I Am What They Fear: Healing From Eating Disorders While Fat
I could understand that we share an illness that makes us fear food and desire thinness, but the realities of a fat girl with an eating disorder and a thin girl with an eating disorder are so far apart, it’s like a gorge divides us.
This essay contains discussions of disordered eating habits, fat antagonism, and sexual molestation.
By Ana Velasquez
In my first year of college, during a course on health and wellness, the professor asked students to write down what word came to mind when we thought of our bodies. I wrote, “home” and my professor reacted by calling it “sweet.”
It wasn’t meant to be sweet, not necessarily. My body is my home, and it is a home that I have wanted to burn down, that I have tried to destroy for years, often with encouragement from family, friends, seemingly the whole world. It is a home that seemed to be locked from the outside. No escaping it. I had been chubby since childhood, overweight as a teen, and hit the obese BMI range at around twenty years old. And with each pound I gained, the more and more the world told me they’d rather I destroyed my body, my home, than simply exist as I was.
I suffered through months of restriction, eating one tiny meal a day and living on only coffee and tea, surviving off the scraps of encouragement and advice I found on toxic forums that encouraged starvation for beauty. At over two hundred pounds, nobody seemed to care or notice. Binge eating, on the other hand, meant facing threats of having the pantry and fridge locked up. It meant being offered money to lose weight, it meant shame, and forced diets that lead to more secretive eating.
As a young teen, trips back to the motherland of Colombia meant hearing scathing comments about my size, my shape. Everything from the size of my feet, to the curve of my thighs and the growth of my breasts were commented on, attributed to my mother’s indigenous blood and my father’s Blackness. “Don’t you want to look like Barbie?” my white relatives would ask in bewilderment, and I would smile and lie and tell them “no.” Didn’t I want to permanently straighten my hair, stay out of the sun, lose weight until a man could wrap his big hands around my waist so that his fingers touched? It was marginally kinder when they told me I was “Sweet, but chunky”. The truth is that for most of my life I have wanted to live anywhere but here, I have wanted to tear apart the home that is my body with my bare hands when self harm and starvation were not enough.
How could I heal while accepting that my shape, size, and weight was the bogeyman of my peers?
I did not want a man to wrap his hands around my waist, too afraid of boys since the sexual molestation of my toddlerhood, an incident that might have led to my binge eating. And I was too afraid to touch the hands of the pretty girls I admired, the girls who would no doubt think I was a creep for wanting to kiss them. Even now, fully happy and proud in my bisexuality, I avoid intimacy, because the very thought of someone seeing me nude leaves me immobilized with fear. Maybe the fantasy version of me, me at my ultimate goal weight, barely a hundred pounds and beautiful and in control of herself – maybe she could be intimate with someone. I liked to think of that body as my vacation home.
I never finished that college course, a mental breakdown leading to a nearly three year break from school. In the meantime I was diagnosed with plenty of things, including an eating disorder, and while my therapist practically begged me to go to a center for treatment, I refused, knowing that my body was the ultimate fear of the much smaller girls who would be treated alongside me. How could I heal while accepting that my shape, size, and weight was the bogeyman of my peers? I could understand that we share an illness that makes us fear food and desire thinness, but the realities of a fat girl with an eating disorder and a thin girl with an eating disorder are so far apart, it’s like a gorge divides us. Their illness makes them think they are fat, they fear becoming fat, meanwhile I am fat. Every word of self hatred or terror about imagined fatness would feel personal, even if it wasn’t. I felt treatment at a center would be nothing more than immersive self harm. I feared it would be like pro-ana forums come to life, and I would be left behind.
So, the treatment came in other forms, and it is still ongoing. It comes in the form of true, real, honest body positivity. The corniness in that sentence is not lost on me, but I couldn’t be more sincere. Brand campaigns and ploys for my fat girl money seem to fall away in the face of genuine kindness. Friends who can relate to my feelings, and even the friends who can’t, but listen anyway. The teachers and relatives who let me in on why white supremacist ideals made my coming-of-age all the more hellish, far more than it had to be. Learning to work out because I enjoy getting stronger, and not because I want to be thinner.
The truth is, I did want to be thin. I wanted to be so thin that I would have to be hospitalized.
I didn’t have to rebuild my home. My friends, and family, and the teachers I never met all took me by the hand and walked me through each part of this home and asked me why I thought it was ugly. Uninhabitable. Condemned. They asked me who told me such a thing and it went on long enough that today, on most days, I can look at myself and question the hateful way I’ve been forced to look at the only home I will ever have.
The truth is, I did want to be thin. I wanted to be so thin that I would have to be hospitalized. I wanted this because I am ill and live in a world that enables and encourages my illness, only to turn around and say I could love myself if I buy products sold by size ten models. It feels like nothing short of manipulation. I should buy flat tummy teas to be thin, but I should also buy cute underwear because a brand deigned to have average sized women in their campaigns.
I’m still ill, and I probably always will be. I will always be Bipolar, and have an eating disorder, and have PCOS that makes me feel like my own body is trying to sabotage me. But I am also healing, and hopefully I will always be healing. I can appreciate the berth of my hips, the weight of my breasts, the shade of my eyes and skin and hair. Sometimes, in this world, it is enough of a victory to not want to destroy yourself.
I cannot rely on this world to teach me to love myself.
And importantly, I am loved. I’m loved by my father, who boasts about how his mother had beautiful dark skin. He calls himself Black with pride, and it’s worth more than a million snide comments from racist distant relatives. I’m loved by my maternal grandmother, who tells me all about the rituals that Spain tried to destroy, that I have to write down and never forget. How can I be ugly, when I look like the history she wants to keep alive? She calls me “moon-face”, for my round cheeks, and it’s a sweet compliment.
I cannot rely on this world to teach me to love myself. Not while we live under white supremacy, capitalism, and misogyny, and every other kind of harmful power structure. These things do not love me, and I should not listen to them. Why listen to something designed to harm me and belittle me? The purpose of oppression is to control you, not to be honest with you.
My friends love me. When my friends give me words of love, I will believe them. Absorb it, digest it, make it part of myself.
Ana is a college senior from New York, majoring in Cinema Studies. She is currently working on her thesis on race and gender in American Horror films. Thoughts on movies, bad jokes, and meditations on the loveliness of every day life can be found on twitter @l0vdeluxe.
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