Boyfriend and I are going to Cancun next month, which means I will essentially be spending a week on the beach. Which means a week of bathing suits. I can’t remember the last time I wore a bathing suit in public. It’s probably been over a year, partially because I live in Michigan and partially because any type of outfit that leaves my stomach exposed terrifies me. My stomach has always been “my flaw” — the one I focus most of my attention on. I remember posting something about it when I was in high school, to which a friend commented “you don’t even have a stomach to be self-conscious of.” I know it wasn’t coming from a place of ill intent, but it’s so frustrating to feel your insecurities invalidated just because you look more like someone’s (or society’s) perceived “norm” or “ideal.” Trust me, I still have a stomach. I’m a human being with organs and my stomach is there.
My body is designed to be soft in that area (like most people’s). I
was am always envious of the women I see who have those pretty ab lines, because no matter how much I work out or weight I lose, my belly retains its softness. Even on the precipice of entering the “underweight” medical category, my stomach still jutted out in all its soft glory. Add that to a very nervous stomach with a tendency to bloat from so much as a saltine, and I am not ever getting that stomach the magazines tell us we should have. The stomach they tell you is the one that should be bared in a swimsuit. So basically any time I put on that two-piece, I spend a good ten minutes staring and pinching before I even think about stepping out of the bathroom. And this is coming from someone who can check “thin” and “white” off of the “ideal characteristics a body must posess to be ‘worthy'” list — from the limited perspective of someone who society says has more “right” to be in a bathing suit in the first place.
But I also know that fitting into society’s mold better than others doesn’t stop anorexia from sucking dry my sense of self-worth and confidence. It has been really difficult to navigate a pretty big relapse while knowing I am going to be in a bathing suit in a short period of time. I realized this week in therapy that the traumatic situation I was in for most of 2017 helped mask some of the severity of my eating disorder; I was so busy surviving that situation that I didn’t have the mental capacity left to worry about my anorexic compulsions. Now that I am starting to heal and am also in a much better place with my depression, I’ve recognized a lot of the unhealthy behaviors I’ve been practicing that I thought meant I wasn’t actively restricting — in reality, my methods of restricting have just changed forms.
Getting healthier for me means eating more and working out less — the exact opposite of what you’re “supposed” to do when preparing to wear a bathing suit. Add that to my “soft belly” problem, and this week has been an absolute nightmare. I feel like I’m fighting on two fronts: anorexia telling me I need to get smaller and society reaffirming that. It’s really hard to battle both of those incredibly strong, well-equipped, and organized armies when I’m just trying to remind myself it’s okay that this week was indulgent and okay that I haven’t worked out once. Also that it’s okay and healthy that I’ve gained a few pounds since my doctor’s appointment last month — but that is so hard to remember because so much of the messaging that surrounds us insists the only good thing about weight is when the number goes down.
My therapist and I agreed that low-impact exercise like yoga and walking are the only things appropriate for me while I relearn how to see exercise as a practice in self-care instead of a means of restriction. But that is so hard when all I can think about is the bathing suit I’ll be wearing and the bloat in my stomach from multiple days of dinners out and dessert; all I want to do is run 10 miles or climb 200 flights on the stairmaster to “make up” for all the extra food I’ve been eating. Because society tells me I should be small. And anorexia tells me I should be smaller. And I just can’t get those stupid abs that everyone seems to have but me. I have never wanted so much for my body to be nothing than I have this week, because the mere act of existing in corporeal form seems to be at odds with what anorexia wants from me.
Still, maybe the most daring thing I can do is just exist. Existing is enough. This week has been full of insecurity and mean anorexia voices and overeating and the realization that, finally, I have gained some weight. It’s been full of guilt for feeling as down as I do about my physical existence because I know my social experience is comparatively easier than so many other women. It’s been full of recognizing that despite the privilege I have for existing as small and white, I am still hurting through, healing from, and being abused by an eating disorder I did not ask for and have limited control over. It’s been full of recognizing it’s okay to hurt even if someone else may be hurting differently or more.
Today, existing is enough. When I am on the beach next month, existing will be enough too.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are plenty of resources to use! Something that has been helpful for me is the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website. I used their online screening tool before I began therapy, which was one of the things that encouraged me to seek out support. The NEDA website and toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide.