This week I have been eating to be satisfied. Not to be skinny. And it has been fantastic! It has made me peaceful. And happy. Grounded. Free. And in an unexpected twist, it illuminated a tricky little bit of eating disorder thinking that had been lurking (creepily) in the dark, seedy parts of my mind. Letting go of my obsession with my appearance, and taking care of feeling nourished and physically comfortable gave me some important insight into the way I see myself and my value.
I was looking in the mirror shortly after a particularly satisfying meal. (Yes, on purpose. Why was I even doing that in the first place, you ask? Because apparently I will go out of my way to look at my body in unflattering states. I may as well have run right out to the nearest dressing room and tried on bathing suits with horizontal stripes under fluorescent lighting.) I was scrutinizing my stomach. And I had a thought. “Well at least you’re happy. Because no man is going to want you this way. You’re not even trying to be the prettiest you can be.”
But I was fed. And calm. And my head was clear. And I could distinguish the basic premises of this thinking. And um…ewwwwww!
First, in order to be the prettiest I can be, I have to be the thinnest I can be (to within 3 lbs. I don’t know where “3 lbs” came from. It’s arbitrary. But it lives in my head like it’s based on something important.) Also, being the thinnest I can be doesn’t automatically make me the prettiest I can be. A equals B, but B does not always equal A. Second, what I look like is a major factor in whether or not I am worthy and/or enough. It’s like there is a graph or chart somewhere, (Where, I’m not sure. Heaven? Outer space? Probably wherever Plato’s Forms reside.) that has quantified my looks. And there is a line that delineates pretty from ugly. Or maybe just good enough from not good enough. Dropping below this line is an automatic fail. A deal-breaker, if you will. It automatically renders me unworthy of love.
I also want to say that the beauty line is high. Besides being thin, there is manicured, pedicured, shaved, plucked, tan (in summer), nicely dressed, in heels, with clear skin, and a cute hairstyle (up in summer, down in winter).
And then there is attitude and personality graph. Happy, grateful, nurturing, helpful, honorable, kind, generous, peaceful, loving. And always learning from my mistakes.
And here’s what makes it extra twisted. I even know that perfection is not an option. It’s like my eating disorder brain is pretending it’s giving me a break. It’s telling me it has all kinds of room for my humanity. And in a way it does. It is ok for me to fail. It’s ok for me to mess up or do something wrong. Or be mean. Or selfish. It’s ok to not look my best at all times. It is ok for me to fall below the lines on my graphs. As a person. As an individual. As a lone human being. I can clean it up and carry on. God still loves me. My family and friends still love me. I still love me and respect myself.