||[08 Feb 2005|07:40pm]
http://www.amazoncastle.com/feminism/jen.shtml. No date. Jennifer Wells.
This artical is by Jennifer Wells, about her own personal experience with anorexia. In this artical she speaks about reasons why her eating disorder began. When she was young, her mother was diagnosed with depression and anorexia. She says that she began her eating disorder in eleventh grade, because she had decided that she wanted to do everything she could to be popular. Also during her eating disorder, she had an abusive boyfriend, but was able to leave him during the summer before her junior year of college. But she then developed bulimia, and had that disorder through college. In her senior year, her friend, who is now her husband, confronted her about her eating disorder. In 1994, without the help of a therapist, she was able to pull myself out of her anorexia, and gain the weight back.
This affects the mental part of the health triangle because the causes of the anorexia were her thoughts about herself, and also the stress of her family, and people around her and at her school.
I thought this artical was interesting because it helped me to understand what she and many other people with eating disorders have gone through. It was also interesting to read because it was a personal account of what she did, and how she felt.
Confronting Anorexia, Bulimia, and Feminism
By Jennifer Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eating disorders are a feminist issue. The factors that may prevent women from calling themselves a feminist are the same factors that can lead to an eating disorder. I have just begun calling myself a feminist, and wonder if women shy away from feminism because they think they do not deserve to be looked up to, to get angry, to not be ignored. If I had possessed more self-esteem or believed I had a right to be treated equally, I may have found feminism sooner.
Women, men, and children with an eating disorder are participating in a slow suicide. We cannot afford to take the information I have provided here, lightly. There is something terribly, terribly wrong with the things we are teaching our family, friends, and students. I would like to share my story with you, and offer ideas about the prevention of eating disorders. I would also like to add that while some of my examples may apply to men and women who suffer from eating disorders, most focus on women. I can only write about my personal experience. I welcome any man who has experienced an eating disorder to tell his story.
When I was young, my mother was overweight. She used food to cope with anything that caused an emotion. She had an abusive father, a husband who worked a lot and could not communicate well, and I believe poor self-esteem. At the ages of six and seven, a childhood friend and I used to run around the block because we were on a "diet". Both of our mothers dieted. We were receiving a clear message. Fat is bad. Thin is good. During my second grade year, my mother began to binge and purge. There were several occasions when I would hear her, behind the bathroom door, throwing up. I watched her at least once. I cannot remember what reason she gave, if any. Another message, another example. Eating is bad. If you eat, you can throw up. If you throw up you will be thin.
Eventually, my mother was diagnosed with depression and anorexia. I remember what it felt like to hug her then. Her bones made it uncomfortable. I missed her soft, warm body. I also remember blaming my mother for her anorexia and wishing she would just eat.
During my mother's years in therapy, she began to speak about her own wants and needs. My mother married my father when she was 16 and he was 21. For many years, she did what he wanted her to do. When she began to express herself it led to many arguments between my mother and father. They loved each other, but they were different people. This was difficult for my father to accept. He had been used to making the decisions, to being right. I developed a strong aversion to marriage and an idea about what might happen if I used my voice.
My eating disorder began during the 11th grade. I made a decision during the summer before to conform. Conforming meant doing everything I could to be popular, even if it meant hanging around people I did not have much in common with. Conforming meant not thinking too much about the choices I made. I was suffering from a lack of self. I did not allow myself to exist, because the "real" me did not fit under the "popular" category. Thinking back, I can find pieces of my self that I felt could not be expressed.
I cared about the way men treated women unfairly. I cared about sexist comments, the comments on our bodies; the starring that made me feel like a commodity. I enjoyed art, reading, and poetry. I wanted to talk about these things, to speak, to express my opinions. I did not. I was quiet. I definitely had received a message, perhaps the most damaging message of all. Women should be silent. Women can express their opinions, but not too much and not too often. To some degree, my parents sent the message of "silence equals peace" to me. They did not do it on purpose, and certainly did not demand silence from me. However, I learned from their relationship with each other. If my parents began the message, my peers enforced it.
In high school, the appropriate response to a sexist joke was for a female to roll her eyes and say "Yeah, right." If she said more than that, she was told "Shut the fuck up." or "You take things too seriously." Sometimes her girl friends would even give her a "Please don't." look if she tried to say something else. Message received. Be quiet.
When I tried to talk to my boyfriend about a book I was reading, he called me a "Goody, goody." and acted like I was the ignorant one for reading in the first place. My male friends discussed beer, sports, and women. There was no place in their conversations for females. Usually, if we tried to be a part of their conversation, our points were laughed at. I remember how incredibly frustrating it felt. Your opinion does not count. What you have to say is not important.
One night, during my senior year, my boyfriend became enraged. The object of his anger was me. I was thrown down on a picnic table, with my arms pinned back. One of his arms lay over my throat. Some of our "mutual" male friends came outside and told him to stop, but nobody actually pulled him off me. Eventually he let me go and I ran to my car. I locked myself inside while he pounded on the hood.
A little while later I went inside the house. My boyfriend stepped into the room and threw a set of car keys at my head as hard as he could. I do not remember anyone trying to stop him. I do not remember anyone throwing him out. I remember talking to him, after he had calmed down. He said that the reason he was so angry was because I had not asked my father if I could spend the night at my girl friend's house. This meant I would not be sleeping with him. His feelings had been hurt.
Thinking back on all of this, I am furious. Why did I continue to date the abusive boyfriend until my sophomore year of college? Why did I allow so many people, male and female, to silence me? Did I send the same messages to other women? Where was my self-esteem, my voice, me?
It does not surprise me that anorexia began for me then. I would not allow myself to exist as myself. I allowed silence. I understood that feeling too strongly about anything was bad. If I felt too strongly about something, I might speak. Voicing my opinion meant possibly getting my feelings hurt. I was a body with no control. When I felt anything, good or bad, I lost my appetite. If I was yelled at or my feelings were hurt, I focussed on my body. By focussing on my body, I could stop focussing on my inner self. If I lost weight or someone said I looked too thin, I felt in control. Of course, being thin got me attention, too. I had found the spotlight that alluded me in every other circumstance.
I was able to leave the abusive boyfriend and began considering what I wanted from my life, who I was. It was the summer before my junior year of college. I had made an important breakthrough. I had allowed myself a voice and the hope that there was a place for me to exist as I was. Not as someone everyone else wanted me to be. This did not save me from a full fledge bout with anorexia my entire junior year.
It began as bulimia. I would eat Wendy's, and ice cream, then run upstairs to a vacant apartment and throw up in the toilet. I took laxatives, usually a box at a time. I was tired, grouchy, and depressed. I had given myself permission to be, but I still did not believe I was worth it. I had allowed myself feelings, but did not know how to handle them.
My roommate and I went on a trip out west during the summer before my senior year of college. I knew that I would have to stop taking laxatives and throwing up when I was with her. I did. I also stopped eating. By the end of our vacation, I was eating 400 calories a day, and losing weight rapidly. When we got home, I took laxatives and exercised more than I ever had in my life. Sometimes, if I could not control my hunger, I would throw up what I ate.
By the time my senior year began, I had lost 15-20 pounds. I was not overweight to begin with, so the amount of weight I lost had a significant affect on me. My friends and family were worried, but they did not know how to confront me. I was screaming to be heard. It felt as if everything I had contained my entire life, every injustice, every "shut the fuck up", everything I felt was wrong was trying to come out at once. I did not know how to deal with the anger, hope, happiness, or frustration.
I spent every night in my room, lying on my mattress with a bag of pretzels and a 2-liter of diet Pepsi. I counted out 40 pretzels, my daily allotment. At night, I could not sleep. The bones of my legs rubbed together in an almost painful way. I was high on caffeine from the diet Pepsi, a "safe" thing to consume. At work, I could not sit down during my break because the hard plastic seats pushed against the bones of my ass. On one of the rare occasions when I did go out, a man in a bar told me I should be a model (hmmm) Once, on my way home, I stopped to put gas in my car. I went inside and paid the attendant first. I walked back outside, got into my car, and drove off. It took me 20 minutes to realize I did not have gas in my car. It took another 10 to remember what had occurred at the gas station. My brain was starving.
Ultimately, an acquaintance, who later became my partner, confronted me about my eating disorder. He asked me why I did not think I was worth more, why I was killing myself. He told me I was beautiful and intelligent. For some reason, I decided to listen. Eventually, I began to believe the compliments Jim gave me. I had stripped my body down to its bones, as well as my entire identity. I could die, or I could live. I chose to live, and was determined not to repeat the mistakes I had been making all of my life. I think I was finally starting to get angry at anorexia.
That conversation took place in November of 1994. Without the help of a therapist, I was able to pull myself out of anorexia, and gain the weight back. I sought the help of an excellent nutritionist in 1997, and finally found a therapist I was comfortable with that same year. I won. I saved my own life. That feels good. I still struggle with my appearance. I still catch myself putting my fork down if my feelings get hurt or resisting food if I am depressed. Still, I have come so very far. Farther than I ever thought I could.
Now I look at other women who have eating disorders. I can spot them easily. I think about the girls at the elementary school I work in, the fact that small children are obsessed with their bodies. I see the covers of magazines, listen to commercials, and read advertisements. I catch the hidden meaning behind these things. I am on to them.
Initially, I wanted to help those persons who have an eating disorder. However, after my experience and much thought, I have decided that there is a need for prevention. Methods of prevention could help those persons with an eating disorder as well as those without.
I would like to see classes in elementary, junior high, and high schools that help young women and men see the inequality, the stereotypes that surround them. We teach english, math, and science but we do not teach young people, in the setting where they are influenced the most, about how to treat each other. Of course we hear "Be nice, be fair, women can do anything men can do." but that is simply not enough.
A course offered to young men and women could help in the prevention of eating disorders by making women and men aware of their beliefs. In this class, the students might examine the magazines they read, and ask themselves what the hidden message is underneath all of the airbrushing and diet tips. They could be encouraged to ask themselves how those messages affect the way they feel about their own bodies. The women and men could participate in a "gender swap", and examine the way it feels to be the opposite sex. This activity might show young men how it feels to be disregarded and silenced. It might help young women understand that the same characteristics they apply to men (stronger, more in control, able to gain attention and be heard), are traits they should fight for.
Students could ask themselves who made the rules they live by. If men made the rules (women are weaker, women cannot play sports as well as men, women should stay home and be homemakers, caretakers), the young men might consider how it feels to be a woman. Other questions, such as " Do women feel like they are living in "a man's world?" and " What part do women play in reinforcing these "rules"?" could be asked.
The course might offer women strong role models through history, poetry, fiction, and music. Students could discuss those classes that study men more than they study women, and the messages men and women may receive because of it. Guest speakers of both genders could speak about their experiences as men and women and explain how they are trying to fight for equal opportunity in the work place, home, school, etc. Women and men could discuss the "ideal" body. Who says women have to be "model" thin? How many men really expect this of us? Do industry and women enforce this idea the most?
Outside of the classroom, women and men can address the same issues. Before you buy a magazine, ask yourself this: "Am I buying this magazine because it offers ideas that may improve my physical health, or because I want to look like the model on the front cover?" "Am I buying this magazine because I think by following the diet inside, by being thin, I will be a better, happier person?"
If your friend makes a comment about her appearance, think about your response. A few summers ago, my sister wanted me to take a picture of her in her bikini. She said it would motivate her to exercise. In the past, I would have ignored her comment. I may have taken her picture just because she wanted me to, not because I thought she needed to lose weight, possibly confirming in her mind that she needed to do something about her appearance. I did not. I told her I would not take her picture because she was already beautiful. I also told her if she wanted to exercise, it should be for the right reasons. The right reasons being extra energy and a better state of mind. I know there have been many, many times in the past when I have helped to confirm my friends' fears about their bodies.
If a co-worker tells a sexist joke, and it bothers you, do not roll your eyes and walk away. Ask that person if they really believe that women are inferior to men (or men to women). Tell them how you feel. If men scream obscenities toward you from a car, get angry about it. It is not something "normal" that you have to accept. You do not have to ignore those things that bother you. Don't be quiet. This is the message we need to understand. When we silence ourselves, we confirm the idea that what we have to say is not important. We ignore our core. Without a core, we are a body that contains blood, bones. When we allow ourselves to live this way, we are only existing. There is no life there. Eating disorders give us something to be obsessed with, the "empty" body.
I am 24 years-old now and I still struggle with my self-esteem. However, I am learning to look in the mirror and see beauty. I am using my voice and speaking up about those things I find unfair. I am taking care of myself instead of everyone else. I have washed the "people pleaser" stamp from my forehead and I feel a little freer. I believe we all deserve to feel good, powerful, righteous. I want to look back 20 years from now, at my niece who is only two, and know that I tried to make changes for her. I want to never silence myself again, to never shut up.