I had this theory as a child that there was a reason we could not see the ends of the universe, that we had no comprehension of how infinite it was and of the scale of our existence in terms of the grand scheme of things overall. My theory, was that we were an experiment. My theory was born out of watching ants marching in their lined formation across the warm ground on a particularly slow summer day and I marveled how they knew to follow each other in such a uniformed way. Forward they scurried to the crumbs of what looked like biscuit, back they went disappearing down a tiny black hole in a crack of the brick work. I was pretty envious that unlike me that day, they had something to do and I found it quite funny that those ants were completely unaware of their size and what little effect their important job was having on the world as a whole.
Contemplating their insignificance and that my watching them made not an ounce of difference to their clear determination, I remember an odd discomfort of then looking up towards the sky and wondering if something was actually looking down at me, ironically laughing at me in the same manner. In what felt like a eureka moment, I decided that something was and we were in fact miniscule beings ourselves, being researched by alien scientists. I stood up, dusted my bum off and rushed to tell my mum busy ironing in the kitchen as a matter of urgency that I’d cracked the meaning of life. I remember explaining that ‘the people on Baywatch and Madonna weren’t actually real, we are all shown things like this so that the scientists can watch our reactions’. ‘What about when people see them in real life?’ she asked, ‘they are just a part of the experiment so we believe it’ I answered. She laughed and told me while I was in the kitchen, I could make her a cup of tea. I was devastated she wasn’t taking me to the village courier to report my clear uncovering of the conspiracy, but then convinced myself if she did, the scientists would remove me from experiment.
As an adult, I still can’t disprove myself. We still haven’t seen the ends of universe (it could still be the rim of a petri dish for all we know, just saying!) or in fact universally answered what the meaning of life is. Celebrities as we are really beginning to realise are in fact real people though, who bleed in the many ways that the rest of us do. So from where did we harness this belief that they are the elite and seemingly untouchable?
In my opinion, this misconception is a result of how they have been relentlessly peddled to us by the media over the years. As a woman I have flipped through the magazines and encountered endless images of sold perfection. I have read interviews of stunning Hollywood women that began with the reporter reeling off the food order that they sat down to (like it really, really mattered) as they informally chatted about her new film/book/album. How they worked 17 hours a day with their perfectly intact marriage blossoming and their 3 kids under 3 on set. They aren’t ever going to add in there ‘that triple hamburger and double fried chips is all she ate for a week’ or ‘she disappeared several times to the toilet throughout the hour long interview’. They aren’t going to detail the grueling 2 hour daily work outs they need to stay in shape, stay tight, stay looking young. They aren’t going to tell you they are in marriage counseling and the kids have a 24/7 nanny. They aren’t going to tell you the truths that make them like the rest of us because the advertisers paying the money for that publication have stuck an ad in a few pages on and guilt that you are somehow absolutely not good enough, makes them money. I still get hooked by the poreless, airbrushed face close-ups and find myself researching that all-perfecting foundation on the following page.
Why has this upset my apple-cart enough right now to need to write about it? Because I have an ED, I am now actively trying to recover and I’ve just survived one of the most diet heavy months of the year without cracking. If anyone thinks December is rough for someone with an ED, try January. Every morning without fail and before I’d even got myself into work by 7am, there was a minimum of 3 dieting adverts on my radio/TV. Celebrity endorsed. Celebrity narrated.
So to backtrack slightly, I made what I felt was a pretty positive step for myself come the turn into new year. I’m a staunch believer that resolutions are pointless and I haven’t made any before but this year and reflecting over what had been in the last few months I decided to try, just try and set myself the goal that this could be the year of recovery. I know I need to change and I’ve learned so much about myself recently that I felt there really was no better time.
My recovery can proudly tell you for the last 48 consecutive days, I have eaten a minimum of one meal everyday and most days 2. I’ve eaten carbs. I’m not talking miracles, I’ve not gone and eaten a footling sub or polished off a tub of ice cream, but I’ve worked hard to let go a little bit and just see what happens, reassuring myself that I’m not going to blow up Nutty Professor style over night. I’ve resisted daily weighing although I’m not going to pretend I’m not devastated when I do weigh myself or that I’ve gained weight. I’m working hard to focus on positives like my boobs filling my bra or my arse filling my jeans, even in the most uncomfortable of moments. I am in brand new territory and in honesty no, I don’t fully like it. It’s a war everyday to argue against myself that if I just fast for this week, I can knock off a few of these extra pounds and start again. I’m assured that in terms of recovery, the fact it feels so awful is a sign that I’m doing the right things. I don’t want to be niave enough to say ‘I think I’m really doing it this time!’ because I’m scared I’ll land on my arse, but this is new and it’s the longest I’ve managed. I’m pretty proud of that. It’s a starting point if nothing else.
In terms of guilt, January brings out the ED in everyone it would seem. It’s possibly the only time of year I don’t feel isolated. Everyone surfaces from their indulgent Christmas having eaten more, moved less and pretty much the second statement from everyone’s lips upon reuniting with the world is an apologetic ‘I’ve put on so much weight/I ate far too much’ followed by the declaration of whatever diet or methods of restriction they intend to follow for the next few weeks. I wished I could say to them, imagine feeling like you’ve emerged from an indulgent Christmas every bloody day of the year no matter what you weigh, because how uncomfortable you feel in your body right now is how I feel in mine every single day. Obviously I didn’t and obviously I assured them that as long as they enjoyed it, who gives a shit. I meant it.
So where does all this guilt spring from? All the red faces and poking at their own bellies, declarations of fasting, goals, veganuary, new gym and WW memberships? Isn’t it funny that the droves of adverts in just the month before end overnight and are replaced with very different kinds of adverts? And the imaginations of the food industry just get more and more flamboyant each year, I swear some of the creations flashing up on my TV throughout the nights of December were the love child of Barry White and Willy Wonka, triple chocolate dipped and bathed in pools of salted caramel.
From the view-point of someone with an ED, the whole month of December, social gatherings and elaborate culinary offerings shoved under your nose make you feel like you are in constant danger. Also from the view-point of someone with an ED, January made me feel like I exist in a marketing conspiracy under a dictatorship of hypocrites and con-artists. The general consensus I sat back and observed from our wonderful media was you are all bad. You must all repent your sins. You must do better. You must look better. You are all fat. Get thin. Buy this now. Do this now. I couldn’t scroll through my Facebook or Instagram or turn on my radio or watch TV without being bombarded. It capitalizes on the sense of community, December- lets all get fat together… great, feel like shit now?! January – you’re too fat now, let’s all get thin together. It’s all fine if everyone else is doing it. I’m sure if 9/10 of my friends had ED’s, I wouldn’t see the harm in it. After all, we’d be normal, we’d be the majority. Looking at it from the headspace I am currently in, I’ve never realised just how loud the media are.
There is slowly, a fairly new honesty emerging from the celebrity front about ED’s of which I am genuinely appreciative of, it desperately needs to be spoken about and normalised. The gritty, vulnerable truth of it however, still seems to be somewhat lacking. When the headline ‘Fearne Cotton opens up about ‘Intense’ struggle with Bulimia in her early 20’s’ flashed up in the news section of my phone last November, I opened it immediately. I thumbed through the article and I don’t even know what I was so desperate to read, but when I was done I felt completely deflated. Even though she described it as ‘intense’, when it comes to explaining how she stopped it she describes that when she fell pregnant, her 10 year battle ‘just went overnight’ and after the birth of her child she just didn’t go back to it. To make it clear, she describes how worried she was that confessing this would have an impact on her career so for doing that much, I bloody applaud her. I can’t say anything when I still mostly live in secret about it and have the same worries about how it would be received. I guess for me though, the article gave this impression that it was a choice rather than an illness, or like a phase when she talks of motherhood being the point she decided no more. That point actually made me feel like I’m a bad mother and that I don’t love my children enough to just stop because she could. It comes to this though, this beautiful successful celebrity, career woman and mother comes out and says she overcame her ED and I hate myself for not being able to do it like she did. I want to be like her. Where can I buy that? I can’t. It’s why the confessions are so rare and why that story didn’t shoot onto the cover of every mainline magazine. The truth about that seemingly glamorous lifestyle clearly doesn’t sell.
She did something phenomenally brave that hopefully, will encourage more people in the limelight to be honest. I can only hope that when they do, they crack open the reality of it that little bit more. My theory this time round though, is that a move against this multi-billion pound industry of weight-loss and the stone-cold advertising theme of ‘you are not good enough’ that goes with it, is not one the media are likely to get behind. If we all woke up tomorrow in love with our bodies, they’d be broke. They aren’t going to cut their own throat. They aren’t going to make it a safe place for celebrities to be as vulnerable as we need them to be.
From my disordered mind that is currently embarking on a journey towards ‘normality’, I can tell you that the end goal looks a bit disordered in the first place. In a world where food challenges are viral and up to 5 days at a time of restriction are widely accepted now, even celebrated and advertised, I’d suggest it’s not solely people with ED’s that are involved in disordered eating behaviour or self-image. That guilt I feel all the damn time is actually pushed on all of us depending on the time of year and the money it can make, but apparently that’s fine as long we all feel it together. Is it though? What ideals are we actually being fed and who the hell is holding your spoon? It’s a question worth asking.
We can’t stop the media. I’m not even stupid enough to suggest we try. All we can do is recognise when to say ‘you know what? Fuck you’ when we are being peddled the next ‘you are not good enough’ subliminal advert or TV show or sparkly celebrity interview. Let it make you angry enough to be you in that world full of ants. I feel empowered that my stubbornness prevailed and I’ve been provided with enough content throughout January to push me forward and not backward. I’m here to tell you no matter what they say, disordered or not, you’re perfect exactly as you are. And just in case I was right, to the scientists up there watching, you’re gonna get a whole different set of data from me… sit tight.