THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: EATING DISORDERS & BODY IMAGE

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By Leslie Cerpa

“How come you’re not eating? You’re not a frickin’ anorexic, are you?!”

“I could never understand why anyone would want to throw up their food. That’s stupid. Food is sooo good!”

“I wish throwing up were as easy for me as it is for you.”

“Sometimes I wish I could get an eating disorder. That way, I’d lose weight faster!”

“Dammit, why aren’t you eating?! Eat, or you won’t be allowed to exercise today.”

“You know, if you don’t gain weight by this time next week, I’ll have to hospitalize you.”

At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These horrific phrases and variants of them were all I heard the months leading up to my diagnosis. In fact, I said the second phrase when my parents asked me about my changing eating habits and why I would always rush to the bathroom after dinner. That evening was New Year’s Eve of ‘06 and we were eating in a restaurant in Vegas. Two thin, young women passed by our table and I signaled at them with my eyes as I somewhat hesitantly shoved a fork full of linguini into my mouth, “You think I’m gonna end up looking like those anorexic twins?” The new year would bring me what felt like the longest and hardest battle of my life. For two and a half years, I covered myself under baggy clothing and half-hearted promises of “getting better.”

My parents were going through some struggles in their marriage at the time and, oftentimes, still blame themselves for what I underwent. Even though they resolved their conflicts, I still kept falling deeper into my eating disorders. I initially forced myself to throw up everything I ate, and when that wasn’t working quick enough, I stopped eating little by little and started exercising more, sometimes twice a day. My parents tried force-feeding me, they locked up our gym equipment, and they called up just about every doctor they knew. Weekly, I attended personal and group therapy, visited a nutritionist, and bickered with my pediatrician. For a while, nothing and no one seemed to help because I wasn’t willing to help them help me. A slow-beating heart and two blackouts later, I recognized the severity of my poor health and said “yes” to help.

For the longest time, and even somewhat now, I was angry at the media for always promoting images of extremely thin women on TV and advertisements because those models are held to a standard image that the audience (cough, cough, me at the time) feels they have to imitate. I blamed the media because I thought how unfair it is for a 12 year-old to have to frantically worry about weight gain. I also carried pent-up anger and resentment towards the kids that would call me “fatso” in elementary school.

Pre-teens and teens are attacked from many different fronts and right around the time of puberty - a time when everything about teens is physically and emotionally changing! Teens are surrounded by pressures and expectations of perfection. It’s difficult to be confident and to have positive self-esteem when the world keeps telling you lies about not being “pretty enough,” “smart enough,” “thin enough,” “muscular enough,” “tall enough,” etc.

Here’s a truth for you: YOU ARE ENOUGH. We all are our own individual embodiments of perfection. It’s time to address eating disorders in a new light, one that doesn’t attach stigma to the issue, but rather addresses the stigma by informing others about how small remarks, such as “fatso,” can go a long way in paving the path of body dissatisfaction. Just as we are comfortable about watching commercials for weight loss products, we should be comfortable to have open conversations about the impact that those commercials have on self-esteem and distorted images of perfection. Furthermore, we need to stop upholding the images of models that we see on TV as THE perfect image of beauty because no one body is the same and beauty comes in different shapes and sizes - there is no one universal standard of beauty.

“I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles.”  -Wintergirls