Unfortunately human nature has it that many of our unfavourable traits and reactions are naturally ingrained, such as that of automatic judgement, and that old line, “never judge a book by its cover” but regardless, we do anyway. We also automatically judge people within seconds of feasting our eyes upon their tatty clothes, hearing their hooty toffee accent or seeing their sickly thin legs from beneath a dress that, once upon a time, used to fit. “God, look at her. That’s not normal.” “That’s disgusting.” and “Ugh, she’s too thin”. Yes, we judge. The fault however, lies within our developed and supposedly domesticated culture in the way in which we express those judgements, or whether we keep a lid on them at all, disallowing them to gain the better of us. Not everyone does.
When I was suffering from my eating disorders, both bulimia and anorexia, I was hyper-aware of my body, those around me, and the perceptions that were going on in regards to my body by those around me. Whether they were happening or not, or a figment of my imagination, I was aware – hyperaware. As a bulimic I was not so obviously unwell; I maintained a healthy weight, and ultimately gained weight. During anorexia however I really discovered the sharp edge of the double standard in regards to commenting upon a person’s weight, publicly, loudly and often times, without a second thought for the person being commented upon: namely myself, and whether I was within earshot or not. “Did you see how skinny she is?” It is OK when commenting on someone who is severely underweight it seems, perfectly acceptable even: however, should the same be said about someone severely overweight, my goodness would the tirades of the curvaceous beauty army come down on said heathen like a ton of bricks from the heavens above. What blasphemy! No. Neither is OK. Body shaming is never OK, however in this instance, apparently it was. Constantly. Throughout my difficulties with anorexia and even when a thought was spared at the cause for said “disgusting appearance”, “she looks anorexic or something” the very infliction making my life hell became an insult, a derogatory comparison because of course, anorexia is just fucking disgusting. Hello mental health stigma in all its glory.
It was one of my many discoveries during my days of anorexia that people feel an explicit right to openly berate someone’s appearance of which they feel is unappealing, unattractive or, for as far as some would like to go, disgusting. Often times there lay no secrecy in the commentary upon my already shattered body image, “Gosh you are thin. You are too thin! Yes, far too thin. You don’t look good.”
Nod and smile.
Nod and smile in the hope that they will run out of things to say on how “too thin” I am: as if I didn’t hate my body enough already.
Another mistake here is also that for someone battling anorexia the ultimate goal is to look as much like the living dead as possible. We envy the images of holocaust victims, of course we do. To an extent this can play a part in many peoples’ disorders, however, there comes a point when regardless of size the loathing for my body was much deeper than skin, ribs and chubby gaunt cheekbones. Every molecule that made me, every cell and every function that I was became a source for despicable loathing. I hated that my body made me feel like shit and look like shit regardless of my weight and for how, no matter how hard I tried not to be, I was always fucking pug ugly. Of course I was, there was no other explanation. In addition to hating my appearance, I hated the way I smiled, laughed on the rare occasion that I did, breathed, slept, thought, was, am, and everything in my whole entire being.
On the psychiatric wards people are most open about providing their unrequested opinion on your eating habits, appearance and just generally how crazy you may, or may not seem to be. Perhaps this is because whilst being locked up on a ward with one another 24/7 they notice that you’re missing from every meal time, hiding in your room and arguing with the nurse about whether or not you need to eat that day, week, or even, ever again. “Oi, Patient, EAT!” the other inmates would shout from across the ward, before turning towards one another, “she never eats. She never speaks either. Can she even speak?” For some people, the common sense that we’re all in a psychiatric ward and that perhaps there is something at play here, such as, oh I don’t know – a mental illness? Of course though even once the words of,
“I have an eating disorder” are fatefully uttered and with many having done the rounds on the wards across London there’s always been worse.
“What are you in for? What did you do?”
“I’m having some issues. How about you?”
“I know you’re having some issues, that’s why we’re all here. I’m depressed, what about you?”
People in psychiatric wards I’ve realised like to know who they’re mixing with. Perhaps it is in the hope that they find someone with a similar difficulty to their own and can talk about it? Sometimes though, I think people are just bored and nosy with the only entertainment, besides a TV stuck on Sky News showing you the world you’re not a part of anymore, each others’ crises and problems.
“I have an eating disorder, and some other stuff going on but I don’t know what it is”
“Oh, well you don’t look too bad. I’ve seen worse. You actually look fine. You look good.”
Maybe she was trying to be nice and that was a version of ‘words of encouragement’. After all, I didn’t look 100% like death, but feeling the need to comment on my appearance always got me. Eating disorders are about more than what you see at face value. In fact there are people on eating disorder inpatient wards right now who were admitted at a non-emaciated weight: some even at a healthy weight, because an eating disorder is more deep-rooted and problematic than how “too thin” someone appears to be, in your personal opinion.
My main issue with all of this though is that people, strangers to be precise, feel they have the right to holler at someone to eat because they find it strange. Or provide you with their opinion of how disgusting they think you look because your arms are perhaps too twig-like, or your knees far too knobbly for comfort their own aesthetical comfort.
Everyone’s heartfelt right to comment upon my body made me feel the more self-conscious about my shape, size and how much I didn’t fit in. It only served to exacerbate how awkward I felt. Feeling misplaced, confused and distorting my already skewed perceptions of myself in relation to the world around me because losing weight felt good; but looking ill didn’t. Not eating felt comforting; but being gawked at wasn’t – and once the anorexia took over every ounce of control I ever had in relation to my eating, when I really began to look unwell, I really at that time had no choice in whether or not I ate that day anymore and the open commentary from strangers only fuelled my inner hate and disgust that really were major players behind the real causes of the eating disorder.