You know, I really don’t like my body. In a big way. Yeah, yeah bring on the violins. I’ve got the use of all my limbs, I’m not suffering chronic pain or uncurable illness. But it’s a problem, nonetheless. My body-image impacts pretty much every area of my life – including my relationship with the Lord. It’s also ungrateful, given all the time and effort that God put in to making me. And it’s a denial of his ‘goodness’ in making me as I am.
This body has served me really well for many years, despite being pushed to the limits of human endurance. But now it doesn’t work “the way it’s supposed to.” There’s been some irreversible damage that limits a lot of what I’m able to do.
Nonetheless, I have a lot to be thankful for. What harm has it ever done me? What has it ever done except serve? And why, at the best of times have I taken it entirely for granted, whilst at the worst, carved it up like a piece of bloody meat?
As a child my body and I had a fairly uncomplicated relationship. There was an implicit connection there between mind and matter, a synergy that started to erode with the onset of puberty. Sure, media depictions of the perfect figure haven’t helped, but to be honest, my body shape fits with what’s deemed culturally attractive, at least in the West. (Give or take the whole cleavage issue, but that’s nothing a bit of padding can’t fix). This is not to invite bodily reassurances or sympathy – simply to observe that approbation from others doesn’t fix feeling rubbish. No amount of positive comments have made even a dent in the bodywork. In fact, they’ve made me feel even more detached from myself.
At school I was the plain one out of my friends. But when I went to college, the Irish exoticism came into play and suddenly I was seen as pretty. I remember shooting down the compliments with a savage anger, thinking that people were just being sarcastic. When the dust settled and people were still being nice, it sent me into a bit of a meltdown. My brain reacted like a ball in a pinball machine, bouncing from ‘she’s quite fit’ to ‘you’re too ugly to go out’. There was no-where for the good stuff to go – and either way, it was all about appearances. Every woman can look good with a layer of paint and enough coverings. I was a fraud and it was a matter of time before I was exposed. Even if I did take any notice, if you’re seen as slim and attractive but still feel like junk, what next? What do you change? No, no, far easier to focus on looking good, whilst despising myself for the deception.
An eating disorder is a very potent way of both trying to deny your physicality, whilst deifying it. In trying to crush your appetites, you end up a slave to them.
Recently I was talking to a surgeon who told me that, after even just a short period of starving yourself or bingeing/purging, the physical damage is akin to being systematically tortured. He had dealt with victims of terrible abuse, case studies of human rights infringement - and the end result was the same as an eating disorder.
This is in no way to equate the two – absolutely not. Aside from the volitional element of the eating disorder, when tackled early enough, much of the damage in these cases can be reversed. I’m not sure the same is true of someone who has been repeatedly abused over a long period of time, not to mention the psychological and emotional trauma. However, it does reveal some of the dynamics underpinning the disorder. Bluntly put, you’re torturing yourself.