We live in a day and age where criticism is widely available. If anything, we crave it even more than we get it – we post our achievements and adventures on social media and expect feedback. If our pictures get ignored, yielding no reaction whatsoever, we feel neglected. Angry, even. How dare nobody react? Even negative reactions are more validating than no reactions at all.
It’s the same in our everyday lives. We love the simplicity of compartmentalizing things into good and bad, black and white. And we love to talk about ourselves in a negative light. There can be many reasons for this, but I have found that the most common reasons for negative self-talk are:
- fishing for compliments; and
- perception of imperfection and overall low self-esteem.
What I mean by the first one is pretty self-explanatory. “Oh, this dress makes my ass look like a donkey’s” sometimes means please tell me I’m fucking gorgeous, I haven’t heard enough of that lately. A lot of people, myself included, love putting others in the awkward position of having to ejaculate a compliment just because social convention dictates it would be rude to do otherwise. Naturally, when a friend says stuff like “my eyebrows are totally weird,” your knee-jerk reaction, pounded into you by your parents and other authority figures, is to say, “you’re kidding! Brows on fleek!”
The second one is trickier to deal with. Low self-esteem is abundant, especially in this generation of social media. Online validation is one way of trying to cope with one’s own lack of confidence, after all. Another one is just to state what is obvious to you.
“I think I’m fat.” Even if you’re not, to you it’s true. What is “fat” anyway? Where does skinny stop and fat begin? Every person is different in their perception; the point is that to someone with low self-esteem and body image issues, they will never be good enough, no matter what the benchmark is.
So what does it do to someone with an ED?
Obviously, everyone is different. One thing that most people with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia have, is body dysmorphia. We see ourselves as uglier than we are – before awareness sets in, we think we’re beached whales; after we realize that we’re ill, we are disgusted with our skeletal figures and thinning hair. Perfectionism is one of the many traits “typical” anorexics share. Of course, we never reach the point of self-acceptance.
So what happens when a perfectly healthy (from the outside) friend says, “fuck, I’m so fat,” in front of someone with an actual eating disorder?
From my personal perspective, many things happen.
- Panic. I have no idea what to say. My mind goes into overdrive trying to come up with ways to make the other person feel better even but also going back to my own insecurities. It was even worse when I was visibly underweight because an underweight person can’t tell a normal-weight person that they’re not fat. They just can’t, because of social comparison. It’s something that just doesn’t compute in an anorexic brain. Because of course you’re fatter than me, but that’s because I have this condition that makes me want to eat nothing but air for the rest of my life.
- Guilt. A lot of the times, guilt sets in. Not appreciating how “pretty” [skinny] you are when other people are so obviously struggling with the ultimate bane of their existence – that is, their weight. Anorexia has a great way of guilt tripping you into appreciating the fact that you look like an anatomically correct representation of a skeleton.
- Confusion. This happens later in the recovery process. When you genuinely don’t understand why someone would hate themselves for looking healthy.
- Anger. That happens in conjunction with number 3. How dare this person not appreciate the God-given, healthy body they have? How dare they speak like this in front of someone who drinks their own tears with every meal?
- Discomfort. This is the point at which I am right now. I am back to a healthy weight, and whenever someone says self-deprecating stuff about themselves in front of me, be it about fatness or whatever else, I just feel uncomfortable. Because I am struggling every day to keep a positive outlook on my life and my body, and I feel like every single comment like that infringes on the safe space I have built. I don’t know if it will ever go away, but honestly? I don’t want it to.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable when other people put themselves down. Humans, for the most part, are social and empathic creatures. More so women, who have a natural tendency towards bonding and support.
I’m not going to say, never let me hear you say that again. But I will tell you you’re being silly because there is nothing more rewarding in the world than to be healthy.
Not even size zero jeans.
P. S.: I’d like to thank my friend, T., for inspiring me to write this post.