i stood behind a woman at the checkout counter at the pet store this morning, and i’m pretty sure she has an eating disorder.
it’s not just that she was extremely thin, that she was borderline hospitalization thin. i’ve encountered plenty of slim people who don’t have eating disorders. i wonder about them. how do they stay thin without the obsessive thoughts? how do they live in their bodies without hating them? how do they exercise without it becoming over the top? are they okay with people noticing them? this constant comparison to people i encounter out in the world is another aspect of eating disorder behaviour.
she did not look healthy. she was not thin in a way that made you feel good. her physical appearance made me uncomfortable, thought to be honest, there was a touch of envy as well.
i noticed she was wearing the heavily blinged-out pants favoured by the teen set. you can absolutely wear what you like, but the pants seemed a little incongruous based on my initial evaluation of her age. they were also seriously huge. i wondered if they had ever fit or if she did as i often do, and bought them in size far-too-large.
the pants seemed empty. they hung from the belt that sagged off her small hips and looked like they were standing on their own, balanced on grey, thick-soled, skateboarder-style runners. i could see her hands poking out from her oversized dark hoodie so i knew she had limbs but the fit of her clothing made her seem almost physically non-existent.
it was her face that made me think anorexic. i caught a glimpse of her profile as she faced the cashier. there’s a look that people with eating disorders sometimes have; a set to the expression, a certain layout, an alignment of the musculature. something in her face spoke to that same something in me. a recognition of similarities and shared struggles, perhaps.
her hair reminded me of a friend of mine, someone who also struggles with an eating disorder, someone who has also fought anorexia for decades. we met in hospital, in fact. this woman’s hair was like hers; it seemed oddly wig-like, not part of her head at all. there was too much of it; a perceptual reaction to the thinness of the face, i suppose. the hair was neither a thing of beauty nor her crowning glory. it was a dull brown, flat and heavy, with neither shine nor life. it hung there unstyled and limp, dead-looking deadweight.
i wonder if mine has ever looked like that to other people. i wonder if i’ve looked that bad, that unhappy and frail to the people i’ve encountered when i’ve been out and about.
her eyes caught my attention as well. they looked tired, with bags layered underneath, making her overly-pale skin look bruised. skip foods with iron long enough and you too can be whiter than white. the worst thing about the eyes was the familiarity i found lying within. i’ve seen that dead and hopeless look before. it’s a horrifying thing to see staring back at you from the mirror. it’s the look you get when you give up. when you give in because the fight’s too hard, and you can’t do it anymore, and what difference does it make anyhow.
her clothing was so familiar. the baggy jeans, the oversized top, and the chunky shoes. she could have raided my closet to get dressed. they were not fashion forward items; the clothes were simply young, well-suited to teenagers heading from school to the mall. the goal when you dress like this is not, however, to emulate teeny-boppers. the clothes are chosen for their ability to conceal. they help us hide our bodies from others and ourselves.
it’s a paradox. you want to get thin so that you’ll be acceptable, but you can’t stand to have anyone see you or evaluate you, so you wear clothes that hide your body from everyone. you want to lose weight so you can finally feel okay, but you can’t stand for anyone to see.
i did and do wear similar camouflage. if you can’t see my body, then you can’t see how lacking it is. you won’t notice it’s essential wrongness. if i can’t see my body, then perhaps i won’t notice how gross and fat and wrong it is either.
over time, i started to convince myself that the incredibly oversized look was stylish. i started to believe that i dressed the way i did because i was an original. that wearing jeans four sizes too big and oversized men’s t-shirts was fashionable. that my efforts to hide my body were actually a personal choice unconnected to my eating disorder. that it wasn’t about trying to hide.
i didn’t want others to think i was too fat so i wore huge clothes. i didn’t want others to think that i was too thin so i wore huge clothes. i didn’t want to have to look at any part of this body i hated so i wore huge clothes. i didn’t want to be ugly and unkempt. i wanted to be absent.
her body language reinforced the clothing’s “leave me alone, i’m not really here” vibe. her head stayed down, her chin tucked into her chest, and she avoided eye contact with the cashier during the transaction. she kept her body angled away from both me and the counter, cutting people off from all angles. her arms wrapped her torso and she only half-unwound when it was time to extend the card for payment. she left quickly too, and quietly, with her head still down so eye contact could be avoided. her walk to the door was almost a run and too damn familiar. everything about presence screamed “don’t look at me”. everything about her leaving screamed “escape”.
i used to walk quickly all the time too. i used to think i liked to walk that way, that it was just me being me. i pretended i wasn’t avoiding people. i pretended i wasn’t trying to flee.
part of me wanted to be incredibly intrusive and talk to her. i wanted to see how she was. i wanted to know if she was okay. i wanted to know if she needed help. i had less charitable impulses too, however. part of me was glad to see her go; her appearance made me uncomfortable. the similarities between the her that is and the me that was were anxiety-provoking.
triggering too, since underneath, my eating disorder was rubbing its hands, thrilled to encounter such an extreme example of thin for comparison purposes. the parts of me that weren’t curious and concerned were a little jealous. those parts of me wanted me to be that thin, and right now. sometimes it feels a little like failure, knowing i’m not emaciated anymore, knowing that i’m not quite so damaged anymore. berating yourself for no longer abusing yourself is a little ironic.
it’s hard though, to let the defective wiring go.
(january 31, 2018)
photo credit: favim.com