I was on Facebook looking at my “On This Day” memories and came across a video I’d posted of me playing guitar and singing 3 or 4 years ago. This was at a time in my life when I was very VERY unhealthy but also skinny.
As I watched the video I noticed things I’d never noticed before. My arms were skinny, probably the best they’ve ever looked, my shoulders were cut and defined, my collarbones stood out like razorblades erupting from my flesh and my cheeks were sunken in harsh squares, a clean right angle from jaw to chin.
There are two voices in my head watching this video.
The first was horrified. Initially she’d admired the arms and shoulders, but the face so startled her that she drew back in the realization that she’d been admiring careful starvation. The video was in what I’d always thought of as my “recovery period” but I was so painfully underweight that, today, I’m thinking I may have overestimated my recovery. Or maybe, I just had a long way to come back.
The first voice wants to know how I had DONE that to myself. She wants to know how I could have missed the lank hair, the pallid face, the painful angles my skeletal structure made protruding against my skin. She remembers all the hours spent at the gym and wonders how I had “worked out” when I so lacked muscle, when I was skin and bone and not much else.
The second voice reminds me that fifteen more pounds and I’d be nearly in that range again and fifteen pounds is easy. A couple weeks of nothing but juice and an occasional handful of almonds and that face in the video could be mine again. My abs look like the after photos in BeachBody ads and yet I have this second voice telling me I could starve my way back to a thigh-gap.
This is the reality of eating disorders. They never go away. Even if you’re eating normally, and you feel in control. Even if you’re happy with the way you look. There is something in you that CRAVES starvation, purging, overexercising. The desire to punish yourself, mold yourself, shrink until you disappear never goes away. You just learn to ignore it.
I learned to get angry at it.
Probably not the most healthy reaction but finally I think I’m at a place where I can yell at that second voice to shut up. I can tell it it’s stupid and I’m fine as is, and that I do still have a couple pounds I’d like to lose, but that like the other 60 I lost, I’m going to do it the right way, so it stays off. So I can maintain. So I can eat cake on my mom’s birthday and sushi on a mini-vacay with Jo and not feel bad.
This is what being in control really feels like. I don’t know how I mistook hurting myself for control, but I did. Over and over again I took a backseat to my disorder.
I won’t do it again.
But this is today. There is always the chance of backsliding. The second voice doesn’t leave. It is patient. It waits for moments of weakness.
This is why we need to be kind to each other.
This is why media giants like Cosmo need to avoid posting unrealistic beauty goals like back and shoulder contouring.
This is why we need to remind our friends and family of the ways they are beautiful.
In hopes that it will help save others from this confusing pull in two directions over something that should be shallow and unimportant.
No one should have to choose between health and image.