(TW: eating disorders, weight loss, body image.)
No woman I know has a 100 percent healthy relationship with food, with eating. Our childhoods deny us. We see the furrowed brows of our moms and our sisters; we hear the offhand comments about the women on TV or read headlines in Impact font on the magazines at the grocery checkout. Even in the most well-intentioned comments, there is a veiled threat. “You look so thin.” “I could never wear that.” “Have you lost weight?” You don’t always look this good. Careful, or you might not be able to wear that one day. You were fat before, and fat is the enemy. I’ve met many people who would say they’ve had experiences with “disordered eating”—I’m one of them. I never binged or purged, I never purposefully starved myself, but in college, eating fell by the wayside. I was depressed and overworked, and food didn’t seem important.
I think many of us have experiences with disordered eating, subconsciously or not. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 95% of those with eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old. That’s middle school, high school, and college, right there. That’s the first few years out of college when many of us (myself included) are negotiating how to cook, what snacks to bring to our office jobs, where we can afford to buy groceries despite thousands of dollars in student debt.
I’ve gained weight. Even though I identify as a body-positive feminist, I lament my fat rolls to my boyfriend. I cry and tell him I’m the fattest one in my friend group (as if there was something wrong with that!). As though my body is quantifiable through a number on a scale or the fit of my old jeans. I can buy new jeans. I can learn to love my body.
It’s a triggering time in the checkout line. It’s almost summer. I get it! We’re going to be wearing fewer clothes and we want to look good. I want to look good, too. “Good” doesn’t necessarily equal “thin,” though. I just wonder if I can look good without hating my body, without constantly comparing myself to my friends, to strangers on Instagram, to my coworkers who lift weights five days a week. I think I can. I think you can, too.
1. “Exposing Myself.” (Cameron Esposito, A.V. Club, October 2014)
Cameron Esposito is brash, hilarious and confident in her stand-up and on her podcast, Put Your Hands Together. In this especially vulnerable column for the A.V. Club, she shares her struggle with body image.
2. “Wrong Ways to Eat.” (Charlotte Shane, The New Inquiry, December 2012)
Charlotte Shane is so smart. Here, she dissects the spurious origins, intentions and arbiters of (un)healthy eating. Habits considered disturbing today—binging and purging, specifically—have historical, healthful precedence. As long as they take place in a collective, Shane explains, they aren’t seen as threatening (like Thanksgiving feasts or Ironman contests): For such intense indulgence to exist outside of socially defined contexts—to be left in the hands of an individual, particularly a woman—is for it be rendered wild and threatening.
3. “On Health.” (JoAnna Novak, The Nervous Breakdown, August 2014)
When JoAnna Novak ran the mile in elementary school, she was the slowest in her class. In the throes of anorexia, running was yet another way to monitor her weight. But high-school cross-country helped Novak make a temporary peace with her body, long enough for her to recognize its potential as something other than an enemy. Years later, running remains: When does a disorder, a disease, an illness, an identity fade away? What if I don’t want it to? When am I no longer who I was? Every time I run, I think about my body…I don’t have to like my reflection when I’m running, if, just for an hour, I might marvel at what my body can do.
4. “When a Queer Woman Counts Calories.” (Camille Beredjick, BuzzFeed, April 2015)
When Kaitlyn moves across the country to be with her, Camille realizes her carefully structured eating routine may have to change.