I Don’t Give a Fuck About Your Weight
I have anorexia. I say have very deliberately; there is a pervasive and debilitating belief that since I am what is known as ‘weight-restored,’ I no longer live with an eating disorder. This is untrue. I started pursuing recovery (and I mean actually pursuing it, not simply telling everyone I was working on it) in February of this year. It was a slow start. It has been incredibly difficult. But I’m still alive, so, clearly, I’m doing something right.
I’ve gotten to this point with the help of a handful of friends, my therapist, and my own strong will. I am extremely fortunate. For many, this is something they endure alone. For an alarmingly high percentage of people with eating disorders, there is no recovery. There is death. An eating disorder is a slow form of suicide, and so many people who suffer with this illness end up dying. There are several reasons for this. For one, recovering from an eating disorder is a lifelong battle. You do not go back to ‘normal’, you must now learn to live day in and day out with the thing that has haunted you for so long. You need food to survive, and you have to face it every day, multiple times a day. This is exhausting. It wears you down. Secondly, support and treatment options are few and far between. They’re expensive. They’re difficult to find. And, most horrifyingly, they are discriminatory. Most treatment centres have weight requirements that simply cannot be reached by most people, even at the height of their illness. In mental health circles this is known as the ‘80 pound rule’, perpetuating the idea that your body defines your disorder, not your habits. So, many people, myself included, convince themselves that they do not deserve treatment or support because they are not sick enough. Not thin enough. Not sufficiently malnourished. Still not worthy.
Support from medical professionals, and from friends and family, is hard to come by as well. Most doctors and therapists do not have training in eating disorders. A 2015 study measuring the amount of education medical professionals get on eating disorders showed that family medicine programs offered on average 3.55 hours of teaching on the subject. General and adolescent psychiatry programs provided an average of 4 hours. Many doctors still use BMI as a determinant of health, which is harmful for many reasons, but especially harmful when diagnosing an eating disorder. Because my BMI stayed on the low end of normal, my diagnosis was delayed, and even after it was concluded that I had anorexia, it was deemed ‘atypical’. Not thin enough. Not sick enough.
The first therapist I saw told me I should just eat. Described to me what she ate for breakfast in the morning while assuring me she was not fat. Asked me if I had ever heard of the ‘80/20’ rule. Told me to relax.
Friends and family don’t know what to say. They tell you: ‘you look great’. They admire your discipline. Call you things like ‘skinny mini’, they grab at your stomach and your bones and tell you they wish their ribs poked out like that. (I would like to underline that not everyone with an eating disorder gets thin. Your weight in no way defines your eating disorder. Fat people have dangerous eating disorders, athletes have dangerous eating disorders, people with disabilities have dangerous eating disorders. I am only speaking to my experience.) You look great until you don’t. Until you’ve taken it just a little bit too far. Until your cheeks are sunken and you’ve lost all semblance of womanhood and you stop laughing. Then they gently tell you that you should maybe gain some weight. Just a little weight. Enough so that they can feel comfortable complimenting your tiny frame once again. “Just how you looked at Christmas, you looked great then!”
I was sick at Christmas. I was sick the whole time. But thinness is social currency. The same behaviours that shock us when performed by thin people, the ones that characterize the disorder, we applaud in people who are overweight or of average weight. We are scared of fat. We would rather see bones than belly roles. We measure our worth and the worth of others through their capacity for self-denial.
I have always weighed too much. Even when I was at my sickest, I weighed too much. Too much for treatment, too much for my doctor to intervene. Now, I weigh far too much. When people guess my weight, they are always wrong. They can’t imagine that the number on the scale would be that high for someone this small, for someone many people do not consider fat. They are offended. Offended because we are taught as women that less is better. Being smaller is better. Take up less space. Don’t speak too loud. Don’t be too bossy. Don’t have an opinion. Don’t intimidate.
My eating disorder was an attempt to take up less space. I starved myself and ran until I felt nothing. I couldn’t assert myself if I had no energy. I couldn’t be too loud. And if I was going to be loud, at least I wasn’t taking up too much space.
I still struggle every day. Every meal. I miss my illness. It was comforting. My bones were comforting. Running for hours everyday, running until my feet bled, it made me so happy. Recovery is work. And it’s work that is made more difficult every day with before and after photos and body shaming and fatphobia and constant speech about diets and restriction and fitspo being spouted like gospel. Here’s the thing: if you lose weight, and you are happy about it, that’s great. But no one needs to see the before and after pictures of you in a sports bra in front of the mirror. If you are losing weight for your health, then what you look like shouldn’t matter. You are a valid and valuable human being regardless of your size, and while it might feel nice to have people compliment you on your body, fixating on it does nothing but harm in the long run. I don’t need to know your weight. I don’t want to know your weight. In the words of Ijeoma Oluo, “I will not support the notion that a smaller body is moral victory.” Because it’s not. The same goes for those who have gained weight, or those who have stayed the same. Your weight is irrelevant. Body shaming yourself is harmful to you and harmful to others. A person’s value does not lie in how much space they take up. Stop fucking perpetuating that myth, because it’s literally killing people. It almost killed me. This isn’t me trying to protect myself, this isn’t me trying to force others to deal with my triggers. That’s work that I put in and I will do that. But I refuse to engage in behaviour that I know contributes to other people’s suffering. I don’t give a fuck about your weight and neither should you.