BuzzFeed: When my boyfriend gained weight I had to confront my own eating issues

BuzzFeed: When my boyfriend gained weight I had to confront my own eating issues

Relationships are messy. Recovering from mental illness is messy. Human desire is messy. Blend all three and you can get what I got: a painful, complicated tangle. That’s the topic of my latest essay at BuzzFeed Ideas:

I told him early in our relationship that I was recovering from an eating disorder. I had only stopped compulsively overexercising and subsisting on lettuce and baby carrots a few months before we met. Having struggled with his weight for most of his life, he sympathized. In the year before we met, he told me, he’d lost a dramatic amount of weight, and was only now starting to like the skin he was in.

As a feminist writer, I had felt like my eating disorder made me a hypocrite. For two years, while I wrote about body image and loving yourself and being healthy at every size, I had been starving myself. On one day in 2011, I moderated a panel at a body image conference — but I was starving; I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I had spent those years feeling tremendously guilty, not just because I was a feminist who ought to have “known better” than to have an eating disorder, but because I felt immense pressure to set an example for others.

I felt like such a fraud. The double whammy of perfectionism — you must have a perfect body and you must be a perfect feminist — tied me up in a painful knot. The guilt, the extra layer of self-disgust, lay thick on top of the kind of self-loathing that makes a person starve herself, and only deepened the pain I felt. The knot was so tightly tangled that I spent a year and a half in therapy before I turned a corner and stopped actively hurting myself.

Then I met B, and we fell in love. And then B started putting on weight.

You can read the whole thing here.

Daily Life: What pop culture gets wrong about bulimia

Daily Life: What pop culture gets wrong about bulimia

I have a piece at Daily Life this week, about why so many pop culture depictions of bulimia are inaccurate:

It’s true that bulimia happens among ballet dancers and beauty queens, and other people whose bodies are their livelihoods. But the reality of bulimia and other eating disorders that involve purging – through vomiting, overexercise, or laxative abuse – is that many people suffering from them don’t look like ballerinas or pageant contestants. Many women with bulimia – about 80% of bulimics are women – are not skinny women trying to stay skinny or trying to lose even more weight. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with bulimia “usually appear to be of average body weight.”

Watching pop culture portrayals of bulimia, you’d never know it. You’d also never know just how grotesque bulimia can be. It turns out that purging laxatives doesn’t make for great TV. It’s hard to give actresses the swollen cheeks that can result from frequent vomiting, while still keeping them appropriately hot. It’s hard to depict the way the stomach acid eats away at the teeth over time.

Depicting over-exercise is easier – plus, you get to show your already-skinny character in tight, stretchy exercise gear – and anorexia is easier still. Just have your character eatnothing. Bulimia is tougher to pull off on screen, in part because, while any eating disorder is brutal in its own way, the brutality of bulimia is obvious. It’s grotesque to do it, and gross to look at it, and as a result, it’s a good deal harder to sell an accurate portrayal of it to an audience, or worse, to glamorise it, than with other eating disorders.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thought Catalog: February and March highlights

Thought Catalog: February and March highlights

What It Means to Believe Dylan Farrow:

Here’s what it feels like every time we have the Woody Allen “But… His Genius!” conversation, or the “But… Innocent Until Proven Guilty!” conversation or the “But… She Could Be Lying!” conversation. Here’s what it feels like every time we have those conversations that implicitly (or explicitly!) excuse the people who have in all likelihood abused girls and women. It’s like being stabbed in the heart.

Every time we have these conversations, I think about my friend. I think about the girl she was and the woman she is, and my heart aches. I think about the hundreds of thousands of other kids, innumerable children, who have been abused in similar ways, who are enduring this conversation right now, without the comfort of one degree of separation that keeps me insulated from the worst of it. My blood boils.

Dear Cate Blanchett, Please Say No to the Oscar:

Come March 2nd, you will almost certainly be a two-time Oscar winner. You’re up against the likes of Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, and Sandra Bullock in the Best Actress stakes, but your performance in Woody Allen’s latest is, I hear, unsurpassed by almost anything that’s happened on a movie screen in years. I haven’t seen it because I don’t pay to see movies made by Woody Allen. Wherever possible, I try to avoid lining the pockets of people who, in all likelihood, have committed rape. I really wish you’d do the same.

What It’s Like to be The Ugly Friend:

I wanted to hug this girl and tell her that though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, there really are more important things in life than being skinny. I wanted to tell her that looking like a model will, in the long run, be largely worthless if you aren’t also kind, and thoughtful, and hardworking. I wanted to tell her that looking good — as others define it — in a bikini isn’t a talent, or a trade, and it isn’t a marker of your intelligence, or of anything other than what you look like in a bikini. I wanted to tell her that the skinny girls at the top of the food chain can be miserable too, because again, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, looking “good” in a bikini isn’t the path to happiness.

No Makeup Selfies Are Brave… Kinda:

To get a sense of how integral we consider makeup to be to making a woman presentable, you only have to look at the masculine rejoinder to the no makeup selfie trend: cock in a sock, which is exactly what it sounds like. Unable to make a statement by taking off their makeup, since they aren’t expected to wear any (or indeed, socially permitted to wear any), men took off all their clothes, put tube socks over their penises, took photos of themselves, and posted them on the internet.

Thought Catalog: Pliés, relevés, and other ways to unbreak a heart

Thought Catalog: Pliés, relevés, and other ways to unbreak a heart

I have a piece at Thought Catalog this week, about my decision to finally go back to dance class after a very long year away:

I stopped dancing around the same time I decided to stop starving myself. If I was really going to kick my eating disorder, if I was really going to, in the cringe-inducing terms of the body love movement, “make friends with my body,” it probably wasn’t a good idea, I figured, to put it in a leotard and spend many hours a week in a room full of mirrors.

The relationship between dance and eating disorders is well-documented by now. It’s a staple of every dance movie you’ve ever seen, from Center Stage to Black Swan. It’s hardly surprising that so many dancers, and especially ballerinas, have eating disorders: the dominant aesthetic in ballet is and has for some time been one that demands extreme slenderness. That aesthetic was Balanchine’s doing: the father of American ballet liked his women thin and once told his protégé Gelsey Kirkland not to eat less, but to eat nothing, to be as thin as he wanted her to be. Ballerinas are athletes, but they’re also artists, and they put the “line” first: most defenses of extreme thinness claim that ballet is simply more pleasing to the eye when the shapes made by a dancer’s body are uncluttered by fat and flesh. Of course, not all dancers have eating disorders, and there are plenty of people who starve themselves without having ever once worn a ballet slipper. But generally, there’s a fairly high correlation — unsurprising, given the body shape demanded by the discipline — and personally, while I was eating way too little and exercising way too much, ballet was bad news. Even in French.

So I left. I had just bought a new pair of pointe shoes, my first in years, because after my time in Paris, I was getting close to strong enough to go back up on pointe. They’re so damn pretty, and I was so excited to bleed all over them; pointe shoes never stay pretty for long, but that’s half the fun. I tucked them away in my closet, the soles half broken in and the satin nearly pristine. I decided not to go back to dance class until I could enjoy it, until I could think more about what my body was doing and less about how it looked. It was the healthy choice, but it broke my heart a little.

You can read the whole thing here.

Daily Life: On mid-twenties menarche

Daily Life: On mid-twenties menarche

I have a piece at Daily Life today, about getting my period back after several years of eating way too little and exercising way too much:

A few months after my twenty-third birthday, my period disappeared. It wasn’t a surprise to me that it had stopped showing up: that’s what happens when you don’t eat nearly enough and you exercise way too much. For two-and-a-half years, it kept not showing up. I wasn’t particularly worried about it; like a lot of eating disordered people, I took it as a sign that I was doing something right.

Of course, it was a sign of completely the opposite. If a female’s biological, evolutionary purpose is to conceive and bear children (I’m talking biology here, not culture; if you tell me that my purpose on earth as a woman is to conceive and bear children, I will smack you upside the head),  then I was failing miserably at fulfilling that purpose. My period disappeared because I wasn’t healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy, and my body knew it.

Our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. Often, they’re smarter than we are. When it comes to weight, they know what shape, and what size, they’re meant to be. We can fight them on that, we can try to thwart genetic destiny, but our bodies usually win in the end. You can starve yourself thin, but your body will adapt: it will take every morsel of food, every ounce of nutrient, and convert it into the fat it knows you need to survive. And it will hold on to that fat for fear that it might one day starve again. We might live in a world of diets and cleanses, but our bodies are relics of another time, when food was scarce and fat was valuable. During those years, my body thought I was living through a famine, when in fact, food was abundant. I just wasn’t eating it.

And then, a few months ago, I stopped starving myself. I stopped punishing myself on the treadmill. I started taking care of myself. And a few months after that, my period returned.

You can read the whole thing here.

Daily Life: Why I stopped starving myself

Daily Life: Why I stopped starving myself

At Daily Life, on body image and big decisions:

A few nights ago, I had dinner with some friends at a barbeque restaurant in town. It was crowded and noisy, and downstairs, a country band was warming up for their evening gig. The whole place smelled deliciously smoky, like a house heated by a wood fire; it’s a scent that, when it hits your nostrils, makes you feel at once comforted and ravenous. I sat with my friends at a heavy wooden table and we talked over our plates of brisket, sweet potatoes, and mac and cheese. Not long into the meal, though, I zoned out for a few moments. While my friends were chatting to each other, I closed my eyes, felt the brisket fairly melt against my tongue, and thought: I am so glad I stopped starving myself.

The precise reasons I started are complicated, and not all that relevant here. Suffice it to say, I was very, very unhappy. I didn’t starve myself because I wanted to look like Gisele Bundchen and I didn’t do it because I’m weak or too stupid to know what denying yourself food does to your brain and your bones and the rest of your body. As I wrote earlier this year, I’m a feminist writer with training as an eating disorders awareness and prevention peer educator. I understood the political and the physiological implications of what I was doing to myself. But I did it because I was unhappy, and sometimes when people are that kind of unhappy, they eat too little or drink too much or slice themselves open. What I can tell you is that last December, after almost two years of hurting myself, and of hiding that hurt from almost everyone in my life, I stopped.

You can read the whole thing here.

The LA Times: “Breaking Pointe” and the price of perfection

The LA Times: “Breaking Pointe” and the price of perfection

I’m beyond proud to share this byline in The Los Angeles Times with my friend and mentor, the remarkable Courtney E. Martin. Courtney and I write about what the new CW “reality” show about ballerinas, “Breaking Pointe,” can teach us about life as a high-achieving young woman in America.

Anything done well looks easier than it really is. But in ballet, apparent effortlessness is required. Most women who have taken ballet classes will remember being chastised for landing jumps “like a herd of elephants!” (or cows, or rhinoceroses — the anecdotes vary, but it’s always herd animals). Ballerinas are expected to jump high, their legs split at a 180 degrees — and then float back to earth like a feather. It’s an awful lot to ask.

And yet, there are myriad equivalents facing women who haven’t chosen the rarefied world of ballet. In fact, when Duke University surveyed its undergraduate women, it found that one phrase echoed dangerously throughout the interviews: “effortless perfection.” These young women wanted to make life look as if the struggle didn’t exist. They not only aspired to achieve at the highest levels but to make that aspiration invisible. Their grades, their beauty, their talents, their pitch-perfect sense of humor — all performed like a perfect, light-as-air pirouette.

You can read the rest here.