I look sexy, fat, okay – on distorted body image

My last post dealt with how people with eating disorders tend to compare their own food intake to others. In this one I want to discuss another aspect of comparing: body image. Did you ever ask yourself if you would still see yourself in the same way if you’d be alone in the world? If you wouldn’t know anything about size zero, ideal body shapes and thigh gaps, would you love your body more? Maybe. Anyhow, the perception of our own body is always dependant on the bodies around us. We call somebody „skinny“, because his body is thinner than most of the other bodies and „chubby“ if he weighs more than the average.

By thinking about that topic, I reflected my own relation to my body and how it has changed with the eating disorder and during recovery. Before I met Ana, I was relatively happy with my shape. I wasn’t fat and I didn’t feel like it (I weighed around 57kg at a height of 1,74m). I ate croissants for breakfast and played football at least twice a week. Here’s a photo of my body from back then (December 2012):

Katha1 Kopie

The only thing I didn’t really like about my appearance were my legs, especially my thighs. When I travelled to Tunesia with my family, I remember how I always tied a towel around them while sitting beside the pool. After the holidays I spontanously decided to start a diet, not a crash diet, just eating a little less in the evenings. Suddenly, people recognized my weigh loss and started to compliment me for it. I had to buy jeans in a smaller size and felt as great in my body as never before.

Ana said hello for the first time and the numbers on the scale dropped and dropped. Did losing weight make me feel better and better? Of course not. Here is when it comes to the so called body image disturbance that is caracteristic for people with eating disorders. The thinner I got, the more distorted the perception of my own body would be. I became inpatient with the worst body image I’ve ever had while being just skin and bones. I was jealous of every other girl that weighed less than I did. During my time in the clinic I put on weight and first, I felt awful with it even if I recognized that I was still far away from being fat. When I went to London to do an language course for half a year I sent photos like this back home (I’m the girl in the middle):

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The reactions varied from worried to shocked. „Please don’t send this photo to anybody else, you look like a skeleton“, my mum texted. When I went shopping with my best friend she seemed to be quite depressed suddenly and I asked her what the problem was. „I just feel very uncomfortable“, she said. „Don’t you notice how people are staring at you?“ Honestly, I didn’t. I didn’t understand while everybody overreacted as I thought of myself as a skinny, but overall „normal“ girl. It took me a very long time to accept that what I saw when I looked in the mirror wasn’t real but an image that Ana created.

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Today, I may still not see my body 100% accurately, but my body image got a lot better. From my own experience I can say that, with putting on weight, Anas voice gets more and more quiet. Of course, there are days when the doubts are very loud again. Last week for example, a girl adressed me on the toilet. „You know what“, she said. „You’re so tall and so skinny. You could really be a runway model.“ I thought a lot about that comment and it really irritated me. So, now I’m pretty, I thought. But will I still get compliments when I’ve put on the 10kg that I still have to gain?

On the other hand, there are days when I even get angry, because weight gain is such a slow process. I feel like I’m imprisoned in the body of a twelve-year-old while all I want is to be feminine and healthy. I want to go out, I want to dance and feel attractive in my own body instead of standing aside and sipping diet coke instead of beer. Ironically, if I had to describe a person with a „perfect“ body, I would probably name Bejoncé or Marilyn Monroe. Curvy, sexy women that seem to feel confident with their bodies.

So I think the main rule for people in recovery when it comes to body image is: don’t trust yourself. Don’t let Ana fool you and don’t believe her if she tells you you’re fat. Instead, trust your loved ones. Trust the people that care about you as a person, no matter what size you fit in. Give recovery a go. Cause, believe me, there is no damn thigh gap in the world that would be worth sacrifizing your own happiness!

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