If any of y’all are not in a good mental place to read about body issues, eating disorders, etc. right now, go ahead and skip this one. I say this because I generally can’t handle reading any sort of diet/weight loss/body negative talk because it sets off my own issues something fierce, so this is an out for anyone else who has the same reaction. <3
A while back, maybe sometime last summer, I was in Dolores Park on a sunny day, and a guy sitting a little in front of me caught my eye. He turned to talk to his friend and as he I saw his face, my first thought was “he’s really attractive,” which is pretty normal for me as I am perpetually admiring attractive folks in a non-creepy sort of way. I think I even pointed him out to my partner as I often will when I see cute folks around me. But my second (and unspoken) thought when I looked at him was “oh, he looks a lot like me.” Our body shapes looked similar, and if I were blonde and my beard were a little fuller, I would have been a near body-double for that dude.
It took a moment for that to sink in. I can idly look at someone like me and think “hey, he’s cute” but I still can’t always handle looking at myself in a full-length mirror. I am the master of the classic “fat bodies are great, my body is gross” bit of doublethink that I know a lot of people struggle with.
[As an Aside on Fatness, this is something I'm still wrestling with a bit - I've been kinda dipping my toe into the fat-positive/body-positive scene for several years but never really sure if it was a place for me, both for gender and size reasons. But hey, I've randomly gained more weight recently (one reason for a lot of my body panic is that I can't always connect weight fluctuations to changes I'm making so it feels very out of my control) and I think I might be able to say "hey I'm fat" at this point. There's no official dividing line of Fatness vs. Non-Fatness that I know of. But maybe I'm on the other side of it? I'm still not entirely sure where I belong.]
Last fall, I finally took the step of talking to someone about what I’ve just been calling my “fucked up food issues” and what she called restrictive eating that qualified as an eating disorder. It was really intense and tough to talk about my feelings and behaviors around food in the level of detail I knew I needed to in order to make progress – I’ve hinted at and talked about some of this to a few people at various times, but I don’t ever tell the whole story, and I had to make myself do that.
And that shit’s tough, for real. I don’t want anyone to know that I don’t always feel like I deserve to eat even when I’m hungry, that sometimes I’m furious at myself for even being hungry when I just ate a while ago, that sometimes I have such a hard time knowing what’s ok to eat that I don’t really eat enough during the day. That while I’m thankful I didn’t manage to be anorexic when I was ten (and that “pro-ana” and other ED encouragement communities didn’t exist then, because if they had I might have managed to do it), I can’t read narratives about eating disorders without a sneaky voice in me saying “maybe you could make it work this time.” Because I know it’s bullshit, all of it, and that I shouldn’t think any of it, and if I don’t tell anyone about those maybe I can pretend I’m not so terrible to myself.
Having someone say “this is an eating disorder” was a huge help in itself. Being able to put a name on my problem, and acknowledge that it really was a problem-problem and not just some frustrating habit, was scary for sure but it was also comforting. It meant I needed to take it seriously, that I deserved to find ways to be better to myself.
One thing Michelle suggested was an exercise of just spending time looking at myself in a mirror, clothed or not, to get used to what my body looks like. The idea is to be able to get in a neutral state, where I can just say “ok this is what I’m seeing” in an objective way. And to be honest, I never felt brave enough to do this. I did buy a cheap mirror, the kind you hang in a dorm room, but all I used it for was checking my posture when doing yoga and PT stretches. No contemplation or neutral observation. I have developed a skill for looking in a mirror without always seeing the real shape of my clothes or my body, which also means I sometimes don’t know if clothes fit at all and need outside opinions. It’s often just too intense to really look at my body so closely.
But I have picked up another habit; starting early this year, I took inspiration from some of my friends and started taking and sharing more pictures of myself. I love seeing my friends’ selfies because of their wonderful faces, and it’s nice to see them living their lives or modeling new sweaters or what have you, so it seemed like a good idea to try it for myself. I specifically started this habit with the idea of getting better at seeing myself and sharing pictures with friends even if I don’t always like what I see.
And it’s been nice! I do like my face and generally that’s most of what’s visible. I enjoy being able to show off my favorite adornments, big interesting earrings and nail polish. It’s pretty easy to look good when I’m posting headshots. And sure, it’s great to have friends make sweet comments on my pictures! I like to do that for other people and I certainly enjoy it myself. If that’s vanity then ok, I’m fine with being vain.
But the big obstacle has been pulling back a little to let more of myself into the photo. I’ve posted one or two with part of my torso, and there was one full-body picture I took when I wanted to show off the amazing minty-green shorts that can also be seen here, but I specifically felt safe doing it because I was wearing a loose shirt and the lighting around my torso wasn’t great. I keep wanting to be braver, and sometimes I’ll even wrangle the mirror so I can take full-body pictures, but I get this sick feeling, a pit of dread in my stomach, when I think about sharing them, like my body is a secret I can’t tell anyone. It seems ridiculous to me – I don’t expect anyone to be a jerk! And of course I know, in the part of me I’ve managed to drain the poison out of, that my body is fine.
But that feeling is there now, I promise, no matter how unreasonable it is. I’m sure I’ll hit publish and instantly think “noooo, this is too much, it’s too personal and weird to talk about this, plus why did you put a picture of your potato-self in there???” and I’ll have to deal with that.
This post feels a little disjointed to me, and maybe way too personal, because this isn’t something I’m used to talking about in much detail, and I have no idea how much of myself is too much to share, here. I still feel like maybe I shouldn’t say I have an eating disorder and talk about the recovery process because my experience isn’t “real” enough. But I’ve spent months knowing that I want to say these things, and months putting it off because it feels embarrassing and too raw and kind of like those dreams where you realize halfway through your day that you’ve been walking around with no pants on. After a good while of doing a lot better in terms of dealing with my body and feeling like I’m allowed to eat food, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and being a little more publicly open about what’s going on seems like a good idea.
I want to be able to let people see me – all of me – without feeling sick beforehand. I want to admire folks that look like me and be able to say “he’s pretty hot JUST LIKE ME, YEP” instead of doing mental gymnastics to explain why my body is wrong and gross despite being just like someone else’s 100% awesome body. I want to eat a fucking snack when I’m hungry and not worry that I don’t deserve it.