One thing that came up for me whilst writing the book, was the subject of body confidence. You might assume that because I am writing about Anorexia, that my body confidence is and has always been rock bottom — but that’s not true. The opposite is true actually.
I’ve always been extremely body confident, even when I was a teenager. I wanted to make this very clear in the book in order to dispel the myth that all people who develop eating disorders suffer from poor body image and low self esteem.
I’ve always loved my body. I think my body is beautiful, and the only time that I have not thought this to be so was when my body was emaciated. I did not suffer from body dysmorphia — that’s another myth that all Anorexia sufferers see themselves as fat when they are in fact very thin. No. I was only too aware of the fact that my once beautiful body was no longer in front of me when I looked in the mirror.
That’s why I stopped looking in the mirror by the way: because seeing my own thinness scared the shit out of me, and also depressed me awfully.
Anyway, I struggled a little when it came to write this truth into the book. It’s difficult to express that one loves one’s own body without sounding like a narcissist. And I’m not that either, just in case you were wondering.
My secret love wasn’t fashionable at school
No, I’m not a narcissist; but I do love my body. It’s rather unfashionable to say that out loud, isn’t it?. Or to write it down. Self-deprecation is so much more en vogue. Everyone hates some part of their body, right? That’s normal, right?
Not me. If you were to ask me now, today, which part of my body I would change if I could change one thing (aesthetically speaking), I wouldn’t change any part of it. Not even the weird pixie bumps that I have on the tops of my ears.
I remember a discussion with friends at secondary school when I was about 15 about just that. Someone asked the “What would you change?” question and we were going around the circle saying what body part we’d like to alter. “My nose because it’s too big,” “My knees because they stick out,” “My bum because it’s too big,” “My boobs because they’re too small,” and so on. I sat there mystified because I couldn’t for the life of me think of one part of me that I would change out.
Then all eyes were on me. “Come on Tabby, what would you change?”
“My hair.” I remember saying my hair, because I couldn’t very well say “nothing,” without making myself unpopular.
I said “my hair” because it felt like the least treasonous answer I could give. Regardless, I still felt guilty for saying it. I felt like I had betrayed my body by saying that I would change part of it — even through I had only said that to fit in. Even through I had lied.
Later, when I was on the way home in the car, I said a silent “sorry” to my body for saying that I didn’t like my hair.
It’s not fashionable now either
I was a weird child. I am a weird adult. I apologized to my own body then when I felt I had slagged it off to my mates, and I still speak to my body now. I feel guilty when I do things that might hurt it, and I feel gratitude to it often. Sometimes I feel a sort of love for it that is overwhelming.
It’s not fashionable to admit that, is it?
I don’t care.
Lack of self esteem and poor body image often accompany eating disorders. This is true. But, lack of self esteem and poor body image often accompany being human it would seem.
I’d argue that both of these things are more to do with pressures of being human than they are to do with Anorexia or eating disorders specifically.
Assumptions around the symptoms for eating disorders can be dangerous. My cockiness, strident personality, and body confidence as a teenager is another thing that put me in the category of someone-who-could-never-have-Anorexia.
“Tabby can’t have an eating disorder. She’s just not the type.” That’s what many people thought. That’s what my GP thought. That’s what I thought too. That’s why I didn’t know that I had an eating disorder for so long. How can I have an eating disorder when I don’t hate my body?
Because having an eating disorder is a mental illness, and it is not about simply disliking one’s body. That’s why.
When we create a category of the type of person who suffers from any sort of mental or physical illness, we miss people in diagnosis.