Dear Thick Girl with an Eating Disorder

Dear thick girl with an eating disorder,

From one member of the group to another, here is what I want you to know. You are not less in need of recovery because your bones are not showing. You are not less worthy of attention because your BMI is regular. You are not suffering less because others cannot recognize your pain. Sure, you may have been praised for your weight loss by people who have no idea what kind of crippling thoughts go through your head. However, it does not make your eating disorder less valid.

When I first lost weight, I was a heavy high-schooler who ate everything and anything. As soon as the sizes dropped, everything seemed to finally put itself in order: boys were interested, my parents were proud, my friends and teachers were encouraging me to go on and so on. I had finally became the woman I wanted others to see in me: beautiful. I dropped twenty pounds in less than three weeks working out like a freak and eating half of the regular adult calorie intake. But no one seemed to bother about me skipping breakfast, or eating a side salad for lunch or being too tired for dinner. No! All their eyes could see was a “fat” girl turned skinny and they were here for it. I do not blame them for not noticing the warning signs. The media has fed us an idea of eating disorder that is homogenised. I grew up believing that to have an eating disorder was all in the numbers: how much you weighed, how low your bmi was, how little your calorie intake was, etc. That sort of stuff.

Actually, according to Mayo Clinic, an eating disorder is qualified by a series of serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The behaviours mostly involve overly focusing on one’s weight, body shape or food consumption. The roots of the definition do not entail “being too skinny’ or “dropping a significant amount of weight.” In other words, an eating disorder is more of an issue created by the mind than it is an issue visible from the outside.

We, as thick girls, are encouraged to lose weight. We are encouraged to fit the norm and find any means to get there. Society does not care how we get to this ideal, we just must. For women who are naturally petite, dropping weight is a scandal. For women who are heavier than average, dropping weight is a success. Curvy bloggers and personalities such as Blythe Braid and Amy McCarthy have touched upon this situation. In her own words, McCarthy has said, “When I'd skip a meal or eat only lettuce and carrots for weeks at a time, people congratulated me for "making a positive change." When I was exercising every day on about 900 calories, I was making a ‘healthy choice.’” Sometimes this nuance creates a cloud of misjudgment. We do not get the alarming warnings from our friends and family about our “sudden weight loss”, we do not have physicians and doctors advising us to remain in an average BMI, we do not have strangers staring at us like we are ghosts. On the contrary, we have cheers and words of encouragement.

The poet Blythe Braid also adds to this reality with her poetic combination of words: “If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not so thin to begin with, you are a success story. So of course when I evaporated, everyone congratulated me. I was getting healthy.”

The truth is, it is very hard to be equally overweight and suffering from an eating disorder. The two extremes do not seem to meet, but oh, they do. Jacqui Valdez, a woman who shared her experience with Broadly, lost 89 pounds as a result of poor eating habits and the overuse of laxatives. Although her transformation was drastic, she was never considered a “real” anorexic because she was never underweight. Women like Vasquez, Blaithe and McCarthy have all experience the same bias of society’s characterization of what an eating disorder should resemble. Despite obvious signs of dangerous eating behaviors, they were not given the attention their disorder desperately needed.

Dear thick girl with an eating disorder, do not be afraid to recognize the pain. Do not be afraid to recognize the harm that is being done to your body and be courageous enough to love yourself despite the number on the scale, despite what society says, hell, despite what your family and your friends say. You are not healthy because you are getting skinnier. You can only be healthy by making healthier choices. You do not have to look like the girl in the movies and in the ad to believe in your own sickness. As a matter of fact, you do not have to wait on the world around you to worry about your situation for you to seek for help.

When I realized my weight loss was nothing but the result of a chain of bad habits, I felt ashamed and confused. I did not know where to turn. Where do they fix thick anorexics and bulimics? I was so ashamed; I had no idea how to even word my problem. I did not feel I deserved the title of “eating disorder survivor”. I did not feel like I looked sick enough to proclaim myself as a sick person. I normalized my past behaviour and labeled it as “aggressive weight loss efforts”. However, it does not matter how you word it and how you try to minimize it, it does not change the facts.

Dear thick girl with an eating disorder, I only pray that you are able to recognize your own beauty. In a world that repeatedly brushes off your conditions, rise above and be your own rescue. Do not be afraid to ask for the help you strongly deserve and thrive to be a better you in your own terms. It has taken me 21 years to understand the body I live in and I know I still have decades before I truly appreciate the form I have been gifted with. Until then, I made an oath to give this body the nourishment it needs and screw society and its image of what I should look like. My body is legitimate, healthy and strong. It survived and it is better now. There is no number in this world that can affirm this to me.