air_n_darkness: (unfortunate soul)
[personal profile] air_n_darkness
This is National Eating Disorders Week, a time to raise awareness about the damage done by eating disorders, what causes them- and how prevalent they are, especially in children. Despite the cyclic attention such disorders as anorexia and bulimia have received over the years, there is never enough emphasis put on what drives children to adopt such attitudes. There seems to be this idea (and I base this on conversation and observation, not actual studies) that eating disorders are the weakness of teen girls and models, and attempt to correct poor self-esteem or achieve an industry standard through body manipulation. While not untrue, perhaps, this is merely the start of such attitudes, and eating disorders are certainly not the exclusive purview of those groups, nor limited to only those two diagnoses. More commonly, eating disorders fall somewhere in the middle.



Walk with me backwards a moment, to a girl of age 5 or 6 (I think 6, but I'm unsure, honestly), a young girl who was actually quite active, enjoyed playing outside, and while perhaps a bit larger(10-15lbs heavier, with rounded features) than the average for her age, was not unhealthily so. A girl who did not think herself ugly, or fat, or any other way lacking, really, though there were the occasional comments from some family members here and there- ironically enough, from the side of the family which she took after, physically. She eagerly goes to her first day of kindergarten, looking forward to meeting new people, and to getting to spend more time with the few children she already knew. Living in the country, the chances for socialization were rather slim, after all. Always chatty, always happy, she tried to talk to these new kids, to play and get into conversations. Instead, she was ignored, chastised, and called names, laughed at for being "fat." The implication therein was that "fat" was a bad, bad thing, and also meant ugly and unworthy of friendship or attention.

She was not a stranger to the idea of dieting. Her mother was always dieting, always exercising in some manner. Her mother had been a very thin person, before the birth of two children, and even after that, her mother was not a large person. Her mother weighed, perhaps 130lbs at that time. Her mother did not talk of being fat as if it were a terrible thing, but she did give the impression that smaller was better, more desirable, more attractive. So the child came home form school, hurt, upset, and told her mom she wanted to go on a diet, too, so that she wouldn't be laughed at anymore.

Dieting-especially then- involved a great deal of food restriction and denial; however, she came from a family that bonded through meals, that enjoyed quality food and dining. The girl's relationship with food became highly skewed; food was both comfort and enemy, friend and foe. She spent countless weekends and afternoons with grandparents and other family, who would lament the girl's size at the same time that they would insist she eat more food. She ate, yes, and sometimes poorly or in excessive amounts, but more often, she would eat just enough of a snack to take the edge off her hunger, but no more. She began to hate eating in company, for it seemed she was always judged for what she put on her plate. Her weight went down, it went up, down, and up again. She was lambasted for not having "discipline." A teacher, her 4th grade teacher, pulled her into the hall after lunch one day, where the girl had been teased quite terribly, and lamented how the girl had such a pretty face, but that if the girl did not get her weight and eating under control, she would get sick and die early, and everyone would say, "but she had such a pretty face." The girl watched a made for TV movie about Karen Carpenter's struggle with anorexia and was not horrified at the dangers of bulimia, but instead thought to herself, that makes perfect sense. She could, at the time, pretty much vomit on command, after all. It was her hatred of the physical sensations of vomiting that kept her from ever turning to bulimia as an true option to lose weight. It was always there, though, and yes, she did utilize the tactic from time to time.

She so desperately wanted to be pretty, you see, to be considered worthy and wanted, and part of the popular crowd. Her ideas of self worth had become entirely and completely tied up to the size of her waist and the number on the scale. She did not own a pair of jeans until she was 12, because jeans were for "skinny people." Everything must be flowy and shapeless, not fitted. Hide the bulges and the curves, hide the ugly. At times, she would slip and dress herself well, do her makeup and hair and think, for once, that she was pretty, and she would smile at someone, try to talk to them, only to find she was laughed at afterward, if not to her face.

This continued, all the way through middle school, high school, college, longer. She let herself be taken advantage of, more than once, because of the novelty of someone calling her pretty, of acting as if she mattered. Through all of this, she was off and on diets, weight up and down. She stopped wanting attention, stopped wanting the compliments, because compliments just made her more self-conscious. She had destroyed her body's ability to process food properly, by starving it. She would eat less in one week than some people ate in a day, and still gain weight. Somehow, she manged to keep her body more or less healthy, according to the physical examinations, but she was not mentally healthy.

This is me. I hate food, now. I truly do. If I could never eat again, I would be happy. I hate my looks, and my body shape. I hate that my first thought when I meet someone is that they are judging me less because I am fat. I hate the people who tell me how pretty and sexy and alluring I am, because they don't understand that I see it as nothing but patronizing lies. I hate that I have been conditioned to see such compliments as patronizing lies. If I am so pretty, so sexy, so alluring, then why, pray tell, am I alone? I am perhaps arrogant to think that I might have what to offer a partner, but I do think that, so why, if my size should be no barrier, than why am I made to feel like so. Much. Less.

Those are the thoughts that make up the background chatter of my mind in the day to day. Are they false, misconstrued? Most likely. But they are the results of years upon years of conditioning, of being told that I don't matter because I don't meet an arbitrary standard of beauty created by the fashion and entertainment industry. I have reached the point where I am stuck. I need to start monitoring my food intake, because I don't eat enough food, an what I do eat is the wrong sort, and my body is sick because of this. But monitoring my food causes me to become even more obsessive about my weight and my food choices, and so I eat less and less. If I miss tracking one thing, if I miss on exercise session, I spiral into a depressive mess. I would honestly rather die than eat another scrap of food, when I reach that point.

This is what an eating disorder does to someone. It takes one of the things most basic to our survival, one of the things around so much of our socialization and societal function is based upon, and makes of it a dark and terrible thing. Think about what I have said, that at time I would rather die than eat another morsel of food. That is a terrible, terrible thing. Correcting an eating disorder when it reaches such a magnitude is not so easy as simply changing behaviors and thinking happy thoughts. It involves so much more, and I have only recently begun to try and address it, as it is a major part of the puzzle which makes up the miasma that is my mental state.

This is what we condemn our children to, now even more than when I was child, due to the glut of imagery available at their fingertips. This is what we condemn them to as they see us laugh at people for their size, make of them mockeries. This is what we condemn them to when we allow society to tell them that thigh gaps are normal, that Barbie doll proportions are the perfection of beauty, that a person's worth is not to be separated from the number on the scale.

It is a terrible, terribly thing that I hope to never see any child go through again.
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