I suffer from anorexia. It’s not something many people know about me. Well, I suppose they do now that I’ve written it in the most public space available to me, but I mean it’s something I’ve kept hidden for a very long time. Straight up, I want to say that this post is not really about my journey with my dark little anorexic passenger, that will come later, if I’m brave enough.
This is post is actually just prompted by an article a friend shared on Facebook a while ago about breast cancer survivor and E! News reporter Giuliana Rancic, where she bites back at the diatribe against her weight following her Golden Globe’s appearance in January (see the article here). I’m not going to weigh in (excuse the pun) on the debate over her need to ‘eat a burger’ or the veracity of her statements that post-cancer medication has resulted in her being unable to gain weight. But one statement from her that I read struck a chord: “I’m sorry that some people think I’m disgustingly skinny, as they put it, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m lucky that I even have the type of cancer that reacts to the medicine. I look in the mirror and it’s hard for me. I am really thin. I want to look fit and beautiful and sexy, and I can’t.”
Now, I don’t know how Giuliana Rancic really feels. I don’t know if it’s mental illness or medication that’s responsible for her skinny frame. I sure as hell know that calling her ‘disgusting’ for the way she looks is the definition of ‘disgusting’ itself. Unfortunately general popular culture puts ‘skinny’ on a pedestal, cultivating aspirations to lose weight, to become the smallest version of ourselves, to consume any product available to us that will help in attaining the status of ‘beautiful, confident, fit, #thinspo poster girl’. That is, until someone actually achieves the extreme, the ultimate ‘#thinspo’ transformation, and then we women scream ‘omg too far!’ ‘gross, eat a burger!’ ‘you disgusting anorexic!’ while secretly calculating how many more meals we need to skip, or hours we need to spend in the gym, to bring us that little bit closer to the very thing we are ripping apart.
Unfortunately, many women have this innate desire to be unnaturally underweight, because images have trained us to understand it is more attractive. Every second advertisement promotes weight loss, and every second image reinforces the beauty of bones, angles, and pre-pubescent girls rattling around in size 0 outfits. But what really happens when you get there? What happens when, like Giuliana, your body sits well below a ‘healthy’ weight range (I’m defining ‘healthy’ as the weight at which your body is functioning in all the wonderful ways it was meant to)?
“I look in the mirror and it’s hard for me. I am really thin. I want to look fit and beautiful and sexy, and I can’t” – regardless of where these words are coming from, I believe Ms Rancic wholeheartedly. Based on my experience of spending a significant period of time carting around grossly underweight BMI of 14, I believe that you can spend your life being as thin as possible, as tiny and bony as the advertisements tell you you should be, and it doesn’t mean shit. You just won’t see yourself as ‘fit and beautiful and sexy’. Aside from the fact that your malnourished/eating disordered brain is completely fucked when it comes to being able to view yourself accurately or positively, you really don’t look like the best version of yourself. In fact, these are the things they don’t tell you about what being skinny really looks like:
- You’ve got goosebumps, all the time – Even in summer I had to wear cardigans and jeans. In a 44 degree summer in Vegas I couldn’t wear a dress without stockings, and I was embarrassed to be covered in goosebumps every time I wore a pair of swimmers to the beach.
- You bruise like a peach, and you just don’t heal – I used to get huge bruises all over, and I could’t even recall bumping myself. Even worse, if I hurt myself, I’d take months and months to heal, leaving open sores and scrapes all over my arms and legs. Once I tripped over, and it took 2 years for the graze on my shin to go away. I got my ear pierced a year ago and it’s only just stopped bleeding.
- Your hair falls out – My hair was thin and wispy, you could see my scalp through the strands and it wouldn’t grow past my shoulders without breaking. Once I went to the hairdresser and she showed me a patch at the back of my head where my hair had just thinned out and broken to the point that I ended up having to cut it all off to my earlobes.
- Your skin looks like it’s covered in ash – no matter how much I moisturised my skin it looked pasty and felt dry, all the time. My knuckles would bleed in the winter from windburn and indoor heating.
- You have a tail – Yep. Gross, I know. My bum deflated completely, it was pretty much concave, leaving my the sharp point of my tailbone at the base of my spine exposed.
- You have no boobs – This was probably one of the first fleshy areas to disappear. I couldn’t even fill out a padded A-cup.
- You don’t have a flat stomach – Because I was malnourished from lack of food, my belly was sunken, but not flat. I had this bulge between my hipbones and thick blue veins popping out from under my skin. The veins ran like ropes down my forearms, too.
- Your face is a skull – I remember emerging from the shower one evening and being surprised at the state of my face without makeup. I could see every hollow of my skull – the temples, the space beneath the cheekbones, and, most obviously, the dark purple caves of my eye sockets.
Seeing the dark and hollow caves of my eyes is something that I don’t ever want to see again. At the moment I acknowledge that I am still a long way from ‘recovery’ from anorexia, but I am also a long way from this physical husk of a human being I was nearly 2 years ago. At my core, I am a writer, but I have avoided writing about this for a long time. At times, over the years, I’ve started, and then stopped, and then destroyed or squirrelled away the words – but now it finally seems somewhat cathartic to have laid down a frank and personal reflection. I’m at this stage now that I want to be so honest it hurts. In summary, I don’t know if those seemingly ‘emaciated’ women gracing our screens, catwalks, and magazines are secretly suffering from those unattractive side effects of extreme thinness, or if, in reality, they really are as glowing and vivacious and perfectly formed in all areas as the media would have us believe. Maybe they are. But what I do know is that for every image flashed before our eyes that equates thinness with happiness, bones with perfection, skinniness with beauty, there are countless women who are inspired to starve, purge, and torture themselves to get there. All the while being completely unaware of what skinny really looks like.