By Katy Finnegan, Endangered Bodies contributor
Food is my drug, and I’m addicted.
It’s normal to indulge every now and again, and I’m not averse to that. I might decide to eat a sugary doughnut, or a slice of cheesy pizza – but the problem is that one is never enough. Or at least at that moment it isn’t. Ah, that magical moment when I am transported to a world of ecstasy. Salt! Sugar! Grease! Uncontrollably I stuff myself, because only when the food has disappeared will the terrible temptation stop. Only when it’s all gone will I fall back down to earth and the horror of what I have just done will dawn on me. I will be shocked at my lack of self-control, baffled by my single-minded behavior which I know I will have to punish myself for. But as I said, it’s not rational. I’m addicted. This I know because after the high of eating has worn off, the feeling will be replaced by a crushing sense of guilt. Why am I so greedy? Why can’t I stop myself? I'm making myself fat.
And so the only solution is to go cold turkey – or as cold turkey as I can manage while still remaining functional. I fast, drinking enormous glasses of water, eating deliberately bland food, emptying my cupboards to avoid temptation. And the strange thing is that this, in itself, is also a kind of high. I am in control. I am powerful. I am thin and beautiful. But, inevitably, like any addict I am tortured by withdrawal. Cramps as my stomach contracts. Headaches and dizziness. Grey skin and hair falling out.
Therefore I cave. I give in to what my body is screaming for, and I gorge myself once again. Not knowing where to stop. Not being able to even if I did. ‘Hungry’ and ‘full’ have become abstract terms for me, so pathological has my behavior become. Afterwards I feel sick – sick to my stretched and distended stomach. In consuming food I myself am consumed by guilt and self-loathing. You don’t deserve to eat! You’re a pig! You’re weak!
And so it goes on and on. The archetype of a ‘vicious cycle’ which encourages me not just to hate my body but also my sick brain which subjects me to such torture. The brain that makes me think that I’m not good enough, that I’m worthless if my body is not perfect and desirable. That food – the very thing that keeps me alive, the thing I physically cannot live without – is my enemy. Because the thing is, the rational part of my brain knows that food is not a drug. It’s not something evil and certainly not something I can ‘quit’. The rational part of my brain tells me that I am more than my body, more than the sum of the pounds I lose. My worth lies in my intelligence, my creativity, my relationships. It tells me that becoming a Barbie doll won’t make me happy, that happiness comes from within and not from an imaginary ideal.
The competition I see every day between girls striving to look like this person or that – whoever is judged to be prettier or thinner – makes me despair. We are eclipsing our own identities, homogenizing ourselves in our efforts to attain a narrow and often impossible beauty ideal. We relinquish our control over our own bodies to transform them into what we are brainwashed into thinking they should be, an image sold to us over and over again. We try to remake ourselves into the Frankenstein’s Monster that passes for contemporary ‘perfection’. Tiny waist with big breasts and wide hips. Tall with long limbs but with petite hands and feet. Fake hair, fake nails, fake eyelashes… the list goes on. I could laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, or cry at the pointless suffering this ideal has wrought on countless girls and women. Instead I decide to turn my feelings to anger – anger at the media that perpetuates these concepts, at the companies that market our self-hatred back to us, and at the society that teaches us women should be valued solely on the way they look.
And so, as I write this, I resolve to eat. Because food is not a drug. Our bodies are not something to be feared or beaten into submission. I eat for the energy to fight the good fight against the demons that tell me I am not good enough. I eat because I need to take care of myself, and because I need to fight self-loathing with love.