By Jo Longley
I fixed my body image issues, but I still have disordered eating. Knowing I’m a hot bitch and no one deserves to touch me, is separate from my eating a whole pizza right after being rejected by a boy, and I don’t know entirely why but I know it’s true.
That’s not to say that I don’t ever feel self-conscious; I do. Like any person ever, of course I do, but my self-consciousness rarely stems from my size like it almost exclusively used to.
Once I transitioned from cute kid to chubby pre-teen people would ask my mom about my health, about how much exercise I was getting, as though it were her fault/responsibility to keep me thin. At eleven I was put on my first crash diet—the reason I can’t eat cashews to this day.
Looking back on pictures of that time is disorienting. I remember feeling massive, but in photos I look—normal. I’m larger now than I was then, but I feel more correct in this body. I don’t apologize for the space I take up. Some of this I attribute to not being a teenager anymore (Thank God), but it wasn’t until I went vegan that my emotionally abusive relationship with my own body started making a turn around.
It was in part for a dare I had with a vegetarian teacher, and another part because I saw a Jenna Marbles video about being vegan and she’s just so hot.
In my house it was rebellious. My mom, who was very into me doing a diet that required eating only vanilla yogurt, put her foot down when it came to veganism saying that she would not be purchasing my groceries anymore if I was going to do this quote “vegan thing”.
Nevertheless I persisted. And my mom came around when I started losing weight. But for me it wasn’t about the weight. Veganism was the first time I had elected to control my intake for reasons other than weight loss. It wasn’t about my body, it was about B12s, and bananas. I could bake, but I had to be creative. I could eat snack food, but I had to read the ingredients.
Once a friend lectured me about protein intake while eating a double bacon cheeseburger and I told him exactly how many grams of protein over the daily limit he was consuming this meal alone AND the side effects of that kind of diet.
Around that time puberty decided to throw me a bone and give me my feminine body. I got a waist, cheekbones, and a defined jawline what felt like overnight. I was in the best shape I’d ever been, not meaning that I was the healthiest or strongest I had ever been, but I was the thinnest.
And, god! The uproar my shape caused! I started getting catcalled regularly. The most memorable of these I was dressed for a funeral and a grown-adult male stranger said, “Excuse me miss, you have calves any woman would kill for.” To which I said, “Uhhh, I’m just trying to use the ATM.”
Not too long later my parents started the slow tango towards divorce. My mom found a new crash diet, and would spend nights in front of the TV doing squats, planks, bicycle crunches, lunges, you name it. I would make cake batter just to watch her eat something, then defiantly finish my bowl and what was left of hers while she sweated through hour two of watching Criminal Minds and doing jumping jacks.
I realized then I had a fucked up relationship with my body—and that this fucked-up-ness was handed down to me. The conventional, “get body confidence” stuff worked for me, and I’ll just say that if you’re struggling with your self-image, sometimes the cliché works. But this article isn’t about that. This article is about the fact that I had a fucked up relationship with my body image, and I FIXED IT, but I still struggle with disordered eating.
The easy answer would be: I didn’t fix my body image issues near as much as I think, but no. I’m very aware of where I’m at on the scale of loving myself to hating myself based on the merit of my weight—that’s part of being a fat girl. You’re hyper-attuned.
On any given day I am aware that I am Hot As Fuck, and realistic about living in a world that actively avoids admitting the beauty of people beyond a certain BMI. It doesn’t get me down, but if I’m being honest it’s because I know how good I am at giving head. And I think within that one X-rated sentence lies the crux of my problem with disordered eating.
My acceptance of my weight, the love I have for my own body, does precious little to change the longstanding and deeply entrenched hatred society holds towards women who do not destroy themselves in service of societal standards of beauty. And in some way it can feel like you’re always angling to prove you still bring value to society.
Existing while fat, especially as a woman, is a form of protest: because our society says thin is beautiful, and beauty has always been connected to power.
Did you know that white bread was once the most expensive bread product? It costs more to bleach flour than it does to use whole grain flour, so the expense made sense. But once whole grain bread started being lauded for its health benefits, its value shot up. Meanwhile, with no nutritional value to claim white bread saw a decrease in its market value. Whole grain breads are still cheaper to produce, they just have more “value” in the eyes of the market—so price gets inflated.
That’s how these things go. It’s a well-documented fact in America: if you want to be thin you better not be poor. Healthy eating is on the whole more expensive than a diet of processed foods with sparser nutritional content.
Money, power, beauty—these things are all intertwined. So while in Renaissance times fat was celebrated as a mark of prestige, the ability to afford more than enough, thin is the new signifier of status. You have to be able to afford thin.
But here’s the catch, you can either afford thin or starve yourself off to achieve it. If thin is a status symbol, and I’m fat, then I’m not working hard enough to achieve it.
When men reject me, they’re not just rejecting my body, they’re rejecting the part of me that won’t cow tow to society’s damnation of me. So I eat a pizza, or I don’t eat for a week.
If we’re going to have serious talks about body positivity, we also need to include a very critical look into the ways money and power have toyed with our ideas of “health” and “beauty”. It’s not just the patriarchy, it’s the patriarchy wrapped up in the tortilla of capitalist evil, topped with the salsa of classism, and a side of racist sour cream.
Maybe I just want a burrito really bad, but I also think I have a point here. When we’re born and too young to soak in things like “beauty standards” and “Keto dieting”, food means comfort and connection and THAT’S IT. As we progress into adolescence, the tangle of shitty forces that want to keep us unsatiated and ever-spending weaves its path of neurons in our brains, in direct opposition of those initial invaluable learnings about what food is and should be.
So I managed to chop of the head of the Hydra that told me my weight made me unloveable, but when push comes to shove: going on a cookie craze and eating a sleeve of Oreos still gives me base-level baby-brained comfort. I’m working on changing my capitalist ingrained mindset that says I only deserve comfort if I’m as efficient a market-driving cog as possible, but I still feel a sense of lightheaded pride when I’ve worked a ten hour day fueled only by Diet Coke and nicotine.
Taylor Swift opened up about her disordered eating in her recent Netflix documentary, and I can’t deny that I’m part of the problem because when Swift started her “Lover” come-back marketing campaign all I could think was man she gained weight. And if someone as affluent and privileged as Swift is feeling these pressures, the pressures down the privilege ladder only get heavier and more ever-present.
The body positivity movement is a wonderful force. It literally changed my life and served as a pool skimmer for the swamp that is my brain on societal expectations. But if we’re going to make actual change, not just in our own brains, but in the shared brain that is culture, we can’t just be positive. We have to be highly critical about the compounding shit storm that is capitalism + patriarchy + classism + mental illness, because it’s an equation that pretty uniformly equals women stuffed full of inattention, discontent, and self-hatred.
Featured Image by Tim Mossholder from Pexels.