I am going to start off this piece of writing by addressing the most forefront, honesty, that I can. I was anorexic for 15 years – my followers of this blog know this already – it’s what the basis of my blogs are about – but I have a feeling some of my new literature is going to pull some new viewers so let me clear the air. I have been in recovery for roughly 2 years now. Being in recovery doesn’t mean the problem is solved. I have had many relapses, many screaming into my closet moments, many breakdowns before and after I go out with my friends, and many moments I’ve contemplated on ending my life. Having your brain be your worst enemy is quite the task to overcome and retrain it to be kind to yourself.
What is interesting about any disorder is most of the rules you set up for yourself do not apply to anyone else. Retraining your brain takes much repetition and behavior shifts to actually change the narrative in your mind to accept it. The discourse in the media lately about topics I am going to speak about are very frustrating. Most of these ‘hot takes’ come in the facade of political correctness and attempting to be an ally or ‘woke’ to the body positivity community. I understand the intention but much of it is actually very harmful to the community itself. Let me explain.
When you have an eating disorder, most of us [definitely me], have rules that are untouchable to any one else. I am an advocate for all bodies. Large, small, disabled, abled, non-binary, gendered, gay, straight, and of all races. You could place any size in front of my camera lens and I will discover everything that makes them uniquely beautiful. I find people of all sizes beautiful, and I actually despise photographers that do not put larger bodies on their instagram feeds. I cannot tell you how much I preach about all inclusivity to my students. I get it.
For some reason, due to my upbringing, and my brainwashing as a child that I needed to earn my food by moving my body… these same freeing concepts do not apply to my own body. I have been in therapy for 2 years – and when I tell you that just last week I had my first actual break through – please understand how long of a process this is to retrain your brain to apply those freeing concepts to yourself.
In fact just 2 days ago – I deleted a fitness account that I would frequently use to find before photos so I could show myself disappearing and win the award of clapping among my followers to tell me how great I looked and ask me how I did it. It took me 2 years to delete that fitness account. Just to delete an account. Imagine how much more work my brain has to do to be able to look in the mirror and tell myself I am good enough wherever I am at.
Anti-Hero and Representation
I am starting this discussion because recently apple edited “Anti-Hero” a music video from Taylor Swift. They edited out a scene where she looks down and see’s the word “fat” pop up on the scale.
Let me clarify a few things. First of all, the word “fat” is not inherently bad, dirty, or wrong. As a society we have made the word have negative connotations but the word itself is “a natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs.”
You cannot feel fat. You can feel uncomfortable. You can feel comfort. You can feel bloated or tired, you cannot feel fat. Thank you for that, therapist. Secondly, I will acknowledge those struggling with their weight may have felt shame, guilt or confusion when they see a pretty thin woman stand on a scale, see these words, and produce a clip showing shame or disapproval. I see you. I understand, but I also think that you haven’t come to full terms with your body yet [and that is okay, friends]. But I also really need you to know that anorexia does not work in the way that it is projected onto ANY ONE ELSE but the person going through it. Like I stated above, those with bigger bodies than me – I literally am in love with. But for some reason in my fucked up mind I can’t accept that I would look as beautiful as them, or cannot get myself to accept that body of my own. The applicability of my cage is set to me only and no one else gets harm projected onto them – but myself.
However, if you are a thin knight coming to attack other people who are in the middle of their anorexia disorders, or starvation disorders, telling those with those ED’s they aren’t allowed to call themselves ‘fat’ around others – I have a rude awakening for you. You are not doing the ‘work’ you think you are doing – and in fact if you are labeling those around that person bigger bodied or “fat,” you actually are doing more judgement than the person stating the words themselves. One person is fixated on themselves not reaching the ‘accepted body’ in society, while the other is labeling who is and isn’t able to handle the word stated around them, as if fat was a dirty word.
Thirdly, Taylor Swift finally has felt the freedom to open up and discuss some of the true monsters in her life. Her recent album, Midnights, is almost entirely about celebrity life and how hard it has been for her. There is a lot to unpack here, and I will be doing an entire blog on Anti-Hero, both the video and the song itself, but celebrity life sucks and almost no people have empathy for celebrities all because they have money.
Money, doesn’t solve anything. In fact, Taylor cannot do most things normal human beings can in her daily life due to swarming of crowds alone. She gives someone a hand shake, people say she is in love with them. She has a woman roommate, people say they were in a romantic relationship. She wears a swimsuit, people say she is too fat, or too thin.
As she opens up about her past eating disorder [which does not go away by the way, just becomes easily to acknowledge and begin to change small behaviors day by day], people start saying she is fatphobic. No. That is not how this works. This is not black and white. There are so many grey areas in between. People forget that during reputation, when she was getting heathy, hiding from the public, and actually at her happiest moment in life, she gained weight to a healthy weight and people speculated everywhere that she was pregnant. Celebrity life fucking sucks, and if you have an ounce of insecurity – seeing these headlines and images ruin everything.
Think about a time someone tagged you in a bad image of yourself. Think about how that made you feel. Now think about that one images being replicated 30 times at a minimum and being blasted worldwide. How does that make you feel? Imagine you are underweight and they still say this.
In anti-hero she creates a scene that replicates this. We see a thin person on the screen – standing up on a scale, but the tabloids and speculation from the media [and fans, omg the fans] still say she is too ‘fat,’ or not good enough.
There is no winning for her. She either hides away and people ask why she is hiding, or she comes out and discusses things that people want her to discuss and is bashed for that too. It’s why she has been quiet about everything.
Finally, taking away the word “fat” does not rid this problem our society has created. I have a very ick feeling about censored art. But the most thing I’ve been mad about under this topic is the fact society rages and points fingers at people expressing their feelings or demons, but will never point their fingers at the actual thing suppressing us all, which is society and the patriarchal definition of beautiful. By taking away the word “fat” in the music video – we are muting the conversation. There is no “this or that” in terms of eating disorders. We have RANGES of disorders, but muting one just because it is the more ‘glorified’ version of disorders is absolutely detrimental to those facing those disorders. I will not deny that being ‘too thin’ is more accepted than being ‘too fat,’ but I cannot tell you the amount of students, comments, people who have ran to me telling me how by being too thin people would constantly tell them to eat more or told them they were gross and not ‘woman’ enough because they didn’t have curves or boobs. The hate exists on both sides… I actually made my entire thesis about the entire spectrum of body shaming in general. I could talk about this line of work for a year.
I guess I should tell you that in my years of starvation, I would eat 400-500 calories a day, and work out 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, and when I didn’t work out, I didn’t eat food because I “didn’t” deserve it. However, I have hypothyroidism and I don’t digest a lot of foods, so my body wasn’t starvation presented. Because of this I just looked really strong and would hear a lot of compliments that I didn’t believe, daily when I posted my images. I think I cried after every image I did post because I hated my body because it was never thin enough. When the word “fat” came up on the screen, I felt really seen because of how thin Taylor is. She is thin, beautiful, we all see her as almost this icon and perfect human [to a fault], and the fact she also wasn’t good enough to herself, in the definition of the ‘accept body’ – is how a lot of people feel during that scene. Taking out the word fat, doesn’t get rid of the narrative of the ‘perfect body’ in society. It mutes this large part of the conversation of what is thin and what is fat… and fuck why does it matter. Without the scene, we get it as viewers, but its less of a gut-punch, and to be honest… art is supposed to be uncomfortable, because it starts discussion.
Instead of starting discussion it became a war online of who is allowed to speak on topics – which is not true. It is not fat bodies vs skinny bodies. It is fucked up minds, who have been taught what is deemed acceptable and what is not vs society and its impossible definitions of beauty.
Taylor is speaking about herself, to herself. There is a difference between projecting these impossible definitions on ourselves, and projecting them onto others – and it’s clear this is a self reflection and not a comparison to any one else. For heaven’s sake, she’s even the one staring at herself in the scene, too. You are all smart enough to know that this is a self reflection – and it’s not about your body or any one else’s body.
This entire conversation is missing empathy. When I write these things I want you all to know that my heart is fucking BROKEN for any one dealing with any type of disorder. Binging, purging, starving, coping by eating, caloric reduction, calorie counting, fear of food, comfort in food, all of it fucking sucks and I’m so incredibly sorry this pressure has been put on us. No matter where you are at in your journey there is community all around us cheering us on to fight our demons. But just because one person has experienced one thing does not mean they have experienced it all.
Here is the video in totality that I will be blogging about, as well, a few weeks from now
Other artists making work about this topic.
My master degrees are really in the categories of feminism, eating disorders and gender studies. I have studied so many works about the body and it’s limitations regarding the ideal body. Both my thesis [books lol] writings were about the body ideal and where it came from [greek culture] and where it has ended up [bodybuilding culture]. So I am going to name drop a few that live in my head, daily. Reminder some of these are uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable brings discussion. And hopefully brings change.
I make my own fine art work that discusses fear of food, anorexia, punishment and feelings that I feel while eating. I won’t put too much discussion of my work on here because you can ask me about it any time.
Cassils is an amazing performance artist and photographer. During some of their work they actually went through bodybuilding cycles and trained heavily to commit to their concept. The piece that lives in my head daily is called “Hard Times.” Hard times is also a reference to the idea of capitalism and the original written literature by Charles Dickens – but it compares this idea of capitalism to the body in many ways. The reason. whyI love Cassils’ work SO much is because it is always loaded. Art, music, photography, whatever way art is represented is never just one meaning. There are always different intended metaphors and also different interpretations of the art. Art is loaded. In fact many songs aren’t even just written for one instance or even one person. That’s what makes it so impactful.
In this video piece, Cassils is seen shaking, struggling, posing – their face has a mask on that shows decay from the inside out. We know that over time, Cassils cannot keep doing these actions. It’s unsustainable. Cassils relates the idea of capitalism to this – as something rotting from the inside out – but they also compare it to the body and the idea of the perfect body. It may be achievable for a short period of time, but there is no way it will continue to last it’s intended time. It will fall apart, decay, become disabled and will retaliate to stay alive if these techniques of starvation and over use continue. Cassils also has another work called “Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture,” which shows a grid like image that discusses the “change in the body,” in almost a very scientific manner.
The reason I am bringing up this artist is because again, they are cut, fit, ‘thin’ but still ‘not good enough’ to themselves or to the public. There is always ways to ‘better the body,’ become thinner, become stronger – and just because they have an ideal body – doesn’t mean they cannot speak to it. Now, Cassils is more complex because they also play with the idea of the gendered body and who has a say about it. But they are using this grid like narrative to show their body changing which has been done previously by other artists as well.
Sasha Alex Sloan
House with No Mirrors
A music piece of work. From someone dealing with self image – weight – appearance. The Lyrics will slap you right in the face.
A photographer who has photographed herself ‘disappearing,’ and has been an advocate for finding self love and beauty in all sizes of herself but also discusses the hard instance of spectacle living in a bigger body. There is no doubt that bigger bodies face more scrutiny in the eye of the public for just existing – I will never argue that. But all experiences are valid and all point straight back to society and the set up cages we have created for beauty and who is allowed to be defined as that.
Jen Davis has many lines of work but “Eleven Years” is one that I have always taught to my students. This self project of Jen photographing herself over the course of 11 years, grappling with weight, weight loss and the speculation of others. The first image listed above is SO potent because the use of other bodies in the image. Who is covered? Who is not? No one is paying attention to any one else. Jen could have been in half the clothes she is in but no one would literally change – we become our worst critics and the question is begged to be ask “who is allowed to be seen?”
Her use of light and color is everything – though such an important and hard project for her to do – she does it with the most beautiful use of light and color. She is beautiful in every image.
Lauren Greenfield has many documentaries out as well as publications of books that discuss “Girl Culture.” In this work alone she compares young girls, beauty shows and diptychs them with images of models, bodybuilders and porn stars. As our youth grow up in the age of accessibility of social media and images they see what is accepted as beautiful or sexy and from a young age are told to believe they aren’t good unless ______. Again, none of this work is comfortable. None of this work speaks to all bodies, but it is work that brings discussion of a larger problem. The people portraying these representations, not even the models in these books or movies are the problem – society and its groomed definition of what beautiful is – is the problem.
Literature – Sonya Renee Taylor
In my journey of therapy I was recommended “The Body Is Not An Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. Now this hasn’t fixed my eating disorder, but it does talk about radical self love. It has to be radical because without radicalism we half ass things. Not many things should be radical but because society is so incredibly loud we have to be louder. This book is freeing because it talks about thin bodies, bigger bodies, black, white, asian, hispanic and other bodies, disabled bodies, abled bodies, old and young bodies. Your body is represented in this book and I cannot encourage you to read it enough.
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
Although old, this book actually was a big part of my graduate thesis. The numbers discussing the profit of the beauty industry and their prey on people not feeling ‘good enough’ have probably only doubled or tripled since the publication of this book but this book changed my life in the discussion of capitalism and profit within the industry. Think about how much money is spent on make up, hair products, plastic surgery, etc, by making people feel like they need to be ‘better,’ in a non-realistic way? “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf is a great peek into this idea if your head works better with numbers and concept – and breaking the shackles to the accepted beauty standards in the world.
There are obviously thousands of works about ED’s and the acceptance of beauty. But these are just at the forefront of my mind. I will always be an advocate for all bodies, but I need everyone to understand that someone calling themselves ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ is not a phobia. It is an internalized self reflection that takes years, if not a lifetime, to overcome and it applied to no body but the self.
Thank you for reading