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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions of a recovering anorexic, body image and YAlit

I am anorexic.  You wouldn’t know that to look at me, but they say it is something you never fully recover from – so I guess I am not recovered, but am recovering.  I eat now.  Sometimes too much and sometimes for the wrong reasons.  I am definitely in no way slim any more.  But neither am I at peace with my body.

 TLT Posts on Body Image:

I stopped eating in the 8th grade.  In the 7th grade I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and fitted for a back brace.  This brace ended up being a piece of fiberglass that was shaped like a corset.  It distorted my body and changed the way I had to dress; now, I could only where elastic, over sized pants and because I did not want people to know, I chose to wear loose, baggy shirts.  So the fiberglass cast and the clothing all served to make me look bigger than I did. (Read my previous post on the subject: The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset).

The first time I had to wear it out in public I threw up.  Not on purpose, I simply was anxious and that is how my body responded.  But it changed something in my mind and I knew from that moment on that I would never eat the same.  I began to skip lunch, which was convenient because I was obsessed with music and movie stars and would use my lunch money to buy magazines like 16 and Bop so it seemed win/win.  Eventually, skipping lunch didn’t seem like enough.

By the time I graduated high school I was eating either one blueberry muffin or one granola bar a day, never both, and drinking one Pepsi.  I was almost 5 foot 9 and weighed right around 100 pounds.  I will never forget the time when I started healing and went to the doctor; at that time I had gained 5 pounds and now weighed 105 and the nurse commented that I was a nice thin girl.  That’s how pervasive our cultural obsession with being thin is – the nurse, a medical professional who should have known better, was congratulating me for being anorexic and at an unhealthy weight.

Here’s the deal about not eating food: it sucks!  I don’t know about you, but that constant gnawing hunger in your belly made me mean.  And I slept all the time because, well, it turns out your body needs food for energy.  And I threw up a lot and did a lot of damage to my stomach because all that acid, it does damage.

What turned things around for me?  Two things: my faith and my husband.  Being in a relationship with The Mr. involves a lot of food.  That man can eat.  And because I have come to understand that he loves me and accepts me for who I am, it has gradually made it easier for me to love and accept myself for who I am over time.  It’s not that he saved me, but that I chose to save myself because I wanted to be with him.  That’s an important distinction.  I decided that I wanted to be healthy and enjoy life so I could enjoy life with him, and be a good mom to our two little girls.

The other thing that saved me was my faith.  I sincerely believe that my faith calls me to be loving and serve others in God’s name.  That’s kind of hard to do when you have no energy and you are ragey mean because your stomach is eating itself and your muscles are atrophying.  I have always known that I wanted to work with teenagers, in part probably because I thought being a teenager sucked so much.  I want to be a mentor and a positive force in their lives.  I want to create environments where teens can embrace self and become a positive force in the greater world.  In order to do that, I have to be what I am trying to inspire them to be.  So with a lot of grace, a lot of love, and some positive people in my life (thank you M & M), I learned over time to be the very thing I wanted to inspire my teens to be.

I still get ragey, but it is no longer out of hunger.  No, I get ragey because I see the culture that we live in still continues to tell our children – and our adults – that they must look a certain way in order to be worthy of love and achievement, and that way is often a very unhealthy goal.  Oddly enough, I turn to Lady Gaga today as an inspiration.  She recently has been criticized in the media for putting on some weight but rather than excuse it, she seemed to embrace it and mentioned that she was trying to find balance in her life.  That’s what we are all searching for: balance.  So then she launched a new campaign called Body Revolution 2013 where she posted candid pictures of herself online in her skivvies.  On the one hand, this is a bold move that sends a healthy message.  But on the other hand, it reinforces some of our cultural issues because here is this woman who is now an average size and she is being criticized in the media for being too big.  When our kids look at those pictures and hear the media saying she has gotten “fat”, what message will that send to them?

I am the mom to a tween girl.  She takes karate and walks to school every day.  And right on schedule, she told me the other day that she needed to “lose a few pounds.”  She doesn’t actually.  But in that moment, my heart broke for her because I know it only gets worse for our children – boys and girls – from here on out.  They will see image after image in the media of thin, beautiful people rewarded for being thin, beautiful people.  Their peers will divide and conquer the school grounds and lunch rooms based upon who wears the best clothes from the right places and has the blondest hair and bluest eyes (or whatever the look du jour is).  They will stand in front of the mirror with tears running down their faces as they compare themselves to Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez or whatever person is the “it” thing that day.  And they will fail in comparison because they don’t understand the time, money, and airbrushing that goes into creating those sellable brands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qm1kPurZds]

As a culture, we fail our kids and teens every day.  We set up unrealistic standards and send messages that we no longer even try to hide.  We sell BBQ sandwiches by sexualizing and objectifying women (thank you Carls Jr. whom I will never eat at again).  Sex and beauty, those are the two primary messages of our advertising.  Sex sells, but what does it sell?  It leaves us with a culture that forgets to value intelligence, individuality, innovation, creativity and community.  It sets up standards that divides us as we measure each other against an unrealistic measuring stick.  It tells our children that beauty, sex, and celebrity are the end all goals.  It sets our kids up for failure.

This is part of the reason while I value well written ya lit.  Here a wide variety of truths are presented: we are not all the same, but we all struggle with the same things.  We can hope, we can dream, we can achieve.  The power to move can be found in the pages of a book.  When we write honestly and openly, we break down barriers and show our children, and ourselves, that the world is both more glorious and more complex than we can ever imagine – and that in the end, we are all the same on the inside.