I haven’t spent much time on this blog, or really much of anywhere talking about body image. Obviously I think about it: I don’t like my body and I never have. I have issues with my body that I take out on it through violence and starvation. But body image is simply not one of the aspects of my eating disorder that I find fruitful to write about, and generally when I bring it up in person I just get frustration and straight out disagreement from my audience. While I understand the impulse to tell me “YOU’RE WRONG” when I call myself ugly, there are times when I want to be able to express and explore my feelings about my body without being immediately shut down. This is one of those times. This exploration may not have a clear point, but I think it’s important to give voice to the thoughts and feelings that are a part of the disorder.
Lately my bad body image has been acting up quite badly. I’ve increased my food intake and put on a bit of weight. This means discomfort in my clothes, discomfort in the mirror, discomfort when I eat. But the worst part of it is that when I worry about my body image, I often find that I cannot accurately identify reality.
No, this does not mean that I hallucinate. I don’t see my body growing larger before my eyes, I can tell that I’m smaller than many people. However despite all this, I cannot understand what the truth is about my body: is it acceptable or not? Is it too skinny or not skinny enough? Is it healthy, or do I need to lose weight or gain weight? Now most people would find it fairly easy to figure out the answers to these questions by consulting a doctor, by looking at their weight in numbers, by assessing their current diet and activity level, and generally thinking about how they feel in their skin. However when I do these things I am left with strong evidence for mutually contradictory things. The scale tells me that my BMI is a certain number. That number is within the healthy range. Certain magazines tell me that the number is unacceptably high. My dietician tells me it’s acceptable but that I’m still not getting enough calories and need to increase my intake. My eyes and emotions tell me that my body is hideous and fat and horrible. My mind flicks between sources, trying to decide who is the most right, who I should believe, what combination of sources are right, where reality is.
It’s enough to leave anyone feeling as if they’ve completely lost their grip on reality. When that happens, all I can do is meltdown. When you don’t know what reality is, you don’t know how to proceed. You are left with no appropriate steps. When faced with a meal in this state, every choice feels wrong and every choice feels right. It leads me to a deep feeling of self-hatred that I cannot figure out even the most basic question of whether or not to put food in my mouth. The reason my body image drives me up the wall is not just because it’s bad. It’s easy when it’s just bad. What’s hard is when it disconnects me from any sort of rational thinking. For someone who prides themself on intelligence, skepticism, and clear-headedness, it destroys my concept of self.
It leaves me feeling like my concept of myself is a battleground between different messages of what’s appropriate and what’s not. I don’t want to live in a battleground. I don’t want to live in this body.