Yesterday, I made an important mistake. Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I accidentally clicked on #eatingdisorder, which had appeared below in a caption of one of the pictures a recovery instagram I follow had posted. What went from pictures of ice cream and laughter on my screen instantly became a collage of distortion. A world of “thinspos” and black and white sadness filled my vision and I was sucked in, momentarily, to the lies my eating disorder once told me.
Of course I’ve known about the thinspiration movement for years, but I had forgotten how twisted it all was, and I think it’s something that, though I cringe to remember, needs to be addressed.
The sites and feeds that promote eating disorders, from pro-ana and pro-mia accounts, to the seemingly innocent individuals who post pictures of their thigh gaps or their “healthiest” meals are all a part of a phenomenon I think goes highly underrated and is in desperate need to be spoken about. I think the vast majority of individuals in treatment are either unaware of these sites or in shame of contributing to them, and I think those who don’t have eating disorders, but maybe disordered eating or distorted ideas, don’t realize the impact they are having and don’t understand the reality of the roles social networking has on the youth of today.
I know, for me, shame, ignorance, and the forgetfulness that comes with time has kept me from using my words to say my peace. In fact, it’s not something I’ve ever brought up in therapy. Making that mistake yesterday, however, and clicking on that hashtag, gave leeway to a flood of memories I think are important to share. So, I’m working through the hesitancy and embarrassment, because the truth is, this is my truth.
Before I was a nineteen-going-on-twenty-year-old-something-or another working on my recovery and trying to balance my schoolwork with my extracurriculars and social life while still struggling through each day and attempting to fight my demons, I was a nine, ten, thirteen, sixteen-year-old-something-entirely-different who was absolutely consumed by an eating disorder and committed to let that take away the pain I didn’t even know was underlying depression, compulsivity, and irregular moods. It’s hard to remember now but, as I recall, about a year before I was diagnosed and entered treatment, I uncovered this world where the behaviors that were swallowing me were excitingly welcomed.
This was a time before Instagram, where words were the primary motivator and Twitter was a hot-spot and, though I never became too involved and I wasn’t one to post, myself, I found the acceptance compelling and the competition among different users inspiring. I realize now that I was extraordinarily sick and trying to figure out the world I’d found myself in, but the damage social media caused on my already-distorted perception of bodies and food, I’m certain, was nothing short of detrimental and extremely unnecessary in what has now been a long and tiring uphill battle.
The purpose of this post isn’t to shame or hate on those who may be stuck in that world where posting your lowest weights and thriving off of mental illness is the norm, but rather to reflect on the reality of the situation. The fact of the matter, as I see it, is there is already enough glamorizing of weight loss and disordered eating on this planet, and every time a person posts a picture of their latest diet, or contributes to a movement that’s ultimately promoting mental illness, the harder it is to push against these messages and the more space that is made for others to latch on to what is truly a fatal cause.
Whether or not I found those accounts years ago, I would have had an eating disorder. In fact, I was already so sick at the time, that it really had little effect on my actions. However, the knowledge that others thought what I was doing was good for me, that there were thousands of people out there actually telling me I deserved to starve- that I deserved to die- is something to which I don’t think anyone should be exposed.
What these websites do not say is how incredibly lonely every single person who needs an eating disorder is. What these websites don’t show is what the person posting is missing beyond their computer screen or iPhone. They do not show the laughter of the group of friends at lunch to which the user couldn’t go. They don’t tell their audience that what they’re actually handing out is low bone density and years of treatment. They don’t show the pain that hits when one realizes there’s so much more in life and that person discovers the vicious cycle in which they are stuck, as well as the time and effort necessary in order to break this cycle and delve into these other areas of exploration. They certainly don’t explain the time they are consuming that one will look back on and wish for, unable to retrieve. What these websites do not show are the individuals who don’t make it long enough to post their lowest BMI.
The reality of an eating disorder is that it isn’t something to aspire to or brag about. It is terribly lonely, painful, and an unmaintainable obstacle in life. The reality of an eating disorder is that it is not necessary to survive, it will not allow for survival, and it can be changed. What has to be promoted are the success stories. The ones that do not inspire people to manipulate their weights or find another maladaptive outlet, but drive hope into the souls so drastically searching for it in all the wrong places. The hope is real and it comes not from hiding, but from asking for help and discovering that it doesn’t have to be this way. Life doesn’t have to be lonely and there are real things out there that are better than shelving oneself into a pile of lost opportunities. No matter where you are in your disorder, you can find a better path. I’ve seen it happen and I am working on recovering mine. The more time spent in an eating disorder, the more prolonged suffering and the further away recovery, but it is never too late. Hope starts here, one mistake at a time.
P.S. As a prelude to my upcoming trip to California, a memory that gives me hope… 🙂