Mean Girls

June 6, 2012

Sometimes I really struggle with what this blog is about. I know that it’s supposed to be a humor blog, of some kind, although humor is not truly my strength when it comes to writing.* But it’s not really about any one part of my life, it’s a little all-encompassing, and that makes me worry about it being engaging.

And sometimes, the stuff I write about isn’t all that funny. And today is going to be one of those days.

I have been bulimic, with a sprinkling of ed nos (excessive exercising, if you’d care to know, and calorie restriction), since I was 8 years old; although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 16. That said, I didn’t lose a dramatic amount of weight from these behaviors until I was in college, an unstructured and un-chaperoned environment where kids get up to all kinds of experimentation. (Usually this involves sex and/or drugs; for me it involved eating 100 calories a day, 21+ hours of workouts a week, and vomiting.) And maybe I’m hyper-sensitive to these matters now, but I’m seeing a troubling trend on Facebook.

Isn’t Facebook wonderful, by the way? It’s really a place where everyone’s worst personality flaws come out to play. Passive aggression, rage, and poor spelling are really just the tip of the iceberg. Our relentless need to archive and share every moment of our lives in our own virtual Truman Show has really opened a window into our own mental illnesses. I have watched friends tailspin through depression to the brink of suicide, like a slow motion car accident online. (Unlike the chat rooms of the early 90’s where it was so fast.) I have watched people become alcoholics before my very eyes, via late night photo sessions in bars and clubs. And, finally, I have watched a surprising number of women develop or start to catalogue, maybe not even clinically diagnosable eating disorders but, eating disordered behavior.

I’m not a therapist. My degree is in writing, it is not in psychology, but I’ve been there. I have felt unbridled rage over missing a work out. I have felt the compulsion to avoid specific food groups (“this month it’s bread and pasta, last month it was dairy”). I have counted and weighed and measured what goes into my body, along with what my body is made up of.

But all of that is part of being healthy! You might say the counting and the measuring of calories, how else will you lose weight and get to a healthy weight?! You just did it yourself to lose weight!

And you would be right, with what you’re saying. The only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn. What’s not okay is that emotional reaction to having your “plan” disrupted. What’s not okay is the self-flagellation that you are taking part in when you divert from the plan in your head about what is okay and what is not okay to eat. (Which in so many cases is arbitrary at best.***) That act of self-loathing isn’t willpower, it’s a terrible part of an illness that so many used to struggle with quietly but now broadcast to hundreds of their friends via status updates and photo captions.

The other troublesome trend I see, and more often than not this is from someone who has lost a lot of weight, is the public shaming and judgment of people still struggling with their weight. This is, by far to me, to the most fascinating and saddest part of this journey for so many people.

When I was in my twenties and went from a size 20 to a size 4 in three months. a. Shockingly few people questioned how,† and b. I was mean. I was, for the first time, on the other side of the fence. I was working in retail that summer, and I would hold up jeans that I previously wouldn’t have been able to zip and button, and say things like, “God, can you even imagine being this fat?” In one shameful instance I actually climbed into the leg of a large men’s pant, with another girl in the other leg, and hopped around the store in a sick kind of potato sack race. (Before we opened, thank god, at least the psychological damage caused by my verbal and visual assault was minimal.)

There are no words to explain how ashamed I am of this behavior; now that I’m older, now that I have gained and lost much of that same weight Two More Times. And maybe it’s the latter part of that sentence that instilled some humility – no, wait, humanity in me because a lot of the things I am seeing posted and done on Facebook are so similar to that.

How dare anyone judge anyone’s intelligence, or willpower, or worth as a human being based on how much they weigh – especially someone who has suffered through the same personal battles? Somehow you lost 20, 30, 90 pounds and now you’re the smartest person on earth? Well, thank goodness you still had friends when you were so stupid that you were fat! How lucky are you! Or, maybe you’re the one exception to the rule?

Even if you think you know the person, you have no way of knowing what they are doing or going through. What they hear daily, or what they think when they lay in bed at night.

When I see anyone mocking someone for having proclaimed to feel beautiful while they are overweight, my heart sinks because I know that the person handing out the shame isn’t whole inside, they aren’t any healthier than the person that they’re verbally dressing down. There’s something missing in their life.

I also think they’re an asshole.

*Which is why a blog is the perfect place to work on it, there’s no pressure here.
** Oh, and if you think that suddenly becoming lactose intolerant and gluten intolerant is getting you past anyone’s radar you are fooling only yourself. While celiac is a really awful thing, most of the people I know who claim to be gluten intolerant are the worst kind of bandwagon jumpers.
***The number of times someone else who is trying to lose weight has openly shamed me about my food choices is shocking. And we’re talking about things like fruit or whole grains. People on low carb diets are, quite honestly, the worst. Eat a piece of toast and get over yourself.
†Tip: short of a professional medical intervention if you have lost this much weight in this amount of time, you are either dying from a disease or you are killing yourself with a disease.

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