Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A guest post by Karen: From the other side of 'acceptable'

For seven years, I have alternated between suffering and recovering from anorexia nervosa. While I have never been overweight, I have been confronted by many people about various weights, ranging from 6st7 to 9st7. These people have included family, friends, acquaintances, but also, perhaps surprisingly, strangers. I have had raging arguments with parents (“it’s not attractive”), friends who have grabbed my bottom, or lack thereof, and informed me that I’m too thin. I have had strangers in the street shout at me to eat a burger, and point me in the direction of the nearest eating disorders clinic as a hilarious joke with their friends. Perhaps most hurtful of all of this was a supposed friend coming to me in the college toilets, lifting my jumper and pulling my jeans to expose my ribs, concave stomach and hipbones to her friends, to prove that I was “too thin” as she’d told them.

The strange thing about all of this is, while I have strived for and achieved that UK size 2 (US 00) frame where knickers only stay up because they can be hung on protruding hipbones, this never made me happy. I openly admit that I did feel achieved when I could no longer buy clothes, with adult clothes being too big and children’s being too short and yes, I did feel achieved as I lost more and more weight. For years, losing weight has been my goal but at many times during these seven years, it has been my life.

However, I am now a UK size 6 (US 2) and, while the days of endless dieting and obsessive exercise do not seem as though they are a thing of the distant past, I am a healthy weight and shape. One would assume from this that I am a much healthier person, but this assumption couldn’t be much further from the truth. While my healthy 9st body and my 28F chest give me a curvy, womanly shape, and while I eat regularly and I am more confident, this does not mean I am healthy. I smoke 20 roll-ups a day. I don’t run unless I’m going to miss the metro and, if I do that, I practically need resuscitating upon entrance to the train. At the same time, my boyfriend’s weight is exactly double my own, making him technically obese but, while the BMI charts all do battle with him trying to make him eat less and get more exercise, I spend time doing battle with him myself, simply to get him away from his weight bench! Of the two of us, he is far healthier and sets a fine example of how healthy one can be at a higher weight. I, however, work more as a terrible warning of the opposite issue!

While this has, so far, been a message of how unhealthy one can be when slim, I do not mean to suggest that one must be curvy to be healthy. For me, it is a question of balance - a balanced diet in which one nourishes one’s body, and a daily routine that keeps the body active but not exhausted. This balance is something I have not yet struck, but I intend to once I have come to be more comfortable with the sudden arrival of my bust and my bottom. If I led a healthier lifestyle, however, I would lose weight and that in turn would lead me back to the same situation of people passing me in the street and feeling that they have a right to comment on my shape. For me, then, and for many others, this situation becomes catch 22. I lose weight because I am leading a healthy lifestyle; I gain weight to please others by fulfilling a certain ideal of appearance. There is no point at which I am acceptable. Why?

The issue that few seem to consider is this: commenting on the appearances of others in a negative way is NOT polite, acceptable or necessary - rather, it is rude and it is damaging. By telling someone thin to go and eat something fattening, one will not inspire them to gain weight, just the same as telling someone fat to put down their pasty will not encourage them to lose weight. No one should be made to feel ashamed of their appearance but, furthermore, are the people who wish to comment in this fashion not being rather shallow? I am no more or less happy, successful or loved at this weight than I was at any other. Those who care about the person inside don’t care about the person outside but, those who do care about the outer “beauty” are often the ones with the power to make the individual miserable and lonely.


  1. Piffle1:02 am

    How awful to have a friend treat you like that, as if you were not a person; but merely inanimate evidence that she was telling the truth.

    I do have one hammer, and so you look like a nail: my kids have ADHD, and I've learnt that people with ADHD are prone both to smoking and anorexia. Often starting meds for ADHD helps people stop smoking, because nicotine is a way to self-medicate this particular difference. So I would suggest that you discuss this with your therapist. It might help you stop smoking, and that could be good for your health. There are non-stimulant medications for ADHD, though the stimulants do work better for most people.

    Best of luck with your recovery, that is a difficult illness to beat.

  2. Thanks for posting this. So often, the struggle fat women have for body acceptance is framed in anti-thin language. I've done it myself, though I know better now. As women, we are doubly treated as though our bodies are public property, fair game to be commented on and critiqued. It doesn't matter what size we are.

    Your body is acceptable. And you are awesome. Best wishes as you continue your recovery.

  3. FAO Piffle,

    Thanks for your kind words. In this instance your hammer doesn't quite fit the nail in question. Karen definitely doesn't have ADD, but I can, of course see where you're going with that. Mental health problems are never easily put in boxes, and Karen has a list of 'diagnoses' as long as your arm (as do I, at last count I had at least 4 different ones).

    Your advice, however, is sound. I would encourage anyone experiencing the kind of issues that Karen describes in her post to seek medical help, because help is out there. Medication and therapy can make all the difference to your life if you're suffering from mental illness, so please see your GP if you are experiencing disordered eating or other symptoms :)


  4. Hi! This is such an excellent post that I felt more people/my readers should have the opportunity to read it. I just reposted it in it's entirety on my blog http://musingsfromthesoapbox.blogspot.com/2010/09/its-not-about-my-health-part-ii.html. If this is not okay by you leave me a comment over there, and I'll remove it immediately.


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