In therapy this week, we talked a lot about the origins of my eating disorder. As with so many things that shape us as small humans, it wasn't one thing but rather a conglomeration of factors. There was a mean boy in middle school who pinched my arm and said I was chubby, there was an aunt I adored and idolized who responded that I should run and cut out sugar when I asked how to lose weight. [I'd always thought of this as helpful and credit it with kindling my love for running. But when I relayed the story to Sheina (my therapist), she said, "Would you say that to a 13 year old who asked you how to lose weight?" Not to cast blame but rather to highlight how off-hand comments adults make to us when we are kids can shape our entire identities. I'm beginning to realize that part of adulthood is constantly realizing that the adults I thought knew everything when I was young truly had no idea what they were doing, though they were doing their best with the tools that they had (not many).] And there was the media.
Around the time my eating disorder started in earnest, the media was obsessed with women's bodies. Specifically, young women's bodies. Nicole Richie, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Lindsay Lohan all had well-documented eating disorders at the time. The media was obsessed. I was secretly obsessed. I never bought a tabloid but I lingered in the checkout line at the grocery store so I could compare Mary-Kate Olsen's shoulder blades to mine and look at the famous photo of an emaciated Nicole Richie running on the beach. And then there was Mean Girls. The media would show it over and over again - the scene that "caused" Lindsay Lohan's weight loss. You know that you know it. The Plastics are walking down the hallway in a line and Cady falls into a trashcan. Allegedly, Lindsay Lohan saw that scene and "realized" that she needed to lose weight. What more likely happened is that her agent saw that scene and told her to start a diet, but I digress.
As I was re-counting watching the media shred these teenagers to bits, I realized I was raising my voice about how these women (some of them children) were treated. At the same time, I never gave myself a chance to be a child, to be a teenager whose body changed. I went from a 2 to a 4 at Abercrombie & Fitch and a switch flipped. At the very end of my session, during which I had said that Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls looked perfectly fine and exactly the way a teenage girl should look, Sheina said "We've talked about you being able to give grace to friends who aren't perfect, you can recognize that humanness in others, but not yourself". I nodded. She said, "But you're also extending that grace now to a celebrity who you have never met." I nodded, not seeing where this was going. She continued "If you saw a photo or video of yourself with the exact same legs as her in that scene, would that be ok?". Um. No. Obviously not.
This is where I know it gets confusing and tangled. I hold myself to this impossible standard to which I do not hold others. Lindsay Lohan was a child whose body was changing, she was probably stressed starring in such a huge movie alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, maybe her body feels it's best and healthiest at that weight. But me?? No I need quad definition. And will have failed completely if my legs are one straight line all the way down. That will just not do. [Control, protection, perfection]
I haven't solved this. I would not be happy with a photo or video like that. And I'm aware of it now. Untangling it; unlearning it. I re-watched Mean Girls over Christmas while I was visiting Pat in Delaware; I think he was on midnight shift so I was left alone with cable TV and it was on. I hadn't watched it in years and it holds up. "I wanna lose 3 pounds" and "You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores" are just a few gems. So this is one for Cady Heron and two for Glen Coco.
And hopefully a little grace for myself.