When I had an eating disorder the only thing that mattered to me was my belly. I was fixated, with a body dysmorphia specific to my stomach. I can honestly say that I’ve come out the other side, and although I believe I will always be ‘in recovery’ rather than ‘recovered’, it is a big achievement.
So I’ve found it interesting to note recently that not having an eating disorder brings with it a different set of problems. I spent so long fixated on my stomach that I wasn’t actually aware of the myriad of other hang-ups that many women struggle with. Taking off my stomach-only glasses and putting on my whole-body specs instead, I’m suddenly noticing things I’d never seen before.
Though it never used to bother me I’m now paranoid that my body hair makes me look like a monkey. And oh my god, look at those teeth! Hideous! That frizzy hair – should I look into a Brazilian blow dry? What about the colour – should I dye it? Should I start wearing make up every day? Then it occurs to me – do I have FAT FEET? I stare at other women’s ballerinas on the tube. Yes, look at my overly wide feet! Awful.
Next my wardrobe comes in for a bashing. Everyone else is wearing a leather jacket. If I get a fake leather one I’ll look cheap and feel squeaky. My watch strap is mucky and the face is scratched, better get a new one. My satchel is disintegrating, I should get a designer handbag instead. And shouldn’t I be investing in “this season’s” coat and boots while I’m at it?
Oh man, it’s just too much. My head is going to implode thinking of all of these things that “I need”, that “everyone else” has. Why do I think I need to look and dress like a model? Why am I doing myself down and telling myself that I’m not good enough and won’t be until x,y,z. And if I did have perfectly sleek hair, a designer bag and yes, thin feet, would I be good enough then?
I don’t even know whether this is a feminist issue. My boyfriend tells me that men, too, feel under pressure to look good and dress right. But I know that stressing over my appearance doesn’t tally with my personal definition of feminism (“men and women are judged on their abilities and actions and not on their sex alone”). It took me 10 years to realise that a decade of stressing over my stomach wasn’t worth it. I just hope this new batch of anxieties will go away a little faster than that.