I met ED, as you may or may not recall, on July 4, 2001. Just a few days before, a boy in my summer camp had declared that he “liked” me (a very strong proclamation to make at 13) and wanted to be my boyfriend. I do not consider the almost peck on the lips he gave me in that moment to be my first kiss, mainly because I don’t think our lips actually touched and I then spent twenty minutes in the girl’s bathroom crying and washing my face.
…That sounds a little extreme when I say it (write it?) out loud.
Nonetheless, it happened. And so we acknowledge it and move on….
I have never been comfortable with the idea of being female. In 1997, my mother asked me if I wanted a pair of low rise jeans–the kind that Britney Spears was making famous, the kind that all of the other girls in my elementary school were starting to sport–and I vehemently refused her offer. I continued wearing my elastic sweatpants that could be worn comfortably higher than my belly button.
Through middle school I wore “skater” clothes, which was my way of saying that I wore the same three oversize shirts with either my blue overalls or wide legged “jorts” bought from the boy’s section at Target. Makeup was a foreign concept, except on the days I experimented with “goth” eyeliner and dark lip liner with light lip gloss in the 8th grade. For the most part, I avoided my own reflection in the mirror and made myself as unattractive to the opposite sex as I possibly could.
When I first started restricting food and overexercising in 2001, I was doing it for health reasons. I was “allergic” to soy, I was fat from eating garlic bread, I wanted to be in shape for dance warm-ups at camp…
But when I started losing weight and started nearing puberty, things changed. Suddenly, I went from a chunky, badly-dressed, frizzy-haired child to a still-badly-dressed-and-frizzy-haired but almost pretty, young, thin adult. And when my summer camp boy friend became my summer camp boyfriend, something in my thinking shifted.
I wasn’t ready to be involved with anyone (see: my reaction to being asked out above), but I realized, for the first time, that I was inhabiting a body that could almost be considered…sexy.
On the day I met ED, I distinctly recall putting on my first real bikini, looking in the mirror, and realizing that the way my hip bones jutted out, the way my stomach curved in, the way my body was starting to develop was desirable.
And that both thrilled and scared the hell out of me.
The adrenaline rush of that day, of that moment, was the initial trigger that blasted the door open and invited ED in. The control of food, the addiction to exercise, the negative body talk…all of that was a manifestation of my intense fear of sexuality. This, for me at least, delineates eating disorders vs. disordered eating for a lot of the women out there.
In general, disordered eating is just an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s the result of reading too many copies of Women’s Health and Cosmo, or trying every yo-yo, quick fat loss, miracle cure Dr. Oz brings to a 15 second segment on the Today Show. It’s eating (or juicing, or starving) because you want to hit some aesthetic or weight-related goal. If you “fall off of the wagon,” because you couldn’t resist a doughnut after drinking nothing but grapefruit juice for a week, you mourn the fact that you’re not sporting a six pack, but you don’t fall to pieces; you simply continue living in the mindset that something is wrong with the way you look, and that you need to find a way to control your looks with the way you eat.
An eating disorder, however, is much more extreme. It can develop because you’re living the above outlined lifestyle and living in the shadow of your “failed” weight loss resolutions, but it’s more than that. There are deeper-seated issues–anxiety, depression, abuse, addiction, etc.–that take that disordered relationship with food and place it smack in the center of your existence.
One of those deeper-seated issues is sexuality. And, because we are, at our cores, animals who need to procreate to continue the species, at some point sexuality tries to make itself the center of our existence–which challenges ED…and ED loves a good challenge. Therein, my friends, lies the problem.