On body image & going home

Updated: Dec 31, 2018

Today, I’m flying home. I’m flying home, and I’m preoccupied by my body.

It’s a familiar mental space, and it speaks to an equally familiar trope: coming-of-age stories and romantic comedies alike devise the same, boring, eating-disorder-triggering mother: she’s well-meaning but sadly mislead, as full of subtle fat shaming as a Rene Zellweger movie.

It’s hack, but pieces of it are true. Whether for developmental or environmental reasons, home happens to be the place many of us first develop poor body image. For many, mom really did lug her daughter to Weight Watchers and bring diet culture (and brain cancer) to the kitchen in the form of Sugar-Free Lifesavers and Diet Coke. (Speaking of which, yuck. My digestive system is quaking in its boots.)

My mom, incidentally, did not do those things. No lifesavers. No field trips to public weigh-ins. No replacing the word “calorie” with the closely related word “points.”

In fact, almost no one said anything explicit about my weight when I was a round little kid. My pediatrician told me I was in the 90th percentile for weight, which is a weird and useless fact to tell a nine-year-old. Two girls in gymnastics class giggled at me, and being female and – well - alive, I assumed they must be giggling about my weight.

Who knows if I assumed correctly? We build our life around conclusions we drew at eight years old. When I’m home now, a latent eating disorder pokes its head in. I assume that my family is looking at my stomach. I assume they’re closely watching what I eat. And If I eat more or differently than my siblings, I assume it really matters.

These thoughts are regressive. I feel far more “recovered” in my daily life. And even though these thoughts recur when I go home to see family over the holidays, they are not about family, and they are not about the holidays. They belong to anorexia, and they happen to be cued by an old, familiar environment. They are cued by memories of what it was like to be 10 and 14 and 17 and lying in my bed at home, worried about the fat around my middle.

For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, framing matters. Body image became a problem at home, but home is not the problem. It does me no good to frame the context for a crime committed by illness itself; this will only breed resentment for what is otherwise a locus of love.