This is not a post to encourage you to “love yourself”. I will never weave themes of “everybody is beautiful” into my story, because that cheapens the struggle. This is my story, and it breaks assumptions, plain and simple.
Models on a page didn’t affect my self-image; I’ve never been one to look to media for validation. It wasn’t even me trying to control a single part of my life after an assault. I never had a thigh gap, you could never visually count my ribs, and I never made myself throw up. But even with all of these cliché expectations of the mentally healthy person, the truth remains-
I have struggled with an eating disorder for 8 years.
The moment you realize you have an eating disorder is a crushing blow. You’ve been a ballerina for 9 years and have seen girls wither away to just a hollow bag of organs, before mysteriously disappearing to “focus on school” (as the teacher claims).
But that’s not you; you just haven’t been feeling well lately.
You’ve seen the girls eating nothing during lunch break, while people simultaneously whisper judgment, but also approval, because “she looks so healthy”.
But that’s not you; you just haven’t had an appetite lately.
You’re now 14, en pointe, and trying on your first tutu. Its beautiful and handmade, a true piece of art. Stress has become your newest and most constant companion. You’ve been surviving off of mints and peppermint tea for weeks now and, other than a few dizzy spells, have been managing your life better than usual. At least that’s what everyone assumes, given your lack of public breakdowns and spells of anger.
Then the moment comes: They have to take in the tutu a whole 1.5 inches. Maybe now it wont look so big next to your smaller friends costumes.
But it’s not an issue; this is just temporary, the most efficient way to deal with stress.
You’re now 16, sitting in your instructor’s office, quietly crying as they berate you for quitting. You haven’t even told your parents yet, but they called you in after your absents from auditions, so you had no choice but to break the news. You can’t tell them something you’ve barely admitted to yourself: That you’ve been killing yourself in the slowest way possible for 4 years. That you can’t get through a class without throwing up afterwards. That the only thing saving you from the stress and the way your body deals with it is music and God.
That you have an eating disorder.
But you just admitted that to yourself a week ago, and the realization, in all its pain, hasn’t been processed yet. They don’t deserve to know yet. So you just tell them you’re sorry and leave.
About now is where the story should take an inspirational turn. I should talk about how through valiant tears I told my family, got help, and now I work with a non-profit to help people who have been through what I have. That’s the standard we’re raised to expect, right?
But that’s not how these stories play out in real life.
Eventually I told my mother and, as the years passed, found ways to heal my way of thinking. I tried everything from not eating meat or dairy, to yoga and embracing my music career. But I can’t help how my body handles stress, and I have continued to struggle on and off. We all have the sweet sins of self-destruction we go back to, whether harmless or lethal; it’s just human nature.
But I am not broken.
I am a constant work in progress, in the best way possible. Every day God ministers to me through the food I consume. Every breakfast I eat is a reminder of His goodness; every meal I share with friends is the Holy Spirit whispering how proud He is of me. And with every skipped lunch, Jesus scoops me up in His arms and whispers all the great work He is still doing in me.
I no longer shrink at the conversation of eating disorders. I was made to witness in my wholeness and my brokenness, and anything else cheapens the work God has done (and continues to do) in me. Because I have been through this I can experience God in a way completely unique to me, and that is beautiful.
But the true beauty comes from the brutal honesty of a survivor like myself. If you have gone through anything similar, have no shame. Your story, even if you aren’t to the end yet, is where true freedom comes from. Honesty in situations of trouble release something powerful into the air, it breaks barriers and misconceptions. Be vocal about it, make art about it, write songs about it, and write blogs about it. It’s not always easy, but it is so powerful.
You are a force. You are a survivor. You are a barrier breaker. You are the truth to the lies.
And you are not broken.
Theadora is a singer-songwriter living in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two ferrets. When she isn’t writing and performing music, you can find her watching anime, wearing sweaters, and drinking tea.