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.
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.”
Eating disorder. Simply say the words and there are many others that immediately spring to mind. For each person, the association will be different; however, one thing is clear – it’s an emotionally charged issue. As a former eating disorder sufferer, I confess that one of the words I didn’t anticipate encountering on my journey with anorexia was also one of the most damaging – isolation. As the years passed, my ED injured not only me, but also my relationships with my friends, my family, and my world in general.
I was taught from a very young age that being thin was the “ideal” standard of beauty. “You’re so tall and thin – you could be a model when you grow up!” This comment was typical, as I had always been tall for my age.
My name is Jay, and I am an Athletic Personal Trainer. I am also someone who has recovered from an eating and exercise disorder. My issues, like every person who has had an eating disorder were individual to me. All too often we label or group eating disorders into specific categories, but anyone who has dealt with one themselves, or through someone else knows that the behaviours come in all forms, for all different reasons, and are reinforced from all different pressures.
One of my aspirations is to do my part in undoing the feelings of insecurity and incompleteness people feel in trying to measure up to society's "ideal" beauty standards. However, I find it quite challenging to live up to this ambition on a daily basis. I still sometimes catch myself engaging in fat-talk and making appearance-based judgments in the name of "health" - when I know better. I'm trying not to be so hard on myself because I'm fighting against years of hard-wiring to believe that skinny is the only way to be healthy or beautiful.
Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with my own inner parent. That voice in my head that tells me that whatever went wrong today is my fault or that my feelings are invalid and silly. It’s that nagging voice that pops up every now and again to remind me that I will never be good enough. Sound familiar? I am no stranger to this toxic inner dialogue that attempts to sabotage my efforts to be good to myself. This constant struggle against my inner antagonist got me thinking, why is it so hard to love myself the way that I love others? I would consider myself a fairly loving person.
I knew I was gay my whole life, but sixteen was the age I decided to come out to my Mum and sister (who were, and are, my biggest supporters). It was during the same year that I fell into the throes of an eating disorder.
I remember always feeling apart from other kids: my parents divorced when I was very young, we moved a number of times, and I had trouble making close friends. I lacked confidence as a child; I was always overweight, being teased and bullied for being "gay" - before I was even old enough to know what "gay" was.
This week, Marina Abdel Malak shares ten thoughts about eating disorders (ED).
1. ED is NOT your fault. Maybe you started off by dieting, but you did not mean for it to go this far. Maybe you were just a little hungry and sad and decided to eat too much. Perhaps the hype with weight loss got to you. Maybe your peers or family teased you because of your weight. Whatever the reason, this does not mean that you 'made' yourself have an eating disorder. Know this one thing: you should not be blaming yourself for this illness.