People are usually their own worst critic. This is because we live in a culture that breeds constant competition by encouraging people from a young age to be “the best.” This often leads to our self-worth being determined by how we rank in social comparisons. We compare everything from education, grades, jobs, incomes, partners, houses, families, clothing, popularity levels, to appearances.
When I was in the 10th grade, like most students, I started thinking about what I was going to do after high school. However, unlike many high school students, I was concerned about who was going to help me get ready every morning once I moved out of my parents’ home. I have muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting disease that impacts the muscles in both my legs and arms. I had been just two years shy of using a wheelchair at that point. Going from standing to sitting all day, I had gained some weight. And weight gain for a disabled woman, I learned, was not an option.
Talking to a friend recently about what it means to have an interior life, I realized how seldom this phrase is heard nowadays or used outside of clinical circles. Yet, having a rich “interior life” may be key to finding meaning and happiness in our existence and undoubtedly promotes emotional health and “normal” eating.
All survivors have their war stories and I am no exception. In my case, the battlefield was my body and the enemy was the bully in my head, the mean girl who told me I was fat. Today she is known as #Mia – Twitterspeak for bulimia.
My eating disorder wasn’t a phase. It was a disease born in the corners of my mind that caused me to cycle through endless episodes of bingeing, purging and starvation. I could talk to no one about Mia, because the injurious words that she could wield were still better than the label I would be assigned if anyone knew my secret.
When you’re younger, you’re told you should follow your dreams. I always took that to heart and believe that if I had the power to do anything, than why not spend my time doing something that I love? Part of following your dreams means taking risks, and when I was a kid I was teased and I had practically zero self-confidence. Additionally, I was also slightly overweight at the time, which caused me to analyze and pick apart everything about how I looked. So even when opportunities came my way, I was too self conscious to even think about going for it.
I have always been a small guy. Genetically, I will never be bulky or muscular… it’s just not in the cards for me. Throughout my school years, I was always referred to as “that really skinny guy” or “skeleton.” Some people even questioned if my parents were not feeding me enough. Even today, when I am twenty four years old and at university, one of the first things people notice about me is how thin I am. I’m certainly not the skinniest guy out there, but in an age where guys are expected to be big and muscular, I am an outsider.
I am sitting, legs crossed on the sidewalk of an outdoor café in Old Montreal, the dew covering my skin from yoga class lifting into the summer night as the sun’s final salutations bow low against the ancient architecture of the Vieux-Port. A Canadian flag flutters the only hint of color against the tawny-gray buildings whose crevices bear the stories of the ancients, the steady clip-clop of a Clydesdale horse carrying the promise of romance to the drones of people who like me have come here to be swept away.
I recall first becoming aware of my ‘pudgy stature’ when I was about 11 or 12 years old and my older brothers started calling me “Little Piggy”. I used to think to myself, “What’s wrong with you loser? Why can’t you just be like all the other guys?” Many people will say “Well that’s just how boys are…”. To me, however, it was utterly devastating. It would reshape my brain, my body and my entire life for more than a decade to come.
Many people have asked me similar questions: 'How can you openly speak about your ED?' or “Are you scared that people will judge you for having had an ED?” Others ask, “What if you are not hired for a job because of your history with ED?”. So, I feel it is time to start sharing my answers!
So what does feminism have to do with issues of body image and eating disorders anyway? Try everything.
The following dialogue from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”, in which Olive, a seven-year old aspiring beauty queen asks her grandpa a question, illustrates part of the problem:
“Grandpa, am I pretty?”
“You are the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No! I’m madly in love with you, and it’s not because of your brains or your personality.”