Emily McCombs, blogger at xoJane and owner of a lovely first name, is not only a dang entertaining writer, but also a painfully honest one. Among the issues about which she is painfully honest is body image, specifically as regards her struggles in adulthood with what she terms “subclinical bulimia.”
There is, of course, a life-story behind McComb’s eating disorder issues, and it’s a well-written, even entertaining story, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but there are two things that I want to get at specifically, things that I think touch on the lives of a lot of women, myself included.
Because a diet worked so well for me once, I have considered my compulsive eating the problem and adhering to a diet the solution. Not until now have I been emotionally able to see that my dieting is actually part of the binge cycle…. Throwing up is not the only bulimic behavior I engage in. My yo-yo dieting is just as much a part of the cycle as sticking my finger down my throat.
She goes on to reference The Rules of Normal Eating,
which identifies the four basic rules that “normal” eaters follow: 1. eating when hungry. 2. choosing satisfying foods. 3. eating with awareness and enjoyment and 4. stopping when satisfied. Is that definition as mind-blowing to you as it is to me? Do people actually live this way? Can I?
I wrote about the effort to determine what “normal eating” is very early on in this blog’s life (pivoting off a quote that began “Who started the lie, anyway, that women shouldn’t have an appetite?”), because it’s a concept with which I genuinely struggle — a struggle which is, in turn, a thing of which I am ashamed.
I’ve never had an eating disorder, nor have I ever had particularly disordered eating (there’s a difference — & according to one study, two-thirds of American women aged 25-45 have disordered eating). I’ve long recognized that life-long diets are a kind of ED, and I’ve neither dieted nor weighed myself for the better part of two decades (more, actually).
But I am not the size America wants me to be, and that dogs me.
I am (and a healthcare professional has actually confirmed this for me!) broad — my bone structure is literally wider than that of the average bear. I’m proportional, but I’m a bit wide.
I’m also big-busted, and as most naturally big-busted women will tell you, all that pillowy goodness tends to come with pillowy goodness elsewhere on the frame as well. I am, my children have told me, a delight to hug. My husband finds me beautiful and (though I feel shy saying it) even sexy. I still get looks, and the men doing the looking are still cute.
But I am not the size America wants me to be.
I am not now, nor will I ever be. I could, with some truly dedicated disordered eating, get smaller, and when my clothes get tight about the waist, I do consciously eat less until they no longer are. But as I don’t actually eat all that much, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. I’ll never be small.
So I attempt to accept this, as I have attempted to accept it since that day I stopped weighing myself in college (one exception: Prior to our nuptials, the husband and I put on a fair amount of happy fat. We both consciously dieted for the wedding). I talk a good game, because I’m a big believer in faking it until you make it, not to mention not adding to the dysfunction that swirls around us. I don’t bond over tales of self-loathing or food-shaming.
But I don’t accept my size. Not really. Not fully. I am aware of eyes on me (real or imagined, I couldn’t tell you) as I eat in public; I struggle to not be aware of them in private. I eat well, I eat what I want, I stop when I’m satisfied — but I have to tell myself, nearly every single time I put food in my mouth, that that’s all good and fine. That it’s ok to eat.
And that’s where my shame lies. I don’t want this albatross around my broad, pillowy neck for the rest of my life. I don’t want even one more synapse to go to those thoughts and those concerns. I have guitar lessons to take! Books to read! Ideas to have! Beautiful dresses to enjoy! Every self-doubting thought I have about food or my body takes time and energy away from all of those other things and I hate it.
I did recently come to a brand new idea, one that I’m able to access on most days: If I have to struggle, this is a worthy struggle to have. If I am to go to my grave having wasted time on food issues, let it be in the effort to support myself. Let it be in the effort to shout the voices down.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a kind of peace, and it’s the best I have for now. I’m holding firm to the hope that in fighting this fight, I’m helping my daughter forge better tools for herself.