One of the most remarkable surprises I've had in recovery is how little I'm thinking about my shape or weight.* My body size has preoccupied me for even longer than my eating disorder; I remember being eight years old and trying to decide between letting my stomach go au naturel (pooched out but with a slight indent at the waistline) and sucking in my stomach (flatter stomach but with no waistline). There have been periods of my life where I have thought about my body fat every single waking minute of the day.
Logically, I'm not surprised. I know that eating disorders are about control, not about losing weight or even about food. So in recovery, my thoughts are certainly food-oriented--but instead of thinking about food I want to eat and will deny myself, or about food I'm going to binge on, I'm thinking about food combinations, satiety, getting my proper exchanges. I still daydream about food, but overall it's been non-disordered.
More important, though, when it is disordered I'm able to look at it and examine it. Sometimes I merely tell myself to stop; more often, though, I ask myself, Why this? Why now? Why is that image popping up now; why are those words affecting me now? In short, I'm finally able to look at the cause, not the symptom.
And that's what I like about Laura Collins's take on the Kate Moss "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" bit. A month ago, prior to entering treatment, I would have pshawed the thought that the skinny-model phenomenon wasn't a primary cause of eating disorders. But--hello!--I have an eating disorder: I have a myopic focus on the body. Whatever anger I managed to take outward instead of inward, I targeted toward what I perceived as the problem: I wasn't skinny enough, and the reason I thought I wasn't skinny enough was because of the images I was absorbing. That anger, plus the righteous anger that comes with awareness of the double standard surrounding women's appearance, creates a laserlike focus on those images.
But those images weren't the problem, or at least weren't the locus of the problem. My desire to be thin was a symptom of my eating disorder, and my focus on those images a secondary symptom of that desire. If my true problem were merely a sheer desire to look like a model, I'd be abusing my face and hair the same way I have my body--plastic surgery, expensive hair treatments. But while I've certainly looked in the mirror and wished my teeth were more even, my pores less visible, my hair more naturally picture-perfect, it pretty much stops there. A bit of makeup, a deep conditioning, and I'm through. I treat my face much the way I imagine a non-disordered woman treats her body--wishing it were more to her liking and taking certain means to ensure that it's closer to her desires, and then directing her energies elsewhere.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't continue to object to the iron maiden of beauty presented to us. What woman in the western world hasn't looked at a cover-girl model and felt inadequate? What woman hasn't cursed her body for being too fleshy, or too flat-chested, or too short, or too wide-hipped--the standard being the image of a model who is paid to look the way she does, and that image manipulated to inhuman proportions? Every day, women feel robbed of our own brand of beauty because of these images, and I'd love to see our culture's definition of beauty expand thousandfold. As a feminist--as a woman--I'll continue to seek out those images, applaud outlets that dare to use a wider definition of beauty, do my best to avoid those who take the narrow path.
This also isn't to say that those images don't play any role in eating disorders. Besides being fantastic fodder for using symptoms, they normalize body dissatisfaction and "fat talk," making it easier for those with EDs to engage in disordered behavior without others noticing. And, of course, the desire to be model-skinny has kick-started many a diet, which creates hungry people, which leads to disordered eating, if not eating disorders. But I'm happily signing on to Ms. Collins's rant nonetheless. The woman and feminist in me cares. The eating disorder patient in me doesn't.
*This may seem contradictory to last week's Rice Meltdown, which was, on its surface, provoked by appearing to have gained weight. But given that at its core I've always been more preoccupied by calories and food than by my body weight, and that an inconsistent up-down of less than two pounds has never bothered me because I know full well that it likely has nothing to do with my actual body fat, I can now see that it was about trust, not weight. Again: Weight was a symptom, not the root problem.