I told Derek not to visit me because I couldn’t throw up when he was there;
I almost failed my comprehensive exams because I was so hungry;
I spent my year at Oxford with my head in the toilet bowl;
I wouldn’t eat the dinner my friends cooked me for my 19th birthday because I knew they had used oil in the recipe;
I told my family not to come to my college graduation because I didn’t want to miss a day at the gym or have to eat a restaurant meal.
I would swear I did not miss the world outside. Lost within myself, I almost died.
Read the rest of this entry
I’ve never been a size 0 girl.
As a kid I was bullied for being overweight, and every night I cried myself to sleep.
My parents were busy raising my two baby sisters, so I was left to raise myself. Without guidance I read magazine articles on how to lose weight.
When I turned 12 I began starving myself. I ate maybe one meal a day. Or none. And added crazy exercise routines to my crazy diet.
At family gatherings I ate very little, or watched other people enjoy their delicious food.
I began to hate food. If I ate I felt like the worst human being — who should be punished with an extra mile of running.
My weight went down. And unfortunately, so did my metabolism. Read the rest of this entry
Under patriarchy women may not be allowed to vote or hold public office, own property, or make choices that stray from their husbands’ inclinations. In the modern Western world we don’t have those problems anymore. But in modern patriarchy we can’t eat. Well, we can eat a little. But not too much. The current ideal that is slapped all over billboards and fashion mags is thinner than is healthy. Read the rest of this entry
What if I just have a small slice of raspberry cheesecake? I was good today, I deserve it. Maybe a bigger slice would be okay if I eat celery later? They would cancel each other out, right? Or I could eat the cake while jogging in place?
These are the musings of a young woman’s mind in a Yoplait yogurt ad. Sound familiar?
Does to me. Evokes the mantra that once ruled my twenty-something brain. Back then, food was both magic and evil. That’s a noxious combination, known to create obsessions and addictions. Read the rest of this entry
Have you ever seen a fashion sketch and wished you looked like that? So glamorous!
But here’s “you” as a fashion sketch:
Not so glamorous after all.
Star Models, A Brazilian modeling agency, released this series as an anti-anorexia PSA advertisement.
The ads may help a bit. At the same time, when we are constantly bombarded with the notion that hyper-thin feminine bodies is what fashion looks like, the ideal becomes unconsciously embedded in our brains — along with eating disorders imprinted on our bodies. Maybe anorexia, maybe bulimia, maybe obsessive or over-vigilent eating.
And while we like to draw firm boundaries between what’s normal and what’s not, anorexia has become more normalized than abnormal, says Women’s Studies professor, Susan Bordo.
It’s hard to change our ways of seeing by trying to convince individuals alone. Modeling agencies and fashion magazines must change, too, says Tristan Bridges, PhD.
But that can be difficult when impossible ideals promote so many sales. Women trying to achieve skinny bodies can buy gym memberships, exercise equipment, Jenny Craig memberships, Weight Watchers frozen dinners, or clothing that pulls in, pushes up, and camouflages.
Until our world begins to change just keep chanting, “I am not a fashion sketch, I am not a fashion sketch, I am not a fashion sketch” and hope for the best.
I wouldn’t sit with daddy when he was alone in the hospital because I needed to go jogging; I told Derek not to visit me because I couldn’t throw up when he was there; I almost failed my comprehensive exams because I was so hungry; I spent my year at Oxford with my head in the toilet bowl; I wouldn’t eat the dinner my friends cooked me for my 19th birthday because I knew they had used oil in the recipe; I told my family not to come to my college graduation because I didn’t want to miss a day at the gym or have to eat a restaurant meal.
I would swear I did not miss the world outside. Lost within myself, I almost died.
During her recovery from anorexia, Abra Fortune Chernik filled three and a half Mead marble notebooks – five years’ worth of reflection on how her eating disorder had tangled her life and thwarted her relationships. You can read more on her struggle in “The Body Politic.”
I had always known that anorexia diminished women physically, and too often led to their deaths. But I hadn’t stopped to realize that the disease shrank them socially, emotionally, and mentally, too – leaving their world revolving solely around their bodies and their food – or the lack thereof.
I hadn’t realized that anorexia meant both a physical and spiritual ridding of the self. And yet it surely does.
As my body shrank, so did my world. I starved away my power and vision, my energy and inclinations. Obsessed with dieting, I allowed relationships, passions, and identity to wither.
The name of her piece, “The Body Politic,” tells us that anorexia is not just about Abra’s own struggle, but the struggle of women who live in a world that seems to applaud their constriction, and perhaps even their disappearance.
A push toward constricting women, or “disappearing them”? In an earlier piece I talked of political pressures to deny women life-saving vaccines, cancer screenings, tests for H.I.V., emergency abortions to save a woman’s life, and nutrition programs, along with decriminalizing domestic violence. Women’s control over their bodies is being increasingly constricted by attempts to limit access to contraception and the right to choose.
Applauding women who sufficiently shrink their bodies, minds and souls is perfectly consistent.
And perfectly deranged.
What might a burqa wearer and an anorexic have in common? Usually, not much. They can be at opposite poles. A student from Iran once told me that the loose clothing (not burqas) Iranian women wear can lead to weight gain. “You just don’t have to worry about your weight,” she said, “because you’re so covered up.”
But the two can overlap in surprising ways.
Some burqa wearers and some anorexics are responding to the same thing: difficult aspects of a culture that judges women by their appearance, and that sexually objectifies them.
But they are responding in very different ways.
Some anorexics conform to the cultural notion that beauty equals thinness, and embrace the view to extreme. Others are hoping to rid themselves of the curves that make them into sex objects, often because sexual abuse began when the curves appeared.
The burqa wearer may also have a strong reaction to beauty judgments and objectification, but she simply covers what could be judged or ogled. One woman who commented on a post on burqas told me, “I am a typical American woman who lives in Texas. I own a burqa. I have worn it out numerous times, mostly as a way to see how it feels to be out and about and not be seen as a face or body. Because I live in a culture that values youth and beauty and where people don’t hesitate to judge you by your appearance I have often wished that there was a neutralizing agent, like a burqa, that could help dissipate those judgments.”
At the same time, the burqa wearer and the anorexic are both disappearing. The burqa lets the wearer escape into a mesh of unshaped fabric.
And consider these words from a recovered anorexic:*
When I graduated from college crowned with academic honors, professors praised my potential. I wanted only to vanish.
It took me three months of hospitalization and two years of outpatient psychotherapy for me… (to accept) my right and my obligation to take up room with my figure, voice, and spirit.
A few days ago I watched the movie Penelope. Penelope, played by Christina Ricci, is cursed with a snout instead of a nose. Her parents hide her at home. She finally escapes but uses a scarf to cover her snout. The spell is broken when she finally comes to love herself as she is.
We live in an imperfect world. People objectify and make judgments.
But how would we learn and grow and gain inner strength, character and compassion if there were no need to strive to improve the world or to grow in self-acceptance?
*Abra Fortune Chernik. “The Body Politic.” Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, edited by Barbara Findland. 1995