**Trigger warning: I have not ever, and will never claim that I have, suffered with an eating disorder. I will not be talking in terms of eating disorders. However, if you have or have in the past experienced an eating disorder, you may not appreciate the content of this post.
Please excuse any harmful language used; I am trying to describe how my brain talks to me and makes me feel, not what my ideas of physical beauty actually are. Quite frankly, I couldn’t give two tea bags what you look like as long as your #banter game is STRONG.**
Depression and anxiety have created whole worlds of confusion, pain, and distortion in my mind since I was a teen (what a great time for these things to develop, by the way. Hormones all over the place, no idea who you are or what’s going on, and no one takes you seriously). My self esteem is pitifully low for an apparently ‘normal’-looking, reasonably intelligent, young woman. My social anxiety is a joke, to the point where I didn’t even realise I had it until recently. I thought it was pretty standard to think and feel the way I did.
It’s these delightful personality quirks/painful and inconvenient mental processes that have made me consider how my episodes of poor mental health have affected the way I see myself – as a person, but also literally. What do I think when I look in the mirror? Do I see anything differently to others who may look at me?
I won’t go into a full rant about this here, but I think we can, as people who have access to the internet in 2018, agree that what’s normalised as ‘attractive’ and ‘desirable’ in physical forms is largely unattainable, unrealistic, ableist, racist, and a whole host of other ‘ists’ you don’t want to be called on Twitter. I am far too miseducated and ill-informed to properly deconstruct societal expectations of feminine beauty in particular (I know there are unrealistic presentations and expectations for men, as well) but my basis for this blog is that these ‘standards’ are damaging to those who don’t or have not yet suffered with mental ill health, never mind those who do.
I fully acknowledge my privilege as an able-bodied, white, reasonably slim, straight cis woman – my experiences are personal and I am not pretending that the way I have experienced my own body and appearance is anything near the struggles that other people may face on a daily basis from ingrained, deep-rooted prejudices throughout modern (particularly Western) society.
My intent to explore this has come more from a realisation that these standards of beauty or ‘normality’ may have in some way assisted my cheeky little brain into punishing myself for things I ought not be punished for. I can attribute almost anything to personal failure, so it makes sense that not weighing a certain amount or looking a certain way would join the ranks of ‘things Lindsay can’t do because she’s a useless turd’.
I’m not going to disclose my weight (I don’t know it) or my clothes sizes here, largely because they are not fucking relevant, but also because I would hate for someone to see it and think, ‘Well if she weighs x amount and she feels like that, what does that say about me?’. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before – I am everyone’s best cheerleader, but not my own. I look at pictures of people of all shapes and sizes with endless differences in what their bodies look like, and I find them all glorious and beautiful. Furthermore, if the pictures are of people I know, either in real life or not, I can also consider their other appeals beside physical presentation.
It probably goes without saying at this point that I can’t do the same for myself. Even if I was having a ‘bad body image day’, I’d be pretty fucking hard pushed to tell myself, ‘Well fuck this, you’re great at so-and-so and that last joke you made on Twitter was HILARIOUS’. It all kind of spirals into one; I look like shit, I’m rubbish at everything, I’m a piece of mouldy dog turd on the pavement, only somehow less useful. That may be a slight exaggeration, but I’m trying to make a point here.
I find it baffling that other people don’t give two tiny rat’s teeth about what I look like. As far as I am concerned, everyone else is looking at me thinking I’ve got bad hair, terrible skin, a horrendous outfit, and don’t fit into my clothes. I assume that no one wants to mention the weight I’ve put on and how awful I must look; it and I are the literal elephants in the room. This must also mean, of course, that people are not only internally critiquing my appearance, but are putting two and two together and realising that my intelligence, personality, and any other traits are also laughably unfortunate.
Even as a younger, fitter, woman who exercised and had some limited control over her mental health problems (I ignored them), my thought processes were, sadly, alarmingly familiar. Despite being physically closer to whatever bullshit ‘beauty’ ideal white men enforce upon us, I still couldn’t see myself realistically. I still thought I was ‘fat’, or that I ‘didn’t look like’ a runner. At this point, I will try to restrain myself from hopping in with Marty McFly to head back in time and roundly slap my younger self in the chops – I mean, what even is ‘fat’. Yes, bodies have fat on them. It’s kind of essential for survival. Some of them have more or less than what you deem appropriate? BIG FUCKING DEAL.
My point – however far I wander from it – is, that even when I was objectively closer to however I thought I should look, I still wasn’t happy and could find flaws anywhere I chose. Nowadays, I definitely look different. Yes, I have put on weight; thanks in part to medicine, overwhelming numbers of days where exercise is absolutely not an option, and comfort eating. Considering what my mind has been through, my body is actually relatively unscathed.
This weight gain has been, to me, a failure. A tangible example that I am or have been lazy and useless. It’s also an uncomfortable reminder of what I have and have not been able to do over the past couple of years due to my mental illness. The reasonable, logical part of my brain (hello, little friend! It’s nice when you pop by!) tells me that a bit of weight gain is hardly a big deal, and very unlikely to be something that anyone other than I cares about or even notices.
The rest, quite simply, disagrees.
I find it equally fascinating and sad that my mind can take something as harmless and well-meaning as my poor body – my body that has dragged me out of bed, carried me to appointments, and encased me in fascinating and unfathomable little bits of biology such as blood, muscle, lungs, bones – and make it negative. Poor thing, it’s just been trying to keep me alive. My introspection has been so problematic that I have not been able to see the value in the vessel that has stoically soldiered on when I have harmed it and neglected it, when the very epicentre that keeps it all together has been so otherwise cruel to me.
I have been trying to coach myself, lately. I have been telling myself that it really doesn’t matter if I have to buy the size up now, as long as it fits and I want to wear it. I tell myself that really, no one cares if I have roots or a messy hair cut. That whether I go out with or without make up will not have any sort of drastic impact on my life; that strangers are unlikely to stop, stare, and exclaim ‘What is this hideous swamp monster, is it truly the end of days?!’ when they spy me in Aldi without my eyebrows filled in.
My body is pretty cool. As I said, it works. It does what it needs to, for the most part (and with the exception of my rebellious brain), to keep me ticking over. I have immensely pale skin that burns at the mere whiff of a UV ray, but I do get freckles in the sun, which I like. My arms are slightly scarred from self-harm. My hair is thick (which is a good job, as it is sheds quite alarmingly). My tattoos and random ear piercings add some colour and creativity to an otherwise blank canvas. My feet are long and skinny. My ears are really small. Whether I weigh more or less than I did, whether my weight changes again in the future, who really cares? Is there any real need to be so self-critical about my appearance?
My social anxiety, if that’s what it is, in whatever form it takes, is permanently on edge for any slight fuck up and how this impacts people’s perception of me. My body, my face, the first things people see – if they aren’t how I expect, how society expects, people will know. They will make the same judgments I do, and come to the rightful conclusion that I am weird, unattractive, incapable or somehow ‘other’.
As I mentioned right at the start, I do not have an eating disorder nor any problems with my relationship with food. I do not consider myself to be body dysmorphic in any way, and can only imagine how alienating and disturbing this must be for people. It’s remarkable, in a sort of neutral way, how I perceive myself physically solely based on my own anxieties and what we’ve been conditioned to desire ourselves to look like. It’s something I wanted to write about and to acknowledge in order to give myself a break. To objectively state, in a public forum, that the way I look at myself might not be entirely healthy, and is very likely a direct result of the complicated mind I live with.
This gives me some peace, some accountability. It means I can look back at this and think, ‘Ah, yes. Your constantly self-body-shaming is just another manifestation of your anxiety, just something else that needs to shut up’.
There is, as you may have gathered from my ramblings about my complex brain, far more to me than what I look like, and at the ripe old age of thirty, it seems appropriate to perhaps accept that, or at least try to.
Before anyone jumps in with ‘Why don’t you try exercise lol’, I have already explained my relationship with exercise here – I think my acceptance, or attempted acceptance, of my body as it is is as much of a mental barrier as it is physical, if not more. To me they are different issues entirely.
For support with eating disorders, you can contact Beat from 12pm – 8pm during the week, and 4pm – 8pm at weekends.