I greet you, dearest Listener, a perturbed Becky. Something happened yesterday that has made me want to say some very important things.
Whilst in a shop, I overhead the following conversation between two young teenage girls. I’m appalling at judging people’s ages – I thought Mick Jagger was 348, turns out he’s only 70 – but I’m guessing these two girls couldn’t have been more than 14.
Girl 1: I really need to lose weight.
Girl 2: Do what I’m doing.
Girl 1: Yeah, you’ve lost loads of weight.
Girl 2: Yeah, over a stone! Seriously, just spit everything into a tissue, you never actually swallow anything! I’ve been doing it for ages.
Girl 1: I might start doing that.
Girl 2: Do it, we’ll be well skinny.
Girl 1: (Smiling) Yeah.
Listener, this conversation left me colder than a polar bear who’s fallen into a frozen lake, climbed out, spent all night in the rain, then been told the local shop has no woolly jumpers left.
These two girls were healthy-looking and slim – in fact the one who said she’d been hawking food into tissues was erring on too-skinny (unsurprising, as she’s probably ingested about 7 calories in the last month) – and neither of them needed, by any stretch of even the wildest imagination, to lose even an ounce.
Yet here they were proudly discussing the merits of what is essentially a form of bulimia. In a bid to get ‘well skinny’.
Every gram of fat, every ounce of muscle in my body wanted to grab them by their perfectly lean shoulders and yell
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T EVEN GO THERE. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, STAY WELL AWAY FROM ALL THAT, AND JUST EAT.
The thought of these two healthy girls slipping into the bony grip of an eating disorder was horrible. Depressing, and horrible. Two words that exactly describe an eating disorder. Or, if you’re less wordy, the word
will do nicely.
I’m not just having an aimless rant, I know what I’m talking about: I spent nearly two years in my early 20s starving myself in a bid to get skinny. At the end of 2005, the world had a healthy, happy, curvaceous, 9 and a half stone Becky. By mid 2007, the world was frankly bored and rather irritated by an unhealthy, miserable, bony, 7 and a half stone Becky.
What started as a bid to ‘lose a few pounds’ and ‘tone up’ plummeted into an uncontrollable need to control what I put in my mouth, and before I could say ‘I don’t have an issue with food and I could never be anorexic’, I had a monumental issue with food and I was anorexic.
An eating disorder is basically the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors. In fact, I’m surprised some English literature professor hasn’t written a thesis entitled “Feed Me, Seymour: Audrey II as a Metaphor for Anorexia”. (That one’s mine, hands off.)
It starts as an innocuous seed in your brain: I want to lose weight. You start eating less, you start losing weight. You get smaller. The seed gets bigger. It wants more of your flesh, more of your blood. You duly provide. The less you eat and the smaller you get, the more it consumes and the bigger and more monstrous is becomes, until it’s got you dangling from its greedy, slobbering lips and you realise with a sudden terrible certainty that there is no escape.
At this point you may as well say goodbye to everything that shapes you as a person. Any aspirations, hobbies, enjoyment, pleasure, hopes, sparks of character, or that fire that burns inside you with your name on it – forget it. You are one thing and one thing only: an eating disorder. Every single second of every day is consumed with focussing on losing fat, with not eating, with trying to avoid eating situations. Food is your nemesis. Yet you can’t think about anything else. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you are doing, who says what to you – there is only one thing you can think about.
The enjoyment you took in everyday things – hanging out with friends, dinner with your family, shopping, lounging around being yourself – disappears. Suddenly everything is a terrifying problem. An invite to a house party becomes a desperate quest to look skinny and avoid those evil plates of nibbles on every surface. A harmless question from a parent – ‘Are you in for dinner tonight’ – is a gut-punching, brain-screwing imperative to lie. And lie you will. You will become an expert fabricator of life’s minutiae, and you will be ruthless.
To avoid having to stay in and eat what was put in front of me, I once told my mother I was going out for dinner with friends. I wasn’t going out for dinner. It was a massive, slimy lie. I borrowed her car and drove round the streets of South West London for three hours, then came back and gushed about what a lovely meal I’d had. Not only did my eating disorder turn me into a slithering, pathetic liar, it rendered me single-handedly responsible for England’s carbon emissions.
An eating disorder makes your once happy, sparkly life utterly miserable. And now let me tell you what you achieve in your diehard quest to be skinny:
The tragic irony is that in your quest to be skinny, there is no such thing as ‘skinny’. There is no single weight, no end goal, that will satisfy an eating disorder.
‘Skinny’ is a terrifying, bottomless concept that you will never, ever reach. Even when everyone in the world is telling you
YOU ARE REALLY SKINNY
it is never enough. Comments like that are a sign you are doing well, and you should carry on. Basically, in today’s lingo, an eating disorder is an epic fail. Before you even start, you have failed. You will never reach your goal because your goal will scuttle off into the gloom like a cockroach. Even when you can happily see your cute little collar bones strain through your skin, and you can admire your twig-like arms in the mirror, it still will not make you smile. I have never been so miserable, so wretched, or cried or shouted so much, as I did during my eating disorder.
Eventually, if my experience is anything to go by, your willpower and your self-control will snap like a piece of taut string – it may take one year, two, ten – it may never happen – and you will plunge into a desperate, blacked-out world of uncontrollable, panicked binge eating. Late nights in the kitchen, tearing through cupboards like the Tasmanian Devil, shoving anything and everything you can get your hands on. I probably owe my parents hundreds of pounds in binged-on food. And the bitter truth is that I have lost more hours to the blind frenzy of binge eating than I have to starving myself. An eating disorder has one hell of a long hangover.
And even if you make a full recovery, like I did (and guess what: I love food and I’m bloody happy about it), and get back to a healthy weight and stop viewing food as the Devil incarnate, your body image and your self-control will always be a little bit broken.
I didn’t say anything to the two girls in the shop who wanted to be ‘well skinny’, and I spent the day wishing I had. True, they may have told me to Fuck off, and remarked amongst themselves that I could do with dropping a few feet from around my bum – but on the other hand, they might have thought about the stranger that felt strongly enough to say something, and they might, just might, have packed the whole thing in and gone for a pizza.
So I’ve said it on here instead. Trying to be skinny is shit. It is impossible. You will never reach it. It will get hold of you, and it will never quite let go.