Today I feel fat. Sausage-esque, puffy, bursting at seams I didn’t even know this clothing had. My breasts are lumpy and my upper arms look like they belong to a weightlifter who long since abandoned the gym for more hedonistic pursuits. I retreat to the bathroom every five minutes to tug at the waist of my skirt or the shoulders of my button-down in the hopes that angling my clothing this way or that will hide the horrors of my physical form. I’m trying to give myself all the usual pep talks, which involve explaining away the feeling with PMS, latke-hangovers, and birth control, but they are mostly failing. I have even tried to invoke that old treatment adage that “fat is not a feeling,” but I never believed that one. I think fat is absolutely a feeling, one that is accompanied by a physical sensation, a la anxiety. I can even describe it for you: it feels like nausea, anger, and a crawling sensation on the skin. Jumpiness and lethargy at the same time, with a dash of agoraphobia. It is miserable, and none of my usual ammo seems to be working. Nothing, except reminding myself of the fact that I’ve outlawed “fat talk” and backsliding into anorexic thought patterns for myself.
Sound too simplistic? It both is and isn’t. A little over two weeks ago, I published my first book, titled How to Disappear Completely: On ModernAnorexia, which examines how anorexia has mutated as a disease thanks to changes in technology, treatment methodologies and even awareness efforts. It’s only partly a polemic, though; the other half deals with my own battle with the disorder, which started because I thought anorexia was the most glamorously Victorian pursuit ever and ended, about twelve years later, in a mess of tears, interventions, and exorbitant hospital bills. I wanted to avoid many of the clichés that other writers chronicling their anorexia relied on, one of which is that one can never fully recover from anorexia and that when life struggles come up, the former anorexic will fall back on old habits. The subtext to this is: “struggle will inevitably translate into food issues for anyone who has experienced an eating disorder.” But is there proof that this is the way it has to be? (Hint: no.) Or is this a script that we’ve relied on for a long time that just isn’t effective? And writers who include stipulations about how they continue to fear certain foods and don’t rule out relapse—did no one tell them that it’s okay to believe in complete recovery, or are they covering their bases?
I decided, in my book, to make myself accountable to the reader(s.) I wrote that I will actually never again be anorexic. Of course I’m not omniscient and can’t say with total certainty what will happen in the future. Also, these readers of mine—whoever those beautiful people out there are—can’t call me and grill me about my daily intake, as my therapists and nutritionists once did. In reality, I’m only accountable to myself, but still, the fact that I’ve promised in public, which means society and the universe are in on it, to not deprive myself or act out my worries through my eating habits is the best deterrent I’ve come across yet from doing so. It’s a little more scolding than self-soothing, but reminding myself of this pact when I hear my inner monologue veer towards body dissatisfaction has put the kibosh on those stock insults (“you’re fat” and more colorful versions of same) all day. You’re not allowed think that way anymore, I say. Which, though scary, is also a great relief.
About Kelsey: I’ve contributed pieces to publications including New York, The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog, Time, The Huffington Post and Salon. My first book,How to Disappear Completely, was awarded a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers award. I am a regular contributor to the digital version of Psychology Today and Biographile, a Penguin Random House blog about nonfiction writing. I am also a Staff Writer at The American Reader.