Her Story: Raising Awareness Through My Story

It's that time of year again. It's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Oh, were you unaware of that? That's okay. Understandable, really. But let me tell you, this week means a lot for some people, myself included.

Over the years that I've had an Instagram account, I've seen many weight-loss transformation posts. They're amazing. They're inspiring. It's a culmination of someone's very hard work. It's a chance for the community to say, "We support you. We believe in you. We think you're beautiful." That's the way I see it, anyway.

Then, one day, I stumbled across my first weight-gain transformation post. From eating disorder to healthy. I did not think, "I support you. I believe in you. I think you're beautiful." Instead I thought, "Well, that's embarrassing. Who would want to tell the whole world they've gained weight?"

I certainly didn't want to.

My freshman year of high school, I started working out. I was very shy and thought that being pretty would compensate for that. Next, I stopped eating after I worked out. Then I stopped eating before I worked out. At no point had I set out with the intention, but before I knew it, I had a full-blown eating disorder.

The next two years consisted of weekly visits to a medical practitioner, usually accompanied by threats from the nurses that if I didn't start eating, they'd hospitalize me. On odd weeks I saw a doctor. On even weeks I saw a nutritionist. There was the occasional visit to the hospital where they would look at my weakening heart.

My senior year of high school, I gained the strength to recover. I finally accepted the help people had been angrily trying to shove at me. I finally tried to listen to my body, to strengthen and nourish it. However, I was still ashamed. I was not ashamed of the fact that I had had an eating disorder. I was ashamed to be gaining weight.

I can remember promising myself out-loud in my bedroom one night, a dark summer night right before I left for college, that I would never, ever tell anyone that I had had an eating disorder. I was going to be a new person.

I'm going to flash forward and get to my point. I am in my sophomore year of college and all of my friends know that I was once anorexic (yes, I can say the word now). Now all of you know, too. I realized that there should be no shame in my admitting to my mental illness. There should be no shame that I fell to the societal pressures to be thin and beautiful. As a very, very shy young girl, I thought my only hope of getting noticed was being pretty. I am a driven person. And my misled hope drove me very far.

Today, I am open about my eating disorder. As a writing major, I hope to write about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. The stigma that prevents people from getting help. The stigma that makes people ashamed to need help or to admit they once needed help.

But if I am to work to reduce the stigma, I need to continually challenge myself. I have admitted in writing before that I have struggled with these things. This challenge is not a new one. But, I have never, ever, let someone see my transformation images side by side. As I said earlier, I thought that weight-loss transformations were remarkable, but weight-gain transformations were private, embarrassing even.

I have a new perspective. There are no weight-loss transformations. There are no weight-gain transformations. Or at least there is no need for that distinction. Both of these transformations are about men or women getting healthy or healthier. They are doing what is right for their bodies, whether that means eating less or eating more.

I am now able to look at weight-gain transformations and have an entirely fresh perspective. I am able to look at them and say something that I hope you will say with me. Don't just say this for me, but say this this week, to anyone who needs to hear it.

I support you. I believe in you. I think you're beautiful. 

Left: July 2013, 89 pounds. Right: September 2015, 130 pounds.

 

Photo is author’s own.