**Trigger warning and Disclaimer – these are the opinions and perspectives of just two people who have experienced eating disorders. Please understand that everyone has unique relationships with their body, with self image and with food. It is also important to recognise that eating disorders can effect people of all races, ages, backgrounds and genders. My friend and I happen to be two white women, from the UK, in our 20’s, and therefore some of our experiences can only reflect our own experiences. If you have another perspective or story to tell, please do feel free to share it in the comments. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, or if you worry a friend of yours is suffering please contact your GP or contact the support teams at beateatingdisorders.org.uk**
Continuing with the topic of body image and how we collectively see and think about our bodies, I wanted to invite a fellow recoveree and dear friend of mine to share her own perspective of what she still struggles with. I called my friend Lilly from university, who was brave enough to have one of the most candid talks I’ve ever had about what life with, and after, an active eating disorder is like.
Please introduce yourself.
I’m Lilly Werth, I’m 23 and my instagram is @lilly_conquers_life
Please briefly tell us about your experience with eating disorders (if you feel comfortable doing so)
I had a tumultuous relationship with food/my body from around age 11/12. These issues bubbled away under the surface until I found myself in the clutches of first anorexia and then bulimia, leading me to seek inpatient treatment at age 18. The 4 months I spent there saved my life and began my recovery journey.
What do the phrases “Body Image”, “self Love” and “body positivity” mean to you?
Before going to treatment for my eating disorder, I had never heard of “self love” or “body positivity” – those phrases just weren’t part of my vocabulary. I knew I had a warped and extremely negative perception of my body, but I never realised that it was my attitude to myself and my body that needed to change, not my body. Shrinking my body didn’t enable me to feel beautiful. I’m now a lot bigger than when I was at my sickest (thank goodness), and I have never felt so beautiful and powerful. But this took time. It was almost painful to re-learn my thought patterns (which were supported and enhanced by the image portrayed by society about beauty and happiness) and I had to make the conscious decision that I was beautiful, and I looked in the mirror and told that to myself every day, until I eventually started to believe it.
What about phrases like “flaws”?
Everyone is taught that we have “flaws”. It’s so ingrained in us that we need to pick away at ourselves and out anything that isn’t ‘perfect’. It’s so important to remind ourselves that by labelling aspects of our bodies as “flaws” or “imperfections”, we are comparing ourselves to an ideal which doesn’t exist and that has been manufactured by society so they can capitalise on these generated insecurities. When I find myself thinking of my body as “flawed”, I try instead to re-phrase it as ‘unique’, and definitely beautiful.
Can you describe what you think influences people the most in regards to their body?
I definitely think social media has a huge influence on how people view their bodies. It’s society who decides what kind of body type is beautiful at that moment, and you’re either in or you’re out. I find it super helpful to remember that the beauty ‘ideal’ differs dramatically from culture to culture, and it’s all bullshit created by company execs looking to cash in.
What has your journey been like? What do you still find challenging?
My journey is still ongoing, and I am constantly learning new things about myself and the world around me. My relationship with food/my body is something I actively work on every day, as the nature of an eating disorder is sneaky and if I’m not careful it’s easy to slip back into old habits. I made a deal with myself to only surround myself with positive people and a positive online community, and I’m allowed to step away from a person/account/situation which is having a negative impact on my mental well being. I’ve been in active recovery for 4 years, and my life is incomparable to my life before. However, I feel it’s important to say that there have been ups and downs – it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I just need to keep checking in with myself and be honest with where I’m at, and lean on my wonderful network of friends and family when I need to. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.
Please describe the difference you see in #NoMakeUp challenges and in posts that are honest about body shape/size/etc?
The #NoMakeUp challenge can be helpful in terms of getting used to seeing more natural faces on social media, but for me it’s not as powerful as posts which focus on the raw, unfiltered human body. For me, even though most photos I upload are of me in makeup, all of my family and friends have seen me without it at some point or other. However, very few people have seen my body in all its glory (with its scars, stretch marks and belly rolls, and thighs that touch). I remember how terrifying it was when I first uploaded a picture of me in a bikini. The dialogue in my head was that if everyone properly saw my body, they would be disgusted and run a mile. I knew I needed to challenge this insane belief, which spurred me on to click ‘upload’. It was so empowering and invigorating to receive nothing but light and positivity from others.
What does “control” mean to you?
Control was a huge part of my eating disorder. The time at which I reached my ‘rock bottom’ was when I was about to sit my A Levels, and then move away to go to university. It felt like everything was spinning away from me, and the one constant thing that I felt I could control was my food/body. But before long, my eating disorder was in complete control of me – I was powerless. Even now, change and perceived lack of control can lead me to start manipulating my food, as a matter of instinct. When this happens, I’m now able to realise before things completely spiral, as I know that the initial feeling of control is false, and if I play the tape forward I know exactly where I’ll end up if I don’t choose recovery – and that is not an option.
Please recommend some accounts to follow that you find helpful/encouraging?
The accounts I recommend giving a follow are @nourishandeat, @bodyposipanda and @antidietriotclub
So much of what Lilly said, I could directly relate to, and I know that there are many others who have similar feelings about their body. I hope that this open discussion was helpful and informative for you, and I hope that we can all use today as an opportunity to become more positive about our own bodies, and other peoples, from here on out.
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