I’ve started writing and restarted how to begin this in my head several times.
In graduate school I really focused on writing and creating work about the un-achievable body types represented in media. I referenced [and continue to stare at] artists like Vanessa Beecroft, Lee Price, Maureen O’ Conner, Cassils, and referenced many theorists like Judith Butler, Naomi Watts, Liz Wells and many others discussing this relationship between the diet industries and eating disorders created, in my opinion, because of representation in the media.
This read will be somewhat of a theoretical journey, but mostly a personal one, because although I have the knowledge to understand my position and fixation on weight, I cannot separate myself from it.
Historical eating habits and punishments
In my past there have been a number of times I have either over exercised, under ate, or introduced some sort of punishment for my actions as a common lifestyle. When I was going through high school I counted every calorie in my head of items I placed in my mouth. I was always involved with two sports every season, rushing from volleyball to travel soccer, or from basketball to dance class. I was super thin in high school but thought I was so overweight. I remember not bringing lunch and eating one of those pizza sticks you could buy, but if I ate that I wouldn’t allow myself to eat anything else because it had a good amount of fat in it. I think around 16 I cognitively stopped eating meat on a daily basis. Although I did care about animals it was more of a health thing and I thought just eating vegetarian would help me stay skinny even though during practices and sports I probably burned over 3000 calories a day just in the after school hours.
During those same years I remember going over to my best friend’s house. Her mom would always make us cookies and food. I wouldn’t eat all day until I went to her house, we would binge eat, and then I would either run laps around their house or start doing some ridiculous circuit of crunches to feel better about my binge eating choices. In college, I can say it only got worse. This was due to the fact I wasn’t doing 2 sports a day, but my counting of calories only became more strict and as access to apps that did this for you became available, I had a running toll of my decisions on my phone. I didn’t gain a whole bunch of weight if any the first two years of college. In fact I ran maybe 3 times week, ate limited [or under 1200 calories], and would do little home workouts in my room. When I moved on my own in the city I had an apartment gym I would run at and sporadically lift small weights. When I was 20 I had some health issues and my gallbladder finally became diseased enough to provide me with pain. I had found out the reason I was always sick growing up [literally vomiting after most meals or evacuating from another end] was because of my gallbladder and its lack of functioning itself. After this surgery, in one month I gained 20 pounds, without changing a single habit to my diet or exercise routine.
Cue the panic.
From there my counting got stricter, my punishments become harder, and if I over ate or gained a pound that night I would pinterest fad diets or starvation weekly diets on how to correct my ‘wrong.’ I, admittedly, am still guilty of this. The year prior to my wedding I remember crying at my engagement photographs and how I looked in them. For a year and a half I ate raw, barely ate or drank and got down to my comfortable 138 pounds and got married. After almost two years of starving day in and day out and working out excessively at home or at the gym, that weight began to come back as my body retaliated to the lack of nutrition. That was 2016. From there I have been on a very restrictive diet, have engaged with multiple trainers and have been working with a dietician [a doctor]. Recently I discovered not only can I not digest fats because of my gallbladder removal, but also I have hypothyroidism which honestly in the back of my mind I wonder if all of my starving in the last 12 years created a lot of these problems. All of these mindsets are the reason I began to photograph women [specifically] because I did see images of me and let them spiral everything I thought about me. This is also why I am against every and any photographer just ‘picking up’ boudoir- because you can seriously harm someone who has an ED and send them into a whirl of problems and starvation techniques due to how they are photographed [angles, positions, etc]. I got into photography because I didn’t want and do not want anyone to feel like how I have felt and how I feel currently to this day when I look at my images.
Comments on Weight
So where did this begin? I think there are many answers to this. The obsession with body image probably stems from representations in the media. Whether that’s Disney shows where cute girls are the lead roles and other body types are not popular or are seen as the ‘funny best friends,’ who never get attraction from the ones they desire, or ads from victoria’s secret that younger girls get to watch their fathers and brothers gauk at while understanding we don’t look like that but thinking we should. Personally, I know the media influenced me, but so did comments from my family members about me gaining weight the one time I didn’t play volleyball my freshman year, or at dance class when I returned one year after summer and my teacher telling me to watch how ‘pudgey’ I was getting because it’s harder to move ‘when you are fat.’ I also know I have suppressed comments from my past from my peers, and I know I have resentment towards the church I grew up in that idolized and favored the ‘christian, blonde hair, blue eyed, thin’ gals that were always popular with literally everyone. Our church, most churches, have two groups in youth groups although they strain not to, but there were always the very pretty, too good for you girls, and then the more down to earth, ‘normal’ girls. Us normal girls would always see how our crushes reacted to the pretty girls and obviously, subconsciously, this put many stigmas into our minds of what we had to become.
So I guess you can say that answer is pretty layered but I would be naive to say it was just one or the other. Environment and reactions of others honestly are most impactful, and although individual comments as a whole sting, I think they just reinforce what we see in the world around us.
How we see ourselves or How I have seen myself
It’s a weird thing, revisiting your past thoughts and your current thoughts with a different lens. I remember recently one of my best friends telling me I was anorexic and me completely shutting it down. I even was so mad I told my husband and friends and got mad at the idea that just because ‘I had self control,” didn’t mean I had a firm eating disorder. I think this is the stereotype in the world that actually does a lot of people harm. When you think of anorexia you think of stick thin humans who never eat at all. However, this isn’t really the case. As I reflect on my past and my current self, I see a variety of people, but one thing is consistent; my fear of food. I always saw myself as over weight. I have cried frequently during my teen life and my adult life about gaining weight and ‘the choices I have made,’ and I constantly wish to be unphotographed unless I am in control so I don’t see images of myself and spiral.
Eating disorders and their representations
Anorexia isn’t just about being super thin. When you have a body like mine that reacts differently to fat and limited food intake over time you can gain weight but still be anorexic. This disorder includes: fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, seeing yourself as fat, frequent monitoring of weight, restricting calories, and weight being linked to self-esteem and self-worth.
Binge eating disorder can also go hand in hand with anorexia, which I have also done but its commonly with friends and while I am drinking. This seems to be the only time I really act careless with food and kind of let go of monitoring myself, however it is in the back of my mind constantly on how I will fix the issue when I get home that night.
Orthorexia is the obsession of healthy eating or finding the new fad diet to make people thinner. It shows itself by presenting an obsession with ingredients, checking the nutrition on everything you eat, cutting out multiple food groups like carbs, sugar, etc, and refusal and inability to eat any thing that isn’t seen as healthy or pure, as well as spending all of your time worrying about your next food intake. All three of these definitions and their presentational symptoms can be read here. [This is my source for them in depth].
There are many different types of eating disorders, but these are the three that I think have dominated my entire life without my knowing it until, honestly, this week. How did I come to this conclusion? This past election I worked the polls and was placed with a lovely woman who is a therapist. I was talking about my eating disorder mentality, still not confronting I had a real one [because again, I thought you had to be stick thin to be considered a disorder], and I mentioned in passing my OCD and how it seems to get worse as I get older. We were talking about lock-down because that is when I learned how severe my OCD was – it became life and death some days. She mentioned a friend of hers that works strictly with OCD and Eating Disorder patients saying they actually do go hand in hand due to the control or lack of control of weight and eating habits. I honestly never thought about this connection until the moment it came out of her mouth. This is when I decided that I actually needed help before it did get unbearable.
OCD presents itself in every aspect of my life. From food and control of what is put into my body, to not being able to move onto another task until I fix something my mind fixated on [like I can be working out and think about how I forgot to take out a bag of trash and I cannot move on and continue working out until I do that task even though I know it’s not going anywhere]. It makes me rewrite lists over and over, it makes me schedule when I am going to eat and what days I am going to allow myself to have a glass of wine. It controls my self worth and makes me schedule new work when I am drowning for the fear I wont be successful if I sit for an hour, and finally it crushes my confidence in my friendships around me for the thought they will leave me if they spend too much time with me.
The Cycle of Not Letting It Go
I made extensive work about my eating disorder and feeling less than from 2016-2019. As the world began to burn i decided to fixate my obsessions on social justice work, thinking I conquered the beast when really I just created distractions. My post work and public lectures revolved around the unattainable body but looking through these in my 2020 version of myself and a clearer lens I realize I had been talking about my fear of food and inability to conquer all of these eating disorders because I never could identify them.
SBRAC was my first piece created about tampering with food so I couldn’t eat it, but finding a way and regretting it due to the pain it caused inside.
I couldn’t heal myself or seek help because I thought since I wasn’t underweight I didn’t have a disorder, I just had ‘goals’ and ‘achievements.’
I created many sculptures that discussed the forgiving of eating food and not dieting enough, and studied the greek ideal and where those body ideas came from and put them on a literal pedestal to discuss our diet and fitness industries obsession with ‘people achieving their goals.’ I recognize these industries profit on women’s obsessions with being thinner and ridding themselves physically but literally cannot separate myself from this ideal.
I even created videos like ‘Time,’ which was a conglomeration of videos of me working out [and I pointed out in a critique that I noticed my weights were going up which meant I was getting stronger and literally no one noticed that but me because everyone else just saw an unhealthy obsession]. ‘photoshop me,’ which is a video piece that did discuss the post processing normalities that do occur in commercials that create fixation in people viewing them which eventually causes obsession and bodies that could be compared to monsters since those equally do not exist.
‘Why Are You So Obsessed With Me’, which shows my ‘determination’ and ‘drive’ to work out even when space is limited [both mentally and physically]. And many more pieces. All of these images and videos [and I have many more, feel free to go through my site], show my acknowledgement of my issue but never the true confrontation since I didn’t think I could have these issues because I don’t technically starve myself, and because I am not stick thin.
My thesis for my MA was also about the representation of media and how it has affected young women due to the shift from stick thin – to now – in shape and fit: Seen here.
I think I also failed to acknowledge this my whole life because I know I am not ‘fat’ in terms of how we define it, and I never wanted to disregard those that actually do have a bigger weight issue than myself. There is such a body positive movement occuring that whenever we discuss our own eating disorders there is somewhat of a ‘shameful’ reaction that goes into it. “Why can’t you just love yourself,” “oh she is complaining about being fat without being obese and not understanding the real struggle those women have in society,” “This is just an ableist mindset.” These are all things I have read, and all things that honestly hindered me from calling my ED out as it was… an eating disorder. I thought anorexia meant you just never ate, but it can go hand in hand with binge eating when you are with friends and starving yourself all the following week or punishing yourself with an 8 mile run the next day [all things I have done].
When I am alone – it’s bad. Sometimes I rarely hit 1000 calories a day. When I am with friends, I am better, but there is a pro and cons list running in the back of my head of things I am putting into my body, but I have an easier time trying to ‘let go’ when I am with friends and living ‘in the moment.’ I know that my body holds more weight when I undereat, so this past week I have been calorie counting but for opposite reasoning – I am trying to hit 1600 a day minimum – and let me tell you what a mind fuck that is, going from thinking you need to eat 1200 calories or less a day, to knowing you have to hit 1600 or more if you want to improve your health, thoughts, mentality and even weight ‘goals’. It’s insane to me that my 14 year old self still rages in my almost-30 year old body. It’s absurd to me that as my OCD gets more severe so does the hate for myself and my body and the lack of control I feel have over my weight because of my hypothyroidism and prolonged under-eating mentality.
I have plenty more thoughts on the connections between eating disorders, OCD, society and the fitness industry. I think there is just a hard line between obsession and health with discussing fitness. I do find lifting and running VERY therapeutic. I am one of those people who is a avid gym goer and think that it is so important to treat your body with respect, but I also acknowledge the slippery slope of idolizing body compositions that are not sustainable and the diet and fitness industries [billion dollar industries] exploiting those insecurities among men and women.