going to friend’s houses. Losing friends seemed like an easier option than struggling over whether or not to accept some Oreos as an after school snack.
With anorexia, feeling full is an emotion. It combines many – regret, shame, contempt, embarrassment, and a very distinct hatred of yourself for failing. It is the opposite emotion of “feeling thin,” which is airy and delicate and glorious. You can take the world by storm when you feel thin, just so long as you don’t succumb to a candy bar or something.
With anorexia, hunger is an abstract. I don’t really feel hunger anymore. The day I moved into my college dorm my mom and I didn’t eat until evening. She was irritable, had a headache, felt tired. I didn’t understand why she was being so dramatic. Now I realize that not eating is supposed to make you feel something other than an increased enthusiasm in dessert items.
With anorexia, you eat a lot sometimes. You can’t stop yourself from eating. I kept going until my stomach hurt almost every time I ate. This was interspersed with days of eating pretty much nothing.
With anorexia, you’re terrified of being caught. You work hard so no one notices, but they probably do. My friends did. One has brought it up, but we didn’t use the word “Anorexia,” because only crazy people are “Anorexic,” right?
These are your options, when you starve yourself: you can start eating again or you can keep on eating less and less.
If you start eating again, you are lucky. Maybe you will go to a summer camp that you love for several weeks, and because people are with you at every meal, you will have to eat. You will hate yourself every time you stand on a scale for a while, but then you will start to realize what anorexia really is and that it’s not beautifully tragic or strong and self-willed but that it’s actually a really fucked up way to hurt yourself. You will replace being crazy about your weight with being crazy about your grades, and you will get into college. You’ll gain weight. This will not make you less beautiful.
If you keep on eating less and less, you will eventually die. You probably have a weight goal set for yourself. This is bullshit and you know it, because as soon as you meet that goal you will make another one. And by the way, anorexia is not a beautiful way to die. It’s pretty fucking ugly, actually.
There is no pride or strength or glory in anorexia. Starving yourself to be beautiful is a false concept we convince ourselves is truth because it’s easier than believing that beauty is accomplished in confidence and ability and finding clothes that don’t cut across you in weird ways. Or even convincing ourselves that beauty is not nearly as important as being funny or creative or really good at sex. Or whatever.
So, if you’re starving yourself because you think it will make you beautiful, stop it. Or at least stop telling yourself that beauty is what you’re after.