Growing up, I always assumed that eating disorders had a look. If someone had bones sticking out or was just way too skinny, I thought they were anorexic or bulimic. I remember my mother showing me an image of Karen Carpenter, of the ’70s band The Carpenters, shortly before she had died, warning me about self-starvation.
At a young age, I had thought: this is what an eating disorder looks like.
But, what about those models in the fashion magazines, the movie stars on the red carpet, and the girls with the perfect bikini bodies? They were just skinny. And as a society, we celebrate skinny. Right?
Everything isn’t always what it seems.
After battling an eating disorder for many years, pop singer Kesha received treatment in 2014, and has since become a modern-day advocate for the disease. She was featured in a recent PSA for the National Eating Disorders Association, which opened with a very powerful quote from the star.
“I had an eating disorder that threatened my life, and I was very afraid to confront it,” Kesha said. “I got sicker and the whole world kept telling me how much better I looked. That’s why I realized I wanted to be part of the solution.”
And I know too well where she’s coming from.
While I was always conscious of my weight growing up — and had a father who celebrated weight-loss like he would an A+ on a report card — I teetered on the fine line of eating disorder territory for a decade, when I lived in Los Angeles. You see, in Hollywood, the skinniest girl from high school is considered “average” weight. People literally think it’s their job to keep fat off their frame.
During my years working as an entertainment journalist, I was constantly interviewing and attending parties with these fabulous women. They quickly became my yardstick for which I physically compared myself to. I was never “overweight” by anyone’s standards but my own, yet I became painfully thin within a few years time. And the very few pounds that I did lose would be met with a flurry of compliments.
Most of these compliments would be innocent enough, like, “Wow you look great! Are you on a diet or something?” If you can believe it, I even once got a, “Oh my GAWD. You are so emaciated. I hate you.” Then, when I would gain the weight back, nobody really said anything, which kept me motivated to lose even more.
At the time, I was unaware I had any sort of a problem. The stress of looking “skinny” dominated most of my days. Even at my skinniest — 5′ 10″ and 125 pounds — I never felt skinny enough. In fact, like Kesha, it was when I was at my thinnest (and most unhealthy) that I got the most attention. It was then that everybody would praise my body and say how great I looked.
Kesha’s message is a reminder that it’s pretty much impossible to know if someone is suffering from an eating disorder just by looking at them. What may be a normal “body type” for one individual may not be for another. So, the celebration of “skinnier” isn’t always harmless.
Kate Moss was once infamously quoted, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” During that period of my life, I couldn’t have agreed more. I thrived off validation, so skinny felt utterly amazing. It never dawned on me that I was suffering from any type of illness. After all, if I was sick I would look it, and instead of drowning me in compliments they would be voicing concern, right?
Unfortunately, I can attest to just how wrong this is. One afternoon, I was sitting in a bar and Kesha strutted into the place wearing these tiny Lycra hot pants (practically underwear) accompanied by a tank top. I remember thinking how hot she looked. I never once suspected she was sick, because she didn’t look sick. I easily could have fueled her eating disorder fire with a well-intentioned comment — and probably would have, if she were a friend.
Luckily in the last few years, there have been major strides to normalize body image issues. But, as you can see, we still have a long way to go. We continue to praise the celebrities who lose weight, and “like” photos of social media fitness stars posing in crop tops and celebrating the last five pounds they lost. Magazines still feature glossy pages of freakishly thin and scantily-clad models, some of whom may experience their own eating disorder one day.
You might say that they naturally look that way, and who am I to judge. OK, but let’s face the reality that everyone in the world is simply not born with the body of a Victoria’s Secret supermodel. If their body is even natural!
It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my first child that I was finally able to deal with my body image issues. Packing on over 50 pounds to my frail frame, I was both ashamed and embarrassed of my pregnancy weight gain. I suppose I had just assumed I would be one of those Gisele-type preggers — skinny all-around with only a big, protruding bump. “All baby,” if you will. It wasn’t until my son was actually born that it finally dawned on me that my body had a bigger, more beautiful purpose.
I am married to a man who loves me just the way I am. He doesn’t care if my belly is flat or flabby, if I fit into my skinny jeans or not. And when I do get that weight-loss praise from other people, it doesn’t satisfy me the way it used to. I’m in a better place now.
Kesha’s message reminds us that we each have a responsibility to promote and celebrate a healthy body image. When we see someone who has recently lost weight, you have no idea how many meals were skipped. You might not realize the countless hours that were obsessively spent on the treadmill to get there. You didn’t live through the nights that were plagued by sleeplessness due to the discomfort of mild starvation.
Be part of the solution, and start being careful with your words. Don’t unintentionally fuel an eating disorder. When you do, it’s the woman behind the disease — and our society — that’s left to suffer.More On