Sunday, May 30, 2010

The ugliest thing...

So last night lil' sis and I had a sleepover. We prepared a healthy spread of snacks and opted to stay in and watch a movie. (Finding a movie is always a difficult feat for us, because we never seem to agree on movie titles.) We ended up scouring the Video On Demand for about half an hour before settling on a documentary called America The Beautiful.

The film, by Darryl Roberts, is an indepth look at America's unhealthy obsession with beauty.

It was a worthwhile watch, in that it exposed the ugly truth behind our society's desire to achieve ultimate beauty. Granted it was nothing that I hadn't already seen and heard a thousand times before, but the premise was a good reminder none the less.

Sometimes I actually have to stop and shake my head when I realize the extent of how we are all constantly bombarded with images and expectations of what we are supposed to look like. I mean yes, most of these expectations are illogical, but somehow so many of us still buy into them.

I remember a few years ago I fell into the trap of trying to achieve perfect beauty. It started off innocent enough with a simple diet to shed the extra pounds I've held onto all of my life. However, my diet began to morph into an obsession to be thin; my methods changed from exercising, healthy eating and food moderation to starving, bingeing, purging and a whole lot of self-loathing.

Yes, I imagine this is an awkward post to read. (It' awkward to write as well. However, it's astounding just how many people have had, or do have, issues with body image and eating.)

I think I was motivated by a number of things; vanity? insecurity? a need for control in my life? low self esteem? -- I used to thrive on people's comments about how much weight I had lost (60+ pounds). For me, the validation of having others notice that I was shrinking was enough to continue with my destructive behaviour; at first it was a diet of salad no dressing, half an apple, a double-double from Tim Hortons, and between 15 to 30 laxatives. That was my daily intake. (Sometimes I would also indulge in diet jello, because it was five to ten calories a serving.) However, after a couple of months I couldn't sustain a starvation diet, and I went back to eating. I ate so much. I ate everything, and my secret weapon to keep the weight off was upping my laxative intake and self-induced vomiting.

My days centred around thinking about food, stepping on my scale, my secret, and hanging out in the washroom (as disgusting as that is.) I always had to lie, plan, or think of excuses not to eat with people (or excuses why I spent so much time in the washroom.) I was always in pain or discomfort, whether it was hunger pangs or cramps from all the laxatives. Yet, as sadistic as this sounds, I enjoyed the pain because it was a very physical and obvious indication to myself that my "diet" was working. I worked so much, a full-time and a part-time job, that I felt fortunate that I didn't have time to eat anyway.

It seems like a lifetime ago.

I'm embarrassed to admit all this now, and strangely, I'm not so much embarrassed to admit that I struggled with these issues and this lifestyle. Instead I am embarrassed to admit this because I failed at it; to look at me, you would never know that I was once thin. (I never even considered myself to be thin back then, it is only now when I look at the tiny clothes, tucked away in the back of my closet, that I realize how "successful" I was at my "diet.")

I don't even have pictures from my "glory days" because at that time I felt that I was too fat, and too ugly to pose for pictures. I kept holding off, waiting for one day when I would feel as though I was thin and pretty enough. But, that day never came because, luckily for me, my head gave out before my body did.

After two years of depriving myself, I finally lost it. (Literally lost it.) My secret, which wasn't actually a secret, became too much for me and everybody around me. I no longer had proper function of my bowels, my teeth had eroded drastically, I eventually gained all of the weight back, and perhaps worst of all, I wasn't even myself anymore. My lifestyle took a great toll, as I was both physically and mentally exhausted, and it seemed the more I starved and the more weight I lost, the more I segregated myself. My dream of being thin had turned into a nightmare. To put it bluntly; the ugliest thing I had ever done in my life was try to be beautiful...

I am not sure what I would call my situation; I am hesitant to call it an eating disorder, yet in some ways I guess it sort of was. My decision to stop that lifestyle was one that happened over a gradual period of time. I wasn't able to just stop over night. In fact, like any addict, I relapsed about a thousand times before I finally gave up. (As messed up as this sounds, I still fantasize about those days; the 'self control' and being thin. Though I never want to go back, I can't help but feel as though I failed. It's a weird feeling to explain.)

It makes me sad to think that so many people suffer from eating disorders and body image issues. It's truly tragic to watch people fall into the trap of allowing the media and society dictate how they are supposed to look and feel about themselves.

I know that when it comes to eating disorders, the issue is so much more complex than just food and being thin. However, perhaps society's role in dictating what defines beauty is a catalyst for this disease for many people.



  1. Thank you for your post. Issues all women struggle with in one way or another. You are very brave to share your story and to write about this issue.

  2. Shelley, thank you for sharing your story. It takes so much courage to be open about past battles. I don't think enough attention is paid to the body image issues that exist in society today. We're all aware of them, but it seems like very little is being done to encourage the use of "realistic" body types in magazines, and in other forms of media.

  3. I'm not sure that courage or bravery are the right words, as I simply "dabbled" in this lifestyle. It was consuming and hard to fathom, even at the time, yet I am surprised at the number of people who go to these lengths. It's not uncommon. Not at all.