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Art By Xtian Torres: Manila
Lena Elkins
I relate to those I love through humor, affection and food.
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The Cycle of Food, Labels and Self

By Lena Elkins

My body was inherently not mine.

I often dream of a collection of habits that consumed my life so deeply that they defined who I was. These dreams must seem redundant and trivial to those who have never been swallowed and consumed by them.

 

I dream of packing measuring cups with me in order to track every morsel of food that entered my body. I dream about filling a glass with ice chips to chew on in order to trick my body into thinking it was consuming food. I dream of my hair falling out and my nails breaking and my period disappearing as I shrank every day. I dream of looking at pictures of food on Pinterest which gave me the imagined satisfaction of fullness. I dream of forcing myself to run with a broken arm, and going to the gym twice a day if I ate a whole grapefruit instead of a half. I dream of crying uncontrollably for no reason at all and drinking salt water in order to make myself throw up. I dream of going crazy. I dream of the day I told my mom that there was no final goal; the goal was to be as small as I could get.

 

I’ve never written about my eating disorder openly, and even articulating it vocally is challenging. My brain became so chemically imbalanced during that time that it is difficult for me to even remember my thoughts with accuracy. Although this would be a liberating moment for me to come out and say that I am writing this now because I have overcome it, that is not my reality and I know it never will be. As someone who is now recovering from an eating disorder that was slowly killing me, I can say with certainty that this will always be a part of me.

 

My body was open for public discussion from a very young age. After getting a breast reduction at age 14, my self awareness and idea of purpose as a teenage girl became skewed. I rapidly went from being a normal child to a teenager who was taught by peers, community members, family and even educators, that my body was inherently sexual. That my body was something to be ashamed of. That my body should be hidden, and if I didn’t hide it, then I deserved the (wanted or unwanted) attention that it received.

 

As a result, I hated myself. I felt so ashamed that my soul became desperate, and I sought validation and acceptance in any place I could find it. My life regressed quickly after that.  From the ages 14 to 19, I was a mother’s worst nightmare.

 

At 19 my quest for validation spun in a direction that I never imagined possible, one that caused me to lose 40 pounds within a few months. What I will always remember is that most people were proud of me during this time of starvation and self-destruction. For the first time in my life people admired my body and complimented me. They were ‘proud of my self-control’ and my ‘ability to follow through with my goals.’ Everyone wanted to know my secrets. My gym wanted to feature me as a role model in their monthly newsletter. Once again, my body was open for public discussion, and the public view was reinforcing the dangerous decisions I was making in my life.

 

Even now after years of therapy and working with eating disorder specialists, I have not and will not ever recover from this completely. Weight is something that I used to spend 24 hours a day thinking about. Now I spend about one to two. I cannot imagine a day in my future where I will not mourn the anorexic body I used to have, or sickeningly despise myself for not maintaining the ‘self control’ I was heralded for during that time. I am now what people call ‘healthy,’ which is one of many labels people have given my body throughout the years – chubby, fat, curvy, voluptuous, thin, skinny, tiny, petite, sexy, normal. All of these names were given without solicitation, without permission and without consideration. They were intended and succeeded to be invasive. What these words taught me was that my body was inherently not mine. It was theirs, and their words forced me into a sickness that took away so much.

 

We need to teach our girls that their bodies aren’t any amount of words or opinions or reactions. They just are. There is a societal addiction to self destruction and self hatred which is spilling into the souls of girls, teenagers and women everywhere. It ends with each of us choosing our words with thought, with courage, with carefulness and with love. Because without strong and healthy women – without us – who are we?

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