the wound

A reader alerted me to the fact that it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week right now (thank you, Addison!). Please click the link and learn more.

I was about to publish a different post, and mention NEDAweek in a note at the bottom. And then that didn’t feel right, so I wrote this. I didn’t have a lot of time. My mom is watching Eden in the other room. I hope you’ll forgive any mistakes or general hurrying. But I wanted to say:

This is a serious, serious issue. It erupts on the infected site of the wound girls and women have sustained from a world that enforces the flat, cold idea that our worth is based primarily on the way our bodies look. It festers. It takes different, complicated forms. The definitions can seem unhelpful and nebulous. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that bad. Sometimes you don’t even know about it. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with being skinny. Sometimes it results in death.

 

When I think about eating disorders I think of a whole spectrum of things relating to compulsive negativity and negative behaviors surrounding the relationship between food and physical appearance. I also think that talking about eating disorders is an opportunity to talk about cultural beauty standards and how we are all affected by them. In my mind, the term “eating disorder” somehow also encompasses, or at least leans against body image issues that don’t focus on food but apply similar tools of self-cruelty.

I see women dealing with complex, damaging, negative relationships with food and their weight all the time. I have written so much about body image and weight and beauty, and I still don’t know what to say. I feel helpless in a face of a friend’s combative, compulsive relationship with her own body. I catch myself thinking compulsively about food in relation to the way my body looks. In terms of sin and righteousness, in sweeping proclamations of good and evil. I catch myself hating the flabby, flailing, squishy parts of my body as though they are rotten. As though they are an alien parasite from a bad horror movie, infesting my good, clean, true, thinner body.

Oh god, I think, I hope no one saw my arm ripple like that, I hope no one saw a dimple in the fat for a second. What I mean, translated, is: I hope no one will see my shame. 

I can think these things quickly, expertly, at a time in my life when I am happier than I’ve ever been. When I am proud of my body. When my body made a beautiful child who is perfect for her delectable rolls of baby fat. I can think these things like dark flecks of paint across a colorful canvas, at a time when I am mostly not thinking about my body at all.

There have been times in my life when the dark paint covered much more of the surface.

I am better now, at noticing the way Eden cuddles against my soft arms. I am a pillow. I am comfort and security. I am sturdy. I am a mother. I am a plush, whole, unique woman.

We girls and women*, we are all whole and complex and unique. Our bodies take so many clever, intricate, striking forms. So many subtle forms. There isn’t actually any one thing that defines us as a group. We’re revelatory, exuberantly different, endless. The idea of compressing ourselves into just a few whitewashed, sterilized images of beauty is realistically absurd. But it’s far from absurd to get stuck on the way we look when we’re informed from birth (loudly, but also sometimes too silently to even remember) that the way we look is arguably the most critical thing about us. 

I’ve always thought of myself as healthy. Even when I got plastic surgery to change my face, I mostly thought of myself as having good body image, if I thought about it at all. Maybe that’s why I want to write about this stuff in the first place– because if I can think that I’m probably pretty OK about these things and mostly appreciative of my body, and at the same time I can quietly, viciously, persistently continue to hate the fat that collects on my arms, then there is a bigger problem.

This is a bigger problem with very personal, very private, very individual symptoms.

I have watched friends starving themselves, exercising to frailty instead of strength, becoming obsessed with food without trying explicitly to lose weight, flinging criticism at their reflections, hating their physical details for failing to be closer to some perpetual, impossible ideal. I’ve called my own hateful analyses of my appearance “the truth” or “being real.” I’ve ignored it. I’ve denied it. I’ve stood up and yelled about it. I’ve fought to love myself. I’ve told my friends they’re beautiful. I don’t know what else to do, but I do know there’s more that needs to be done.

For my friends. For my mom. For my grandmothers. For all of the girls everywhere. For all of the women. For the boys and men, too. For myself. For my daughter.

We need to keep working towards healing the wound.

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(source)

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Unroast: Today I will try to appreciate my arms.

*Boys and men deal with body image struggles as well! I’m not addressing that so much here, although a lot of this applies to everyone.

P.S. Check out this wonderful blog of thoughtful interviews with kickass women who have dealt/are dealing with an eating disorder

12 Comments »

Kate on February 26th 2014 in beauty, body, food, weight

12 Responses to “the wound”

  1. Traci responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    I love your unroasts. I try to apply them myself.

  2. Isadora responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Love how you mentioned that ED’s aren’t always about being skinny. One of the first vital points on the way to recovery. Took me 6 years after my ED began in 7th grade to finally extract that fact from a web of misleading reasons. I’ve experienced and witnessed in friends that our desire for control and affirmation of our competence in life manifests itself in our ability to restrict and “control” our bodies…especially at times when everything else seems unmanageable. Great piece, thank you.

  3. Marijn responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Thank you for this! Such an important issue, and not nearly enough people address it openly and honestly.

    Having struggled with an ED for as long as I can remember I shed the shame about a year ago. Being ‘able’ to talk about it with whomever I want helps a lot, what doesn’t help is how often other people get confused and uncomfortable when I do.

    Talking about mental health issues is still such a taboo and I wish there were more people who would be cool about it. I’m betting it would make having one a whole lot easier for many people.

  4. Sarah S responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Thank you.

  5. MaryAnne responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks for this, Kate. Such an important topic that is still not discussed enough due to shame in our society.

  6. onebreath responded on 26 Feb 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    A lovely and thoughtful piece as always. The part that struck me was how you are comfort and security to your daughter. I continue to struggle with restrictive eating and my family suffers along with me. One of the things I always want to tell my mom, but don’t know how to do it in a way that encapsulates what I mean and is not somehow insulting, is how much I adore her softness. How when I feel beat and torn down by the world, I love the warm cushion of her arms around me. It’s one image that helps me to keep fighting b/c maybe, just maybe, one day I can give that presence and buffer to a little one in my life.

  7. Jade responded on 27 Feb 2014 at 2:33 am #

    Thank you. Thank you for your blog which never fails to touch me but thank you for this, especially today when loving myself seems so hard.

  8. Katie responded on 27 Feb 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Wow, to be able to write that piece when in a hurry and still capture so honestly the strange and fractious relationships between us and our bodies and our food is just beyond. It moved me from “commenting in my head” to actually venturing out to make a real comment, to say how much that moved me in showing the stealthy ways in which the wound can creep in, until we don’t even know we’re limping from it, and can’t see its smeary trail or open soreness, but flinch when others touch us. It made me squirm from more than just the almost-36-weeks of growing a tiny human, and it growing me. It made me squirm knowing I must try to help my little penguin grow strong and brave and able to not be damaged by the wound itself.
    Your writing, and the feelings it evokes, and hearing about your life and its changes and the balance of being a parent with being all the other parts of you inspires me to pick my own writing back up. Despite the “good enough” trepidation, wondering how I can connect the way others – like you – seem to do so effortlessly while a small one sleeps in the next room. Thank you for reminding me to think, and to cut myself some slack here and there more often, and of the connection from words

  9. Lovely Links: 2/28/14 - Already Pretty | Where style meets body image responded on 28 Feb 2014 at 7:10 am #

    [...] And this resonated with me, as someone who wants to help and cares passionately, but has no direct experience with eating disorders: “I see women dealing with complex, damaging, negative relationships with food and their weight all the time. I have written so much about body image and weight and beauty, and I still don’t know what to say.” [...]

  10. Elizabeth responded on 16 Mar 2014 at 2:28 am #

    Dear Kate

    I had full blown anorexia for about three years during my early university days. I am in complete remission, but it took a bloody long time to get there – at least as long again as I had suffered from the disease, in the sense of being at a dangerously low weight. I conquered it largely alone, at some physical and emotional distance from my family and friends – that recovery remains both one of my proudest achievements, and also one that is laden with the most shame, knowing what my disease did to those who loved me and despaired for me.

    The factors that lead to my anorexia are both deeply personal and profoundly public – genes, culture, a desire to please and appease, personality, family history, the self-minimising urges of womanhood – they are all in the mix. As the mother of a six week old daughter, there is a new urgency to my desire to nut this out, to get to the bottom of it – and new terror about its potency and pervasiveness. And yet I often feel like the conversation is closed to me.

    I am now – as I was before anorexia – a slim person. One of the things that I find hardest about these experiences is the sense that it cuts me off from being able to share my own struggles with weight and body image with all but my closest friends; in fact, even with them it can often be far too close to the bone.

    Someone who was once a very dear friend said to me on one occasion that she “wished she could be anorexic, because then losing weight would be easy”. Others have made it clear that my thoughts and feelings about body image make them uncomfortable, because if I thought I was fat, what must I think of them? I have never expressed to any of them how sad this makes me – I don’t feel I have the right, a feeling that is reinforced by my shame over the anorexia itself – but occasionally I feel it like a wound.

    These conversations are for all of us – no matter our size, no matter how we or others perceive that size. It is about so much more than what we weigh – and there can be no solutions without the utmost inclusiveness.

    I read everything you write – sometimes, just for the joy of it, I go back and read your archives too. Part of the reason is that I have found that inclusiveness here, and delight in it. However, I have only commented once, and on this topic. My comment was never published, and while that may have been through computer error, I feared that I said something wrong or gone beyond the pale in some way. But becoming a mother has made me fearless in new ways, so here we go – I’m trying again.

    With much love – and gratitude for all that you write, since it feels like it is for all of us –

    Elizabeth

    PS Finally – if there are any other Australian readers who have a history of anorexia, I encourage you to take part in the ANGI study into the genetic aspects of anorexia nervosa (https://angi.qimr.edu.au). My mother and grandmother both suffered from it – I’m in the third generation to have done so (at least – it may go back further), and I am doing everything I can to make sure that it stops here. This study felt like an easy way to help.

  11. Melinda responded on 01 Apr 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    I’m late with my comments (again)…but I needed this. Thanks so much, Kate, for reaching out to others with your blog.

    I will spare everyone the details of my battles with beauty, confidence, self-esteem and body image.
    But even now at 30, I still feel like a vulnerable little girl who never learned to accept or love herself. I often don’t know what to do with this “new” body with its size 10 clothes and flabby arms and big tummy and stretch marks…I was a natural size 0 only a few years ago. I avoid my family and certain others because I know my weight is the only thing they will notice about me. I can’t be around people who look at me with judgmental eyes and comment on my looks or my weight…it triggers all my insecurities.

    When I walk into a room and a relative or somebody else mentions my weight or looks at me in a critical way, the wound reopens. It never fully heals for me. No matter what size I’ve ever been in my life, somebody is always there to put me down and make me feel like shit. The “wound” is what causes me to hate myself when I enjoy food. The “wound” is what causes me to be ashamed of my body, my very existence. The “wound” makes me cover up in Florida in the summertime while others wear what they want to without a care in the world. The “wound” has caused me to shut down sexually because I’m disgusted by what I’ve become, and my husband refuses to be intimate with me. The “wound” reminds me that my looks are all that matter about me.

    And I punish myself…maybe not by starving or anything, but by giving in to the hateful criticism other people have dished out. I tell myself that I can’t wear something because my fat ugly thighs will show and people will laugh at me. I tell myself that if I were still tiny and petite, my husband wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off me. I tell myself that maybe if I exercise more, I will lose weight and no one will ever dare call me fat again. I find myself being triggered by so many things. Coming from a Caribbean culture where it is acceptable to openly comment on a person’s weight, my entire life has been about trying to avoid being seen as “fat”. And it makes me angry because people are judged based on the outside, not who they are on the inside.

    @onebreath…I feel that way about my mother as well. My mom calls herself “fat” but to me, she is cuddly and soft and I see that as positive.

  12. Eat the Damn Cake » what older women should look like responded on 02 Apr 2014 at 10:27 am #

    [...] years later, sitting around a table with friends, it turned out that most of us had grappled with one or another form of disordered eating. “Can you look at this?” my smart, serious twenty-seven-year-old friend asked the other day, [...]