My first encounter with Anorexia was in high school when my dance teacher made us watch a documentary on the subject. I remember looking at girls who were quite skinny, their bones distinctly visible on their skin and cheeks sunken in. For me, that was the poster image for public service announcements on eating disorders and those are the ones we all remember now right? They’re carved in our minds as the physical signs to look for. As the prompts for letting someone know that perhaps they need a sandwich or two.
The problem with this image is that there are people suffering from eating disorders who do not fit this profile. They pass right under our radar and we never give them a second thought. We probably hear self-deprecating comments here and there, but you don’t see bones poking through their skin, so all is well. They’ve probably mastered the art of hiding their self-abusive behavior. They probably carry a tooth brush in their bag to brush they teach after they’ve thrown up. They probably always have air freshener in the bathroom to dissimulate the smell of vomit and self-loathing. Most of all, their body doesn’t give them away because they are heavier. That’s right. They’re fat. If this were a war zone they’d be the soldiers wearing camouflage, faces painted in green and hiding in a bush. In this war, their body is the battlefield, the soldier, and the casualty. As Beck says in her poem below, “…in a body thick enough to bury a rib cage with no sharp corners to trigger your concern, nobody sees me and says Feed Her“.
Why am I telling you this? because I know that fat people get judged. They’re told they’re lazy. They most certainly don’t care about their body. They’re probably not even trying hard enough. The compassion we’d reserve for someone with an eating disorder, actually, for someone who looks like they have an eating disorder, we don’t have it for heavier people. Though it is absolutely absurd that our compassion would only apply if we found out that fat people too, suffer from eating disorders and desperately try to manage their weight, let’s consider this body compassion step one. Recognize the struggle of others and learn to give them space to exist. In fact, allow them to take up space. Make it a mission of ours to be one less source of pressure while they are fighting (or not) a battle in which they often feel like they’re losing either way.
And if you are that person, please darling. Please rise. If you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to just be, this is it. I know from experience that it is hard. It is so hard to feel like you are living in a prison that you can’t escape. To want to claw away at your body while simultaneously hoping your body looks presentable enough to not cause discomfort for others who look at you. To avoid looking at the mirror on some days, then spend hours pinching and pulling, then cursing the universe. To know what it feels like when your heart almost stops as you are regurgitating your shame along with that slice of pizza. But this doesn’t have to be it for you.
Rise darling. Take up all the space you need. Sit with your discomfort if you need to. Then, consider this for a second. The love and acceptance you think awaits you at the end of those last 40 pounds, please go ahead give it yourself right now. You deserve all of it. For no other reason that the simple fact that you exist. That is enough. You are enough.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.