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In A World Obsessed With Body Image, It Is Harder For Me To Deal With An Eating Disorder

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By Anonymous, illustrated by Devin Parker: 

Note: Originally published on Empathize This and republished here with their permission.

 

I am a recovering bulimic.
When I was acutely bulimic, and in the worst of it, I worried a lot about being too big, or about eating or not eating, about exercising and losing weight.

Now that I’m (thankfully) a lot better, the things I worry about are different.

But before I get into those, let me paint a short picture of my life: I actively work to eat whenever I’m hungry. I’ve had to (re)learn that I can actually be satisfied and not feel hungry at all times – that there are times I don’t want to eat more, because I’m full. I also try to eat whatever I feel like eating, because that is, what will most likely make me feel sated – even if that means eating a whole bar of chocolate.

I try not to think about calories and I try not to worry about my weight. I try to be satisfied with my looks and my body. I try to accept it the way it is and remind myself over and over again that even though it’s not perfect, it’s the body I have and it works well if I feed it regularly. It enables me to dance and hear music and kiss and do all of the other things I love.

I try not to scrutinize myself in every mirror (I do that a lot because it’s still kind of incredible to me, that I can eat, not purge, and still stay the same size).

I actively try not to think about sports as a way to “workout” but as fun I have with my body. I also work hard on allowing myself to stay at home and do nothing without feeling guilty.

These are actions, or states of mind that I have to actively maintain – they don’t come naturally. I work hard at it, and it’s not always easy. But it’s essential to my recovery.

But here’s the rub: all these things I have to do in order to stay healthy are things our current society doesn’t understand, or even actively discourages. Enjoying that whole chocolate bar? Scandal!

I constantly listen to girls and women of all sizes calling themselves “fat”; and to their friends answering “No, I am fat, you are so pretty” – as if being “fat” or rather “bigger than someone else” and being pretty were mutually exclusive.

Everyday I have to listen to co-workers planning what to eat in order not to eat “too many calories,” while I am supposed to try and eat without planning ahead. They tell each other what they’ve been eating and what they want to eat later, generally obsessing about their food in much the way I used to.

Friends and acquaintances seem to think it’s their right to comment on what I (or someone else) eat(s) and whether it’s healthy or not – “healthy” in this case being used as a synonym for low-fat and low-sugar. It’s automatically assumed, that every woman’s biggest wish is losing weight.

Some people say “oh, I couldn’t eat all of that, I’d gain 5 kilograms over night!,” which is not only impossible, but also a fear I’ve had to unlearn in order to be able to eat halfway normally again. It’s not easy hearing it being agreed to again and again without doubting my own actions in recovery.

I have friends, who refer to eating high calorie foods as a “sin”. Most of the time I just stand at the side and try not to listen to them. On worse days I silently agree with them.

With the way everyone is talking and acting it feels as if my eating disorder fit in better with a food-obsessed society than my attempts to recover. It’s really quite hard to try and tune out what they say, when it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking so often for such a long time. Especially since it’s obviously considered the “right” thing to say and believe.

(On a sidenote: I dare not ask anyone to stop saying these triggering things around me, out of fear they might find it appropriate to discuss my size and weight in order to “determine” if I am rightfully calling myself eating disordered – I’ve heard them do that with others.)

All of this is, of course, in addition to how the media repeats hurtful messages about body image, fat shaming and dieting. These messages are everywhere, and I – like most others – am affected by them. But at least I can openly argue against them and they are increasingly recognized as hurtful by a lot of people.

Instead, it’s the deeply ingrained habits of others that make me feel helpless. Hardly anyone notices them – they are so insidious, and all the more damaging as a result. They are very real and hurt my recovery even more.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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