Let’s Get Real. What I am about to write has been, and continues to be, a source of pain and struggle in my life. However, it is my struggle: one in which I take ownership and self-agency.
My name is Gloria. I have struggled with negative body image for nearly half my life. Within those years, I have developed, and relapsed into anorexia nervosa, and related disorders. My goal is to make it into full recovery, and to dispel stigma and stereotypes along the way.
When I was only ten, I began to see myself as fat. Fat, ugly, and worthless. Those words hung heavy over my head as I started to examine my body on a daily basis.
For many years, I was the only Chinese-American female in my grade. I was hypersensitive to the way I looked and dressed among my peers, and found myself in a constant state of comparison of bodies as I walked beween classes, of athletic ability in recess and P.E., and of what I brought for lunch.
I loathed my brown eyes and black hair, the shape of my nose, the softness of my cheeks, and the way my legs seemed to fatten when I sat down. Much of the knowledge I held was culturally irrelevant, and I was entirely, painfully aware of how unstylishly uncool I probably seemed to the other kids.
I was smart – I could give myself that. But I feared that everyone else would see me as that too, and only that. And if I couldn’t be popular, cool, or pretty – why, I would be the skinniest and smartest b—- in the room. If I couldn’t be athletic, I would make myself thin. If my lunch was strange to see and smell, I might as well not eat it.
After my best friend moved away in middle school, I began to strive in earnest for these things. I capped my caloric intake at 800 on some days, and others, only 200. I kept myself as busy as possible to burn whatever I ate away, and also to keep myself from eating. After losing 20 pounds, I held myself back and began eating again, never mentioning what I had put myself through until years and years later.
Then I had troubles with overeating and orthorexia. My body had been so deprived that it saw every meal as though it was its last, and behaved accordingly. I was ashamed of all the snacks I had in bulk, because I could hardly prevent myself from inhaling them. It was the total opposite of the complete control I had with “ana”.
For a time, I tried to fight these tendencies with health. I became vegetarian, and also spent all my free time reading bodybuilder blogs and health articles. I went running some three or four times a week, and strength trained myself in my room. And my obsession was still my body.
My family moved to China when I got to high school. It was no easy adjustment. The air pollution was so bad that despite my efforts, running for exercise was no longer practical. Long story short, joining swim team, and being in a community where I felt isolated and ignored, did not help how I perceived my body and my identity.
I am writing now from the second semester of my sophomore year at Wellesley College. A little more than two months ago, I recognized that I had relapsed into anorexia.
Last semester, I began long-term therapy for a host of other mental illnesses. I lost my appetite and ate only once a day for a number of months. I only recognized that something was wrong at the point when all I had for a week was two bowls of soup.
I was weak, but not hungry. I remembered that I had to feed myself, but I didn’t. Once I realized this pattern, I reached out for help.
My church, family, friends, mentors, and therapist(s) delivered. Ask, and you shall receive, the Word tells us. So ask! Ask!
But the most important resource I found was in myself – the courage to overcome my disease. That spark of “screw you!” to drown out ana’s voice. The internal power to render her ridiculous arguments powerless.
I went home for break and never missed a meal there. I’m trying to keep that up now as we go deeper into 2018. My weight has more or less equilibrated back to what is healthy for me. Now it’s the mind that needs the healing.
I look at me and remind her that this body is normal. This is what my healthy looks like. Sure, she could do with some cardio, and some extra greens, but she can have an extra cookie or scoop of ice cream if she wants, too.
My body is totally acceptable and has its place in the world. After all, it is only a vessel for the work I have yet to do in it. I have an identity rooted in Christ, who is for me, and who leads me to abundant life.
Today, I am trying to speak this message not only over myself, but over anyone who might be sharing a similar struggle. Thank you for reading.
I share this because at least 30 million people struggle with an eating disorder in America, and many more will develop one. I am lending my voice out, because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Because these disorders affect all genders, ages, classes, body shapes, and ethnicities.
And most of all, because all of us deserve support, healing, and victory over our battles.
If you are looking for treatment professionals in your area, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline Monday through Thursday , 9am-9pm or Friday 9am-5pm ET at 800.931.2237 or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/helplinechat. To search through their online treatment provider database, please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-treatment.
- This National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness), join us as we bust myths and misconceptions about what eating disorders look like. We’re changing the conversation around food, body image, and eating disorders! Join us at nedawareness.org. Be a part of the change – take and share NEDA’s screening at nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening.