I’ve had a couple of weeks where I’ve felt like I’ve got quite a lot to say, but none of it seems to want to come out. It’s like there’s a traffic jam in my brain. I’m not particularly concerned about this because it happens on a regular basis for varying periods of time, but it is annoying to keep turning my computer on and staring at my blog, hoping that a post will write itself and say exactly what I want it to. But that’s unlikely to happen!
So instead I am going to write about Wednesday. On Wednesday I had nothing to do, so I caught the Metro into town to wander around some shops. I checked my bank balance a week or so ago and it was a lot better than I thought it would be (all the frugal living paid off!), so I had the vague idea that I might buy myself a new summery dress or a book. I got as far as trying on several pretty dresses in Dorothy Perkins (yes, I am an old lady), but then got into a strop over the changing room mirrors, so I gave up on that idea and went to Waterstones instead.
Later that evening I made the remark to Jonathan that changing rooms could make me feel a million times worse about my body than my eating disorder ever did. And it’s true. Despite the fact that my ED had nothing to do with body dysmorphia, that doesn’t mean I do and have always loved my body. I hated it when I was a teenager, although it was still very clear in my head that I was starving myself for the way starvation made me feel rather than to change my body, because as far as I was concerned I wouldn’t be happy with my body regardless of my weight. My hatred of it was just an extension of my hatred of myself.
By the time I got to York I didn’t hate my body or myself any more, I knew I looked more attractive when I was healthy, but I felt safer being androgynous. In fact, most of the time I didn’t equate losing weight to changing my body at all – I looked at the number on the scale every morning but I rarely looked in a mirror. I found myself locking my hands around my wrists, wrapping my arms around my body so I could bump my fingers down my ribs, fingering my collar bone – standard body checking, but it was more in the way that I might now mindlessly play with strands of hair that feel extra silky than making sure that the bones were still there. Those kind of compulsive behaviours appear in a lot of people who are malnourished, regardless of the psychological meaning they attach to those behaviours.
But changing rooms. I hate changing rooms. Honestly, given that shops want to sell people clothes you’d think they would fix the lighting so it doesn’t highlight every tiny lump. I am well aware that I am slim, and fully clothed I look just fine, but in changing room mirrors under changing room lights I look all wobbly and wrong. My internal logic is now pretty good, and my thought processes went a bit like this:
ARGH *headless chicken impression*
…but my BMI is only XX, which is still close to the bottom of the healthy end of the range…
…and just yesterday I was admiring Billie Piper in the first series of Doctor Who, and I was thinking that I would happily gain another 5-10lbs to look like her…
…so therefore it must be the lighting.
But I’m still getting out of this changing room ASAP,
In terms of recovery, my entirely healthy percentage of body fat is a very good thing. A lot of people with anorexia, once they accept they actually do have to gain the weight back, get obsessed with gaining back muscle rather than fat. I got a bit weird about this at the start, and I think it was just because my eating disorder wanted to cling on in any shape or form. It wanted SOMETHING to obsess over, God forbid that I actually surrendered control of my body to my genetics and intuition! But bodies need a certain amount of fat for hormones to function, to protect organs and so on. For women, essential body fat – the degree of body fat necessary for the continuation of life – is 8-12%, but anywhere up to a total of ~30% is fine and won’t cause long term health problems. Body fat percentages which are firmly in the healthy range (rather than trailing at the low end) have been associated with lower relapse rates in people with eating disorders.
So I don’t want to get rid of the stuff. It’s useful. And really, it looks a lot better on me than a changing room mirror would suggest. I do genuinely have curves – not big ones, but needing to wear a bra and having a waist that goes in and hips that go out are all very nice. I’m not going to come out with the cliché that “real women have curves”, because that’s horrible – honestly, do people with anorexia and naturally thin women not count as real? I wasn’t aware that a mental illness could turn me into an illusion. But personally I do go in and out a lot more than I used to, and I like it on me. Inhabiting my body feels daring to me, like wearing a something terribly revealing that is guaranteed to get people to look at me. I am no longer trying to be invisible.
Back to the changing room mirrors. When I started to recover I never set “learn to love my body” as a goal, because hating my body hadn’t caused my eating disorder. It’s kind of analogous to my relationship with food. When I was very underweight I was terrified of food, but that was a symptom of my eating disorder, not a cause. In recovery I was obsessed with food for a good few months, as my brain and body healed themselves, and now I just use it as fuel. I don’t hate or love it. It’s necessary, I enjoy the social aspect of it, and I like chocolate brownies quite a bit. But I wouldn’t put such strong words as love or hate on it, because that implies a preoccupation, an obsession. In a similar way, I have various feelings about my body. It terrified me when I was ill and I worried about ideas of perfection when I began to recover. Now I feel proud for having built it up from where it was a couple of years ago. I appreciate it for being so much stronger now, for carrying me about and giving me the energy and strength to enjoy my life. I resent it for being so sensitive. The fact that is it covered in scars is a whole other matter. But I don’t hate it, and I don’t love it, because I don’t spend that much time thinking about it.
I wake up, I shower, I put my clothes on, I leave the house. I don’t weigh or measure myself. My clothes always fit me the same, other than when I have epic PMS. Other than when I am in a changing room I have no reason to be aware of what my body looks like, either to me or other people. I like it that way. I don’t ever want to obsess about my exact weight or body fat percentage. I don’t want to worry about getting enough protein or overdoing the carbs. I don’t want to feel like I HAVE to exercise for however long every day to stay in shape. My shape is fine as it is. Some people find it attractive, and I’m fairly sure Anna Wintour would recoil in horror. But it’s mine, so none of that matters. I like inhabiting this body, and no changing room mirrors are going to change that.
They really could do with different lighting in there though. Or maybe giving out vouchers to everyone who comes out looking a bit traumatised. I would have been able to afford one of those dresses then.