Anorexia nervosa: My shoulders are so bony I look ill but I"d rather be dead than fat
My shoulders are so bony I look ill. But I”d still rather be dead than fat
9:51 PM on 16th May 2011
Another week, another stupid survey. A team from Arizona State University have asked 100 women if they would rather be obese or have one of 12 illnesses or disabilities.
One in four women said they would rather suffer from depression than be overweight. One in six said they would rather be blind. At first, I wondered how seriously to take this survey, which seemed to be as rooted in science as the pronouncement the previous week that leggings make you fat.
But a day or so later, I was in the changing room at Prada on London”s Old Bond Street trying on a strapless dress. I had taken in an Italian size 40, which is the Holy Grail of fashiondom, a UK size 8. I stepped into the dress.
Body image: Like many women, Liz Jones has struggled to accept her shape throughout her life
Over hurdle one, the hips. Over hurdle two, the bottom and stomach. And then I did up the dress over hurdle three: the bust. The lovely lace dress was so loose it fell straight down to my waist. The high I got when this happened was incredible. Oh, welcome back, old friend!
I am not one for mirrors, especially full-length ones. I spent my 20s attempting to stay far removed from the reality of my physical self. Obsession about weight is not, in my case, aligned to vanity. I would rather not see what I am doing to myself.
But at a ballet class, shortly after getting contact lenses at the age of 26, I caught a rare glimpse of myself in my tights and cardigan. My legs were mere bones. My hip bones jutted obscenely through the Lycra. My arms were like wire coat hangers. And so it was, again, in that Prada changing room.
There was I wondering whether to stick out my scrawny arm and ask for a 38 when I glimpsed my back in the mirror. This is a part of my anatomy I”ve managed not to see for 20 years. Oh my God – I saw what others must see. The bony shoulders, the ribs, the abuse. The sheer unhealthiness, the shock.
Weight battle: Liz admits her obsession with her waistline has ruined her health and relationships
Jesus, I said to myself. What a sad, old woman I am. What a waste of a life, chasing emaciation. And I thought again about that survey.
I wrote once that I”d rather be thin than happy. Today, I admit I would rather be dead than fat. That is what anorexia is: a morbid fear.
And while I doubt many women would, really, put out their own eyes rather than be obese, it is true that a great many women”s lives are at best made miserable, at worst ruined, by the unnatural relationship we have with our own bodies.
I didn”t die when I starved my body into submission and was admitted to St Barts Hospital (of all psychiatric disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest percentage of fatalities), but I may as well have.
Everything has been ruined by my desire to be thin: I could never getpregnant; I suffered terrible mood swings; ruined my skin and destroyedevery relationship with my fear of exposing not only my body, but my crazy rituals – only ever half a banana, not a whole one. And on and on and on.
Of course, there is a middle ground. There is an alternative to being a size 6 or being morbidly obese. But like the fat on my flat bottom, this alternative has become increasingly non-existent. Because women have been drip-fed an impossible ideal – the androgynous body of a teenager, with her skin, hair, teeth and energy levels – their attitude to beauty, health, food, fitness and normality is skewed.
And once it is skewed, you are engaged in a losing battle. The very fat, and the very thin, don”t just share a problem with food. Does anyone seriously believe anyone wants to be obese
I hate the way overweight people are always depicted in photographs to illustrate the nationwide obesity “problem”: in sportswear. How about running a photo of Marilyn Monroe As an American size 14, she would have been unable to limbo dance under the Government”s ludicrous healthyBMI ceiling.
It is all propaganda, you see: the more you hate yourself, the more you will spend: at Iceland, at the gym, on yoghurts. The morbidly overweight deserve as much sympathy, attention and gravitas as a 5st woman.
The solution sounds simple: just eat or just don”t eat. Unfortunately, our psyches are more complex than that. My problem is not just that the survey saying people would rather be blind than fat is disrespectful to people who are blind, but also that these sort of pronouncements make a fat person feel more of a pariah than he or she already does.
Our appetites have been so tinkered with that, for the vast majority of us, food is a treat or a sin. We expect to never feel a moment of hunger, not even a quick drive down a motorway can go unrewarded without a pit-stop at a coffee bar serving sticky cake.
As an anorexic, I find the constant grazing terribly weak. But we, the fat and the thin, are united in being the victims of a society that wants us to be out of sync with our own hunger so that the fashion and food industries get rich. It”s as simple as that.