I recently encountered someone with an eating disorder. Her name is Anaya. One reads and hears and thinks, like most things unpalatable, that it could not happen to someone you know personally. I want to help her and I also don’t want to help her. I see behavior in her that raises so many red flags and all her friends do is shrug it over. “She has always been like that,” is the most common refrain I heard. What I was hearing was she has always been eating so little and experiencing blackouts and deleting pictures she did not like and exercising like a fiend and yet never being satisfied with how she is. In typical style, Anaya is an extremely successful businesswoman who runs her own outfit, negotiating, managing, and achieving scary-sounding targets. But her entire worth is linked to how she thinks she has to look.
Someone had once said a very important thing to me, about looks. She had said, “Janaki, it doesn’t matter how I look. It matters what I see in the reflection. I was a chubby girl who was a daughter to a very beautiful mother and for the rest of my life, I will always see a chubby girl in the mirror.”
Anaya, too, suffers from this, am sure. I do not know her well but have seen up close the effect her mother’s comments have on her. Mothers often and as a generalization, are always critical of their daughters. It is usually “to improve them” but rarely does it lead to any so-called improvement.
She hardly eats any food, pops pills which occasionally take her to the hospital, survives on caffeinated drinks and exercises like a fiend. And constantly berates herself on how she looks and yes, has been known to delete photographs from cameras that do not flatter her, according to her.
She is surrounding by people who, though never disparage how she looks but also never want to intervene and see that she gets some help. As I recount incident after incident I realise the situation in her case is so dire. She never listens or hears things that do not suit her way of thinking (who does, after all) and she perhaps has a confident shell that does not let others approach her for an intervention.
Being around her makes me feel grateful often. Grateful for the disregard my brain had for the obvious dissociation I faced all through my growing years for being fat. I am grateful I didn’t succumb to peer pressure into feeling shamed and starving myself. I have friends who did. (Maybe going to a really nondescript college helped?) I also didn’t have friends who thought it necessary to take it upon themselves to “make me thin”.
Or maybe I was just the default ‘fat girl’ in the group. You know that every group has one? Especially one with women? This default fat girl usually has no say or no opinion worth considering and always has dates and outings thrown her way since we know that men would never voluntarily seek out a fat girl right?
Today there are days when I suffer pangs of low self-worth or worth that are linked to an outfit not fitting me well or me not looking a certain way and then, thankfully, it passes. I have no issues looking into a mirror and even scrutinising my flaws. I know I can change what or how I look whenever I want and it will not change what is on the inside. I will not change if more people ‘like’ or ‘approve’ of how I look.
Maybe something will change with Anaya too. She will meet someone like me who is stronger than I am today. Who will have the strength to pull her out and help her find balance. Till then, whenever I see her, I will push a plate of food toward her and keep reiterating how great she is.