Sometimes, my filter is broken and words just fly out of my mouth, like projectile vomit, long before my moral compass has a chance to register.
You’re probably thinking that I’m exaggerating. After all, my word choice here is pretty precise and constructive. But remember, there is a process to writing. In the planning and preparing stage, I spend hours coming up with ideas, and generally I have the post mentally mapped out before I even sit down to actually write.
Then, after the writing, there’s the proofreading and editing and proofreading and editing and proofreading and editing. Lots and lots of filtering.
So the person you have gotten to know here on this blog is a bit different in real-life. I’ve never been a sugar-coater, but Lyme disease has caused me to occasionally be tacky and, well, just plain rude. I try to be gracious and positive. I really do. But occasionally, pain and bitterness win.
A few days ago, I was at the gynecologist’s office for my annual checkup, an annual I’d put off for three years. Your reproductive health isn’t a priority when you’re just trying to breath.
A new nurse called me out of the waiting room, and as is the tradition, immediately had me step up on the scales.
I was dreading this moment possibly more than the pap smear itself.
“118,” she announced wistfully. “What I’d give to be 118 again, with shoes and a coat on at that!”
That’s when it happened. The word vomit exploded from my lips.
“I’m only 118 because I’m sick. Be careful what you wish for.”
Oh God, did I really just say that aloud? Surely, I just thought it. I would never….that would be so inconsiderate….I must have thought it….
The nurse’s wide eyes and facial expression proved that I had, in fact, lost my filter. What was wrong with me??
I immediately felt compelled to fill the awkward silence. I told her a shortened version of my story. Healthy, then Lyme stole my body and my life. Medications and immobility added pounds quickly. In March of last year, I weighed 168 pounds, more than I’d weighed on the day I gave birth to Izzi. Then this fall, dietary changes dropped weight quickly, over 40 pounds in the last three months.
Now, I’m almost skeletal. My face is gaunt. My legs, which once were toned and muscular from jogging, are bony and thin. No muscle and no fat. My collarbones and chest port protrude. I am cold all the time. Nothing in my closet really fits.
A year ago, I had to buy XL shirts to cover my distended stomach, resulting from antibiotics, and my humpback from steroids. Now I wear those same sweatshirts to hide how frail I look and to avoid these conversations.
I told her that before I got sick, all I wanted was to lose 10 to 15 pounds and to get back to 120. Now, at 110 naked, I worry about being underweight and its affects on my already weakened immune system.
Later, as I, draped in my “gown” and sheet, waited for the doctor, I replayed our conversation in my head. I felt like an insolent child for so stupidly overreacting to her compliment, but I also thought about our society’s reaction to weight and its effects on women.
One would never stop a friend in the grocery store and say, “Have you gained weight? My goodness, you’re really packing on the pounds this winter.”
Okay, my late great-aunt Betty got away with making insensitive statements like that, criticizing weight, clothing choice, lack of make-up. But she was cultured and old and the Queen of Back-Handed Compliments. More than that, she loved us, fiercely.
But the rest of the world doesn’t have this ability.
I think, even without my filter, I’m pretty sure I would never, ever question a person’s weight.
Except, wait a minute. We do. We do it all the time. We question how much weight people have LOST. We ask what they’re doing to get in shape. We tell them how great they look (because presumably they looked like crap the 4-5 pounds before).
Why is this okay? There’s a lot of talk about fat shaming, but what about skinny shaming? It’s a thing, too, right? How is it acceptable to vocally idolize weight loss? Women of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to judgement and scrutiny based on their body type, and it is constant.
I thought of my son’s girlfriend, Casey. An exquisitely beautiful teenager who has struggled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder most of her life. While all of us have something we don’t like about our appearance, our imperfections don’t interfere with our daily lives. However, individuals like Casey, who struggle with BDD, think about their real or perceived flaws for hours everyday.
They can’t control their negative thoughts. When my daughters tell Casey how beautiful she is, she nods politely, but I know deep down she doesn’t believe them. I’ve seen her spend hours obsessing over her eyebrows. Hours. It is heartbreaking to witness Casey in the middle of a meltdown because her hair isn’t just right, when in reality, the kid is nothing short of stunning. Hard to resist or control, these obsessions can take over her day, leading to low self-esteem, avoidance of social situations, and attendance problems at school or work.
Often, teenagers with BDD will develop other issues; for Casey, it was an eating disorder. Before this sweetheart entered our lives, she was starving herself and working out all night, trying to achieve the ideal weight. Each time she’d reach it, she’d crave a lower number. She shaved her body hair to skim off fractions of a pound. She spent hours online, talking to other girls with eating disorders. She was wasting away and disappearing.
Thank God, He placed her in our world when he did. As you can see in the before and after photo above, I fear Casey would not have survived her eating disorder without us.
Sadly, like Lyme, an eating disorder is not a disease that heals and is resolved. It’s an every day fight. It’s a struggle to eat. It’s a struggle to see herself the way we see her. It’s a struggle to feel good about herself.
Every. Single. Day.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mean illness. I’d give anything for Casey to see herself in a mirror the way my son sees her every minute of his life. But we can’t change her; we can only love and accept her as is, monitor her habits to make sure she isn’t slipping back into her old ways, and do our best to shield her from questions that damage her already weakened body image.
For her, the statement “What I’d give to be 118 pounds again!” could send Casey into a spiral. Would she go home and binge eat until she vomits, or would she spend hours on the elliptical? Would she take it as a compliment and feel good about her size? I doubt it, because, like me, those damn scales are a source of insecurity.
There’s a fine line between too heavy and too thin. The line should be determined by our individual height and BMI and what makes us feel good about ourselves, but instead it’s drawn by the magazines we read, the photos on Instagram, the superstars on television, even the Barbie dolls we played with as children.
You never know what battle the woman beside you is fighting. Is she thin because she’s spent the last year of her life fighting to stay alive? Is she skinny because she spent years battling an eating disorder, but is finally coming out on the other side? Or is she eating clean and working out, trying to get healthy for her family and herself? You can’t know by simply looking at her.
Let’s just try to remember that we are in this thing together. Most women spend hours self-loathing, wishing to be just a few pounds lighter. Many of us, sadly, equate our beauty and self-worth to how others react to our body.
So be careful what you wish for and choose your words carefully. The best intended compliment could become a spiral-inducing backhand.
We are all a little broken, and that damage is often invisible.
Be kind to one another and to yourselves.
Keep coloring, my friends. And isn’t my girl just gorgeous?