I’d never thought of myself as one of those girls. You know the ones I mean. The ones who stare at themselves in the mirror for hours on end, painstakingly grabbing at every inch of their body that they dislike. The ones who carefully turn the pages of the glossy magazines, savouring every image of thin people with thin people problems.
In fact, I’d never been particularly aware of my body at all. Or at least, not the size of it. I was a dancer, so I was aware of how my body moved. Aware of the lines it could create, the emotions it could evoke. But the size of my thighs? That had never crossed my mind.
Of course, I was lucky. I was relatively thin, and dancing six days a week had left me with a fierce metabolism. But I also just wasn’t that fussed. My body was my body, and it was fine. Good, even.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I found myself, aged 15, crying on the bathroom floor at school, the contents of my stomach staring back at me from the porcelain bowl.
I can picture it clearly – though I can’t remember exactly how I’d gone from eating my lunch in the parquet-floored school dining room, to locking myself in the last stall of the girl’s bathroom (the stall that would, later, become my stall). I remember freezing with fear as I heard a gaggle of girls enter while I was still trying to claw out the remnants of my lasagne. I remember collapsing on the floor afterwards, an exhausted mix of tears, bile, and shame.
So while I’d never thought of myself as one of those girls, here I was: the perfect little poster child for those girls.
Coincidentally, this was also the same time I discovered feminism.
It’s ironic really. On the one hand, I was immersing myself in a world full of taboo-busting superheroes. A world where the revolution was powered by pasta and self-love. On the other, I was fueling my body with nothing more than diet pills and diet coke.
The deeper I got into feminism, the worse it got. I would read about body positivity and let it fuel my attempts at recovery, but deep down I felt like a failure. A failed feminist with a failed illness. There I was screeching ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES from the rooftops; and there I was, agonising over the calories in a satsuma.
You read a lot of stories about women who fought their eating disorder with feminism. Who discovered body positive mantras and threw off the shackles of their illness. But no matter how desperately I wanted to be like them, food and feminism were so interlinked in my mind that I couldn’t have one without the other. My food was feminism, and my feminism was built on a hungry cry for help.To renounce one would be to renounce the other, and without them both, I was nothing.
So no, it wasn’t feminism that saved me from my eating disorder. There was no magical moment when I realised that I couldn’t dismantle the patriarchy unless I nourished my body. No turning point where I suddenly started believing the body positive mantras I’d been reading for years.
Because – and I’ll let you into a secret here – the patriarchy is stronger than feminism can ever be. A few year’s worth of feminist literature couldn’t undo a lifetime of internalised misogyny and media manipulation. A t-shirt that reads Riots Not Diets (a t-shirt I own) cannot silence the insidious voices of a mental illness.
Feminism can change the world. But it can’t always change a mind.
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