I used to be a size zero. This was just a couple of years ago. I clearly remember how good it felt to stand in my closet and pick out a pair of jeans in that size. Zero wasn't just a number. It was a smug statement about my strength of will, the commitment I had towards achieving a goal. I was proud of being a zero. It fed me, in a way. It almost made up for all the meals I'd skipped, all the time I spent hunched over the toilet, all the minutes I spent mentally calculating the meager number of calories I'd eaten. That zero seemed worth all the sacrifice.
And now I'm a size six. I wear a 32 DD bra. I used to be able to go bra-less, and count the bones in my spine. Now I'm unable to do either.
My brain is noisy - there's a litany of chatter always running through. And here's the thing: this chatter never shuts up. Never. If I'm not worrying about something, then I'm trying to anticipate what I might need to do later, the order in which I need to run errands in order to keep the kids off my back, or ruminating about unpaid bills and family feuds and the amount of money I spent at the Goodwill. There is never any silence.
Especially now that I'm in recovery. Yes, I believe I can now solidly, confidently state that I am, in fact, in recovery. I have made tremendous progress in a relatively short period of time. This morning I recalled that it was two years ago when the wheels came off, and I began the decent into relapse that eventually led me into residential treatment. There have been a couple of slips since then, but they did not become patterns of destruction, which is what matters.
But back to my brain. Restricting and purging didn't cease the chatter in my head, although it did turn the volume down, especially on the self-loathing thoughts. Because as long as I was restricting and purging, at least I could do something right. One of the many reasons that I found it so difficult to start eating was the fact that the act cranks the volume up on my eating disorder voice, and I really missed the (relative) peace that came when I was following my strictly limited diet.
I don't believe that silence ever comes to anorexics when they're eating. When a person without an active eating disorder eats, their brain is relatively quiet. When a person with an eating disorder eats, they experience increased anxiety and constant chatter. The longer an anorexic restricts their eating, the quieter the noise becomes. So, in a way, I self-medicated my anxiety with restriction.
To me, recovery doesn't mean the noise goes away. It means you just learn to manage it better. Truthfully, the noise is louder now that I've reached a healthy weight than it was when I was sick. Maintaining a healthy weight while the chatter is screaming YOU ARE A FAT PIG is by far the most frustrating thing about recovery. For all purposes, I look fine. I don't cry in restaurants anymore. The room doesn't sway when I go from sitting to standing. But there are parts of my brain that are still deeply anorexic, and the noise is worse than ever.
By and large, the chatter becomes more animated when I engage in the compare-and-despair I do against other women. This is when I'm sitting somewhere, like in Starbucks or a bench in the mall, and observe the women around me. I then decide that my legs are shorter, stomach pudgier, knees saggier than the women walking past. I do this a lot. The chatter in my head has a field day with my anthropological observations. Because I know, I believe, that I'm bigger. Not as pretty. Not as fit.
I know that women are, in general, terrible at seeing their bodies as they really are. 95% of non-eating disordered women overestimate the size of their hips by 16% and their waists by 25%, yet the same women were able to correctly estimate the width of a box. So when I heard about a site called My Body Gallery I wasn't sure what to think.
Once you enter the site, you plug in your height, weight, shirt and pant size, and body type to women with similar stats. You can also upload your image into their database anonymously. I should note that the site is still in the early stages of development, and all body types and measurement combination aren't available yet.
“In a world full of images of how we ‘should’ look it can get difficult to tell how we DO look,” the site says. “Most women have spent so many years looking at themselves in mirrors that we can no longer see what’s really there. The My Body Gallery project’s goal is to help women objectively see what we look like and come to some acceptance that we are all beautiful.”
Curious, I entered my own measurements and found a collection of women in my range. It was interesting to see how we all carried our weight differently. Even better, it was refreshing to see ordinary women as we really are, with similarly rounded ratios that are non-existent in the fashion world. I was left with unequivocal proof that our bodies come every combination of shape and size imaginable, and we're all beautiful. As My Body Gallery points out, “the world is not a place of cookie cutters.” This site proves that I should never feel alone or insecure about my body. And gave a solid reason for the chatter in my head to shut the hell up.
Now I ask you - will you check out My Body gallery? Does your head ever get caught up in the compare and despair game? How do you bring yourself out of it?
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