November 13, 2013 by panicpony
*Trigger warning, this is about my struggles with eating disorders and body image issues*
Someone close to us recently asked my husband if I had lost weight since the last time he’d seen me. And it brought up such a wild slew of emotions for me, some good, some bad.
I don’t really know how this person meant this question. Was he saying it in passing? Was he concerned about my weight before? Was he judging me for having put on some weight, and congratulating my husband on my shedding some?
It’s very possible he meant nothing by it, as it’s quite commonplace for us to comment on each other’s body sizes in this culture. But I have been thinking all day about what it meant to me, despite his intentions.
Once, when I was in the depths of my eating disorders, someone once told my ex-husband that he’d noticed how much weight I’d lost, and how good I looked all of a sudden. I was thrilled when my ex told me this. I was winning. I was finally worthy. That was the whole point, to be worthy in the gaze of others, especially men, and especially my ex-husband, who told me multiple times how much better I looked once I was about 30 lbs underweight. He once told me that he hadn’t wanted to have sex with me until then, but when I was that thin I was finally attractive to him. Yeah, nothing I did or didn’t do, was or wasn’t, was the problem for him, but that’s a whole other post.
It’s been a long time since I engaged in the behaviors that got me so sick, but it’s taken way longer for me to get over the mental and emotional game I’ve played with myself about food, weight, and image. I’m not actually over it, and probably never will be. I am aware that the simple question asked of my partner could not be more opposite, in word or intention, than the things my ex-husband used to say to me. But, it used to be, my reaction would be exactly the same. I was, and often am, 100% certain that everyone is scrutinizing my weight. My disordered thinking tells me I failed because I no longer severely restrict my caloric intake, because I don’t vomit when I break the deals I’ve made with myself and eat what I shouldn’t, or exercise three hours a day six days a week. Somehow though, without me realizing it, that thinking has started to fade. More often than not I am thinking good things about my shape and not giving a single care what anyone might think about it. I congratulate myself on healthy decisions I make throughout the day, and those decisions have nothing to do with worry over weight. I have surrounded myself with healthy people, healthy images, and increasingly healthy choices.
There are so many dimensions to this issue for me. I’m not sure I could say anything that wasn’t trite in an attempt to unpack the culture that creates this kind of illness. I do know there are things I have learned and that I’m proud of about this journey that I would like to share.
-I have learned that you look so good, right now! People say that all the time, “You look good exactly as you are”. But we don’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. About myself, and to some degree about others. But I’ve noticed that I’ve started to see how good people really look, right at this moment, completely outside of the context of how anybody or anything says they “should” look. And I say so.
-I have learned that noticing someone’s weight loss as the measure of when you tell someone, “You look so good!” is crap. You are unconsciously, or consciously, saying at the same time, that that person DIDN’T look as good before. I’m not saying that acknowledging someone’s weight loss should be off limits, but maybe we should just steer clear of policing other bodies, even if we think we’re making a compliment. We don’t know why that person’s body has changed. We don’t know how that person feels about these kinds of comments. And people will often let you know if they want to talk about it, if they are proud of themselves for whatever reason, if they are going through something difficult, and so on. Hopefully, if you do need to make a comment to someone you care about you trust each other enough to be able to communicate on that in an appropriate way.
-I have learned that this is more than just a body issue for me. We live in a world where we are constantly being told in what ways we are “allowed” to be visible. For me and I’m sure for many others merely putting on bright lipstick feels like a risk. What if I make myself visible in the wrong way? And, if I do, I believe that I deserve the consequences of a harsh critique. I think there is a lot more I want to say about this in other posts, but it’s interesting and helpful to me to think about how my insecurity is not limited to one aspect of my appearance.
-I’ve learned that I don’t care what other people do or do not notice! While my default reaction to someone noticing ANYTHING about my weight was rage, because I am just so sick and tired of the merry go round of being visible in the wrong way, I realized that’s just what it was: default. I don’t care what anyone thinks or notices. I know where to look for my own value, even when I’m feeling like absolute crap about myself. So rather than feeling rage, I’m actually grateful for this unsolicited comment, because it helped me realize I have come very far, AND that I feel confident about pushing back against the body policing in a thoughtful way.
While I know not everybody has gone through what I have, I have yet to talk to anyone of any gender in any body that hasn’t been effected by some kind of insecurity brought on by the existential negativity we all live in. It’s a pretty tangled web of intersectionality and identity that shapes our individual walks with this.
I kind of love it. I love seeing people and thinking you looks so good, right now, and I am excited to find out all the reasons why you do.