When I was 14, I was anorexic. I starved myself down to 90 pounds (30 pounds thinner than I am now), cataloging every morsel of food, every calorie. I found solace in the minutia of it—the counting, the obsessing. It offered me an escape from the overwhelming feelings that remained buried within me. And it provided the perfect means of evasion, a ready-made excuse for my social anxiety. Eating, after all, is a cornerstone of social activity. Not eating had given me an out, a reason to remain apart and separate, to shield myself from the confusion of adolescence and all that it entailed.
My experience aside, it never occurred to me that my body was something to be treasured and owned. Like the mind it caged, it became another weapon I used against myself. The worst part was, I had society’s blessing. It seems we’re programmed, as women, to hate our bodies, to mistreat them. I recently came across a study that claims 75 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 45 have some kind of eating disorder. 75 percent. It’s astounding and yet, sadly, I am not at all surprised. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? How did we get here? When did we become so disembodied?
Eating, and our relationship to food in general, reveals a great deal about us, collectively and individually. After all, it’s how we do or do not nourish ourselves. It’s how we sustain—or don’t.
I struggled on and off until I was 19, when I met my college roommate and eventual college wife, who asserted during our first meal out that she didn’t “do anorexia.” “Eat,” she said.
The support she offered me emotionally catalyzed the dissolution of my dis-ease. Slowly, I began to move out of my head and into my body. But it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles, that I really began to understand that what had driven my behavior was a desire to escape myself, to escape the here and now.
The reasons that women develop eating disorders are as varied as the women themselves. Some feel pressured socially and deny themselves sustenance. Some binge and purge in a cycle of shame and self-loathing. Some overeat as a means of self-soothing. And some, like myself, are seeking something to control, to manage.
Our bodies are the most treasured possessions we own. How we relate to them is how we relate to ourselves. There has been much conversation, culturally, about the role the media plays in this arena. And it’s certainly a factor, but it’s not the whole picture. I think, in that area, the tide is shifting. TV is seeing an explosion of multi-dimensional, physically, ethnically, culturally and sexually diverse women (thank you Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan). And online ventures like Style Like U’s What’s Underneath Campaign are championing female empowerment. We still have a ways to go, but media representations are currently more variegated than they’ve ever been. What troubles me more, I think, is the continuous separation from body, from the sensual experience of being in a body, of having a body.
I often counsel my meditation clients on the power of sensuality, on its immediacy. To feel one’s own skin, to actually taste the food we are eating, to feel the ground beneath our feet is to be fully present, to be alive.
What breaks my heart the most about this issue is the way in which it further divorces us from our own sense of being, our own embodiment. Pleasure and the ability to experience it is foundational to one’s health. But we’re so far from that. It seems we’re either depriving ourselves or overindulging. But both behaviors, regardless of their impetus, rob us of who we are, psychically, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, of our authentic selves.
I love the female form. I think it’s exquisite. And I love being a woman, the weight and heft of it, the joy it affords me. I find it empowering. But this was not always the case. I had to deepen into it and experience myself fully from the inside out, to come into myself.
My prayer is that, as women, we honor and celebrate our bodies, regardless of our natural shape, our frame, and own them in all their gloriousness. It’s our birthright. And our duty. After all, if we don’t do it, who will?