Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

February 22-28 is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. In recent years it seems that eating disorders have seen more attention in the form of after school specials and the more current "fad" of teenagers and young women who choose dysfunctional eating styles as a way of life – just as they choose their style of dress. I’ve scanned various news articles and first hand accounts of eating disorder sufferers over the past few days, and I am disappointed that the myths about eating disorders still run so rampant. Perhaps it is like the subject of sexual assault, most people don’t want to think about it or know about it until they have a reason to – generally when it has touched their lives through personal experience or that of someone close. In the same way, too many people seem to put eating disorders off as a "middle to upper class teenage girls’ problem." I don’t quite fit into that box, but my battle with an eating disorder began a long time ago, before there were Lifetime movies about them, before the pro-ana and mia websites and when the Olsen twins, the poster children for this frighteningly glamorized "lifestyle", were still child stars on a television sit com.

I have read first hand accounts of eating disorder sufferers, most of which begin with, "I’ve suffered with an eating disorder since I was…" For me, the truth is that I don’t know when it began. I remember my mother once confessing to my step-sister, who was doing an elementary school report on fears, that her biggest fear was getting fat, always obsessing about her weight as most American women do. Through some odd twist of fate, I was enrolled in ballet classes despite my desire to take karate. My upbringing and eventual life experiences were peppered with the stuff that perfectionist complexes, and also eating disorders, stem from. No surprise that at nearly 30 years old, every day is still a struggle for me.

Of all the insults I have received in my life, none hurt more deeply, nor stay with me to this day like those, "you’re gaining weight," "you’ve put on a few pounds," or the local versions unique to the West Indian culture, "you’re getting fat," and "you’re looking thick/ healthy." You can call me anything, poke fun at me for anything, except my weight. Any comment hit me like a knife to my stomach, the thought of gaining an ounce enough to send me into a frenzy. I’ve spent years of my life in various dance studios in various cities, town and islands, surrounded by mirrors and stick thin teenagers. My body type is not one ideal for ballet, I’ve only once in my adult life hit the "ideal dancer’s weight of 114", but my talent has always made up for that. I’ve picked apart my physical flaws for years this way, spending even more hours in front of my home mirrors to figure out just which position makes me look the thinnest, which hairstyle, which outfit, which color (for years there were no clothes in my closet which were not black). I’ve been praised for eating cucumber slices for lunch, been made an example of when at my thinnest, had my photos used in print media and advertising. Alternately, when heavier, I’ve found myself excluded from dance numbers solely based on my body, ignored in classes and passed by when candy is handed out on the final day of semesters, humiliated in front of my peers and their parents when asked if I would rather carry around a purse that weighed 10 pounds, everyday, everywhere, or if I would rather not have the burden of such a purse. The piece de resistance; being asked to sign a legal contract which would grant me acceptance into a highly ranked and prestigious dance company’s program, contingent upon me losing a minimum of 10 pounds. I was 17 years old.

An addiction of sorts, eating disorders are most difficult in that the substance involved in this addiction is one that we need to live. It is not cigarettes, alcohol or drugs which can be avoided altogether when attempting recovery. In that sense those of us who suffer must play with fire each and every day of our lives. I’ve tried about every fad diet and diet product. Going to the grocery store or looking at a restaurant menu are enough to cause a panic attack. I obsess over everything that passes my lips, and think twice about my activity level for the next day/ week before making any food decision. My closet is still full of clothes ranging in size from 4 to 10, because my weight has never remained the same for any period of time longer than six months. I have, at not yet 30 years old, done serious damage to my body as a result of striving for this type of perfection.

I am getting there. It is time to start thinking about the long term, and about my health and my life.

One.Day.At.A.Time.

At still close to the heaviest I have been in my life, I allowed myself to be photographed like this.
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a diamond in the rough

a diamond in the rough
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