Maria Overcame an Eating Disorder
It’s been a little while since the last Bikini Confidence post so I’m very excited that another blogger asked if she could take part in the series. Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. Hers is a story of finding self-love, finding solace in friendship, and finding the courage to overcome an eating disorder.
There are times when I sit in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car, staring at the trees washing by like water colors, that I wonder what college would have been like without an eating disorder.
Well, three, technically. When I moved miles away from any family and friends for a college campus in an entirely different country than the one I’d grown up in, I became anorexic, probably in some sub-conscious attempt to control my diet and physical appearance since I had control over little else in my life then. My most absurd experience may be salting vitamins pills for a “snack” since I didn’t believe in digestion after 8 PM.
Before long, I started binging and purging, and it was only when I blurted to my boyfriend that sometimes I make myself throw up that I realized I had a problem. I stopped purging after that, but couldn’t help but binge when I felt control over anything—my choice in dinner ingredients, an offhand comment made by a friend, the lack of my favorite toothpaste brand at the store—slip through my fingers.
Few people knew of my disorders and even fewer among those few supported me. As I avoided social engagements for fear of being judged and of simply being seen, some friends became impatient while still others disappeared from my life.
Feeling Home Away From Home
Then, I studied abroad in Europe with eleven other students who were, at the time, strangers to me. Because I did not love myself, I could only assume no one on the trip would find anything to love in me, and so I spent most of my time alone in the green foothills of the Alps before anyone else was awake, traveling alone to Assisi and Naples, doing everything as alone as possible.
That was until one night when my towel hadn’t dried from that morning and I went across the hall to ask another student for a towel. As we chatted in my room, she said, quite matter-of-factly, “You should come hang out with us more often. The guys think you’re gorgeous but awesome, and I need another girl to hang out with. No, you wouldn’t be intruding. All right, now it’s not an option. You’re hanging out with us from now on.”
I didn’t believe a word she said at first. Especially the gorgeous part. I was 140 lbs in Italy, when I’d been 90lbs (and not menstruating) just six months earlier, and a steady, unmovable 120 lbs since puberty ages ago. I hated the very sight of me in the mirror and couldn’t understand why anybody wanted to even know me, never mind invite me to a trip to Florence, Siena, and Rome.
I wish that I hadn’t been sick in college. Sometimes, when the mood strikes me (usually during dreaded PMS week), I still cry about it. I loved Europe but not as much as I loved the memories my new friends and I made there. I loved being in peak physical shape and being the envy of beer-gut sporting college girls, but not as much as I loved the company of carefree friends I lost because I never told them I was sick.
Still, it might have been college—the integral part of the environment that provoked my eating disorders—that allowed me to cure myself.
If there was ever anything I was proud of, something I’d never felt as insecure of or imprisoned by as my physical appearance, it was my intellect. I’d always been at the top of my class, and I used my passion for knowledge to write my senior Honors thesis on the theory that eating disorders are the result of historic gender prejudice and the media.
This was my therapy. For an entire semester, I raided the Internet, my notes on all my history and politics classes, and the campus library, steadily growing angrier and angrier over all the evidence supporting my theory. I began to go into rages across the screen of Microsoft Word, typing madly that disordered eaters are not just anorexics, they are not just overeaters, they are not just white college girls looking to fit in, they are not weak-minded, they are not pigs, they are not guilty, they are not greedy, they are not lost causes. It was into rage that I channeled my insecurity and overwhelming sadness, and for me, rage was easier to conquer than loneliness and despair.
My Honors professor gave me an A for my paper; I graduated Summa Cum Laude and left that campus at relatively the same weight yet in a healthier, more confident state of mind than I had entered it.
But this isn’t a typical success story. The last thing of disordered eaters to heal is body image. Mine is good some days, others not. Am I stronger now than I was then? Undoubtedly. Do I care what others think of me upon sight? Significantly less than before. Do I wonder what it would have been like to experience college like every other girl? I learned in researching for my thesis that 40% of college girls are disordered eaters.
Some days, I am still angry.
This post is part of the Bikini Confidence Series. If you missed them, check out the other guest posters:
And, of course, my own Bikini Birthday post!
If you have a story to share about your own struggles with body image or your opinion on how women’s body image is affected by media or society please feel free to e-mail me your idea at firstname.lastname@example.org.