False Promises, Real Resolutions

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During my freshmen year of college, I caught a parasite. I lost an extreme amount of weight in a short amount of time. Although I felt horrible and had intense stomach pain, I also began to feel noticed. I did not realize that I was being noticed for my bony figure, though, because in my head I saw myself transforming into the skinny women I saw in magazines. And I liked it.

Then, I began to count calories. Instead of convincing myself to regain weight, I wanted to stay skeletal. I kept mental notes of each calorie I consumed. I refused to eat any dessert and instead focused on all of the healthier, more diet-friendly foods in the dining hall. I looked up various ways to burn calories, and believed those silly blog posts and magazine articles that supposedly reveal secrets about “fat-burning foods.” At the same time, I was exercising at least twice a day. I wanted to be the one who didn’t gain the freshmen 15. Before I knew it, I was burning upwards of 1,500 calories a day and eating about 1,000.

I was not starving myself. No, I went to every meal in the dining hall with my friends. I meticulously picked out the foods that I knew were healthy and low in calories. I was restricting my diet to protein and vegetables only: no carbs, no artificial sugar. Some would say my diet was healthy, that I had immaculate and enviable willpower. Enviable maybe, at first, but overpowering and all-consuming as it continued. What people didn’t see was the girl who suffered from extreme self-consciousness, the girl who was embarrassed by what she looked like and spent a lot of time envying the bodies of peers and women performers. I spent hours looking at pictures of bodies online— Taylor Swift’s legs, Jennifer Anniston’s arms, anyone’s abs but my own.

I suffered from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). I was not starving myself, nor was I binging and purging, yet I was going to unhealthy extremes to maintain a very low body weight. And although it was triggered by an actual medical problem, I was suffering from an eating disorder.

This is National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week. The theme this year is “I Had No Idea.” The goal is to point out the misunderstandings that people have, and rumors that people spread, about eating disorders. Eating disorders are not fad diets. Eating disorders do not only affect women. Eating disorders do not always result in skeletal figures. Eating disorders have different origins for different people. Thirty million U.S. men and women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association, and 95 percent of sufferers are between ages 12 and 25.

By the time sophomore year came around, I had lost so much weight that my clothes no longer fit and all of my bones were visible in a bathing suit. I distinctly remember sitting on my couch one afternoon, looking through Facebook pictures, picking out which girls I wanted to look like, wondering how they got their bodies to look like that. How were they so perfect? I couldn’t stop comparing, even though I knew that my negative body image and body dissatisfaction was heightened by doing so.

I had to snap out of it. I started seeing a therapist and a nutritionist. My therapist advised me not to buy or pick up another magazine showing idealized women’s bodies ever again. Although both traditional and digital advertising are hard to control, the decision to stop buying magazines was one that was completely within my control and could help me resist obsessing over society’s unattainable thin ideal.

I have not bought a single “women’s” magazine since 2011. Not a fashion magazine, not a cooking magazine, not a fitness magazine.  Trust me, this choice is not always easy. It’s hard not to stop at the kiosks at the airport and buy the newest issue of Cosmo or Us. It’s hard not to bring a bag full of magazines with me on a train or a plane or anywhere I could possibly get bored. It’s even hard not to stock my bathroom with tabloids to keep up on the daily gossip.

But resist I must. Otherwise I see this:

Flatten your abs Fast!

7 Yummy Fat-Melting Foods

Sexiest. Body. Ever. 4 Steps. 6 Minutes a day.

Nearly every magazine  boasts headlines promising fat-blasting secrets or weight-loss tips.  Models typically have olive complexions, are extremely skinny (yet big-breasted) and have perfect skin. They’re sexy, they’re perfect. There is always something wrong with how we look, but never anything wrong with our friends or the celebrities whom we admire. Research shows that a woman’s body image is affected by what we see in the media, and I argue that that effect has only intensified within the last 20 years.

The day I stopped buying magazines, I decided to actively stop comparing myself to every woman that came my way. It was the day that I started to learn to accept my body. Whether I’m truly ignoring what I see, or if I’ve simply developed a heightened awareness, I’m not sure. But I know that I’m now able to navigate the Internet while being mindful of the unhealthy messages inherent both in advertisements as well as in the average look-at-me photos posted by my peers on social media.

This week, if you had no idea, please understand that eating disorders are diseases: sometimes fatal mental diseases. Try to understand that your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, you, may be suffering from insecurities that can lead to unhealthy practices. Try to understand that each person who suffers has a different story—but each story can have its own positive resolution.

Photo courtesy of Flicker user Melissa Brewer licensed via Creative Commons 2.o

Kendyl

 

Kendyl Klein is a senior at Claremont McKenna College. She is majoring in media studies with a leadership sequence and hopes to pursue a career in marketing or public relations after graduation in May.

Comments

  1. I commend you for the bravery it probably took to write and share this. Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I really don’t think people realise the damage photoshopped images cause. The extra layer of unrealism (not only are the ladies not that skinny in real life, photo-retouchers get rid of all the ‘bony’ or less flattering parts of being skinny) creates an image no woman, not even one starving herself almost to death, can achieve. They’re not real, but they look like they are. Thank you especially for drawing attention to the fact that not all eating disorders are as straightforward as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, as a heathcare student I come across people with dangerous misconceptions about eating disorders. Like the idea that you only have a disorder if you’re literally dying, or not eating anything, or binging and purging. Yet there are quite a few young women I know who I would probably medically describe as having a disordered or at the least unhealthy relationship with food, and often societal pressures to be thin are a big part of that. Yes, there can be many motivations in eating disorders that are not directly about being skinny, like the desire to control one’s image and one’s world, still we should be aware of the rise in eating disorders that has coincided with photoshopping and aggressive promotion of an increasingly skinny ideal in the media.

    • Kendyl Klein says:

      I agree I agree I agree! More people need to know about the spectrum because the gray areas are the most dangerous.

  3. I love this. I am currently in recovery from anorexia and can so relate to a lot of what you said! And I definitely agree that you can always turn the struggle into a positive :) I’ve become a much stronger, compassionate woman after battling the eating disorder. I hope a lot of girls read this and realize that “managed anorexia” is just as dangerous. You don’t have to be scarily underweight to be hurting your body and feeling miserable. Life is SO MUCH BETTER without an eating disorder. Sooooo much better :)

  4. You are so brave to write about your experiences so candidly. I really respect you so much.

    I have a lot of friends who have suffered from eating disorders, and it never occurred to me how difficult it may be for them when a group of us reads those silly women’s magazines. Thank you for pointing this out.

  5. Kendyl, this is an extraordinarily fine piece that obviously took guts and skill to write. Obviously you possess each in abundance. Well done and thanks.

  6. Hannah Johnson says:

    I am extremely impressed with the courage you have displayed in writing this article. Having never gone through an experience like this myself, I cannot imagine the struggles that you went through. You commented about how these idealized images of women in magazines perpetuated your unrealistic view of how women should look. You also said that looking through Facebook pictures of your peers elicited a similar response in regards to your own self perception. I am curious as to how you think your own Facebook activity fits into the landscape that you have described. I noticed that your Facebook activity often includes pictures of yourself clearly altered using what I assume to be filters. I understand that this is considered trendy, but isn’t this sort of media part of the problem that you described?

  7. Hi There

    I am so whole heartily happy that you have recovered.

    i appreciate you sharing your story, I really do. But I do not think that a severel eating disorder is something that one can just ‘snap out of’. I suffered anorexia for eight years and have fully recovered and am working now as an eating disorder coach. I am strongly of the opinion that anorexia and other clinical eating disorders are complex mental disorder and not a result of the media or external forces. You contradict yourself when you say this was a serious mental disease (with this I agree) and then beforehand you are saying that it was a product of you wanting to be thin and that you were able to just snap out of it. Whilst I do think that the media CAN affect a woman’s body image, I do not think this can cause a clinical eating disorder, it can cause low self esteem and a desire for a lower body weight, it can cause your behaviors and habits to change, but it cannot cause a severe mental disorder. If you want more explanation please visit my webiste TabithaFarrar.com

    • anonymous says:

      Tabitha, your comment is very inconsiderate especially coming from an “eating disorder coach.”

      there are many aspects to eating. the thoughts and behaviors before eating, during, and after. food and calorie manipulation and the insistence on maintaining a skeletal frame is an eating disorder. period. further, EDs are not genetic diseases, so how can they possibly not have an external factor? every ED sufferer has a trigger. young people are especially impressionable and can be affected by anything, whether it be a food blog or the media or one’s family.

      people CAN snap out of their disordered thinking/eating if they can pinpoint their triggers and reassess their priorities in life. they don’t need coaching or facilities. have you read Brain Over Binge? the author snapped out of her disorder. she argues against mainstream ED psychology and treating the illness as so complex and because it can just make sufferers feel even more trapped and helpless.

      it seems like your perception of an eating disorder is very closed minded and even harmful. would you reject a potential client if she had Kendyl’s symptoms, because her triggers were not textbook enough for you?

  8. “I suffered from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). I was not starving myself, nor was I binging and purging, yet I was going to unhealthy extremes to maintain a very low body weight. And although it was triggered by an actual medical problem, I was suffering from an eating disorder.

    I really love what you said and I wish we didn’t need the “although” disqualifier. Eating disorders of all stripes ARE actual medical problems. And you are are acknowledging that the weight loss came before the obsession with the media images, exercise and calorie restriction resulted from your eating disorder and did not cause it.

    I have been frustrated by a lot of the body image points surrounding NEDAW, but I found your post informative and educational in demonstrating how you are dealing with relapse prevention.

  9. The headline should read: “One Out of Four College-Age Women in the United States HAS an Eating Disorder.” One has. Not have.

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