Note from Erika: I am not a counselor, a nutritionist or anything other than a woman who writes what she thinks and feels, and rarely proofreads. If you fear being triggered, by all means… please don’t read. I’d rather you protect yourself than feel harmed by what I’ve written here.
I can remember.
Approximately 4 months after I had my daughter, I was starving and didn’t have much food in the fridge… so I decided I was going to order a pizza. I was thankful that they had online ordering, so that I didn’t have to deal with the order taker on the phone remembering the details that go along with my particular phone number.
“Oh, you want the chicken alfredo pizza like you ordered the other day?”
No thanks, dude. I could just place my little order online, and wait to sign the little receipt.
This time, I was acutely aware of the fact that ordering all these pizzas so often was only going to make me fat. (I was already well over 300 lbs at this point.) I knew I shouldn’t be doing all this ordering… but I was struggling with the fact that I was starving to the point where I thought I was gon’ die. Die… do y’all hear me? Die.
So… I made a resolution with myself. I’d order the pizza, eat as much of it as I wanted and then throw it all up afterwards. Okay, cool.
Pizza arrives, and I immediately smash at least half of it. I give myself a little time to recognize what I’ve done, then I go over to the sink and shove a butterknife down my throat.
Nothing happened. I immediately panicked. I shoved it even further down my throat. Again, nothing.
I was completely mortified. My plan was foiled. I wouldn’t be vomiting up any pizza that night. But I’d spend the rest of the night confused and crying about it. I took that as a sign from The Powers That Be that I had no business trying to puke up any food, and that if I was going to lose weight… I’d be doing it The Way That Makes Sense.
Although I want to giggle at the idea of being able to stick a whole butterknife down my throat and have nothing happen, I can only smirk at it because this entire situation reminds me of how desperate I was to get beyond this “fat thing” and how I was so lost and confused about why I’d scarf down [what I’d definitely consider] too much food, only to be starving again a few hours later.
I can remember.
I know what it’s like to live in a world where everyone’s in DC, telling you to “Meet us in Los Angeles,” and not handing you a map. You’ve got a long way to go and no idea how to get there. Sure, you might know to just travel west… but that’s about it. Eventually, “travelling west” isn’t going to cut it anymore… and might leave you just as lost as you were before you began.
That’s what this weight thing feels like. Everyone’s telling me to “get skinny,” and no one’s telling me how. The only message I hear is “lose the weight, it’s disgusting” – and I hear it from everyone around me – and I become even more frantic in my quest to rid myself of this…. this thing that society says is so disgusting and deplorable..
…and then, I feel like I’ve hit the holy grail of logic: If my body doesn’t digest the food, I don’t have to deal with the weight, right? So, I try to starve myself, but then I miss having food in my mouth. I start to miss tasting flavors. I miss the texture of food sliding down my throat. I miss that “full” feeling…
…and then, before I know it, I think I’ve hit paydirt: I won’t starve myself! I’ll eat whatever I want! I’ll just puke it back up and not have to worry about putting on the weight. Boom. Easy. Except… it wasn’t so easy, at least for me.
The number of women who’ve spoken to me and shared with me that they’ve suffered from eating disorders since I’ve began this site is… let’s just say its in the triple digits. At least. And, for “colored girls,” that’s a lot. A lot more than our community seems to acknowledge, especially since every time the topic of eating disorders comes up among colored girls, the conversation is always squashed with “What? That’s white girl shit.”
I do not write this post to stand up on a soap box and proclaim that I have the answer to the problem that eating disorders present… because in my mind (and in my heart), eating disorders are, again, a symptom of a larger problem that no one seems to have the desire to address (probably because no one can make money off of it.) We all hate something that we have no idea how to get rid of… because we’re all listening to people who stand to make money off of keeping us confused and hopeless. (I’m just sayin’ – if you didn’t already know that you could use a container of water, the shake weight might not’ve made those guys millionaires.) We all hate something that we have no idea how to get rid of… even if it means that we wind up hating ourselves in the process. We all succumb to a cycle that profits from our failure… a cycle that perpetuates our failure intentionally.
I didn’t hate myself for being fat – but that’s not because I had this amazingly inflated sense of self-esteem, it was because I refused to hate myself… regardless of how fat I was. I used to tell myself that I had plenty of reasons to love myself regardless of how unattractive society made me feel as a fat woman… and I worked hard to make sure that my community could see my worth even if their first instinct was to devalue me based on my looks. But now, I realize the problem.
The problem wasn’t that I wanted someone to value me in ways beyond my appearance. The problem was that I was compelled to do so in response to feeling as if I was worthless for being fat. What compels a woman to feel so helpless, so hopeless and so worthless that she’d malnourish her body in order to meet the standards of people who don’t know her? Women admit to allowing their hair and teeth to fall out just so that they can remain (or reclaim) thin… women admit to fainting in the middle of workout routines… women admitting to living and thriving on laxatives to “empty out” and hoping to “balance out” at the end of the day… women admitting to binging on food only to vomit it up, feel guilt about the vomit and lick up their own vomit… we’re willing to ignore this as a community because it’s easier to write it off as “white girl shit?” Word?
I already have a problem with the way no one seems to care that little Black girls are growing up not understanding their history, their culture, their feelings and urges, their emotions, their bodies or their place in the world. Now, they cannot understand their desires? Their desire, their need to do the very thing evolution compels them to do to survive? Eat? We can’t teach them how to listen to their bodies? We can’t tell them that our bodies give us signals every day? We can’t tell them that it’s okay to NOT be rail thin, and that that’s never a reason to harm ourselves or treat ourselves poorly or intentionally malnourish ourselves?
The women who’ve shared their story with me, regardless of color, are all fearful of talking about weight. If they obsess over it too much, they fear sliding back into that trap of “fat is bad… must rid body of fat by any means necessary.” How do you change that? Do you start with society? Or do you start with telling individual women to appreciate themselves regardless of size? Or do you tell them that it’s okay to want to look different, to think you could look better… but it’s never worth risking your life or jeopardizing your health? Do we campaign against that hatred and that thing that puts all of a woman’s worth in her appearance?
I mean, all this time that I’ve been saying that women need to put their health first… maybe this will help people understand why. There are a ton of ways to lose weight, but are you jeopardizing your health in the process? Are you killing yourself to lose weight? Do you demonize fat to the point where it hinders your ability to love yourself? There are a billion ways to lose weight… only one way to soundly and sanely keep it off. No one’s talking about that part, though.
I am an advocate for therapy. I don’t care about stigmas – as far as I’m concerned, stupid stigmas compelled me to yo-yo diet and wind up worse off than I’d ever been before – and I don’t care about the opinions of people who don’t care about me… or even know me. I am an advocate for women acknowledging their weaknesses and speaking with someone who is trained to help you develop a sound and sane path to wellness. I’m also keenly aware of the stigma within the Black community regarding seeing a therapist – either it’s “white girl shit,” it’s “for crazy people… and you’re not crazy, you just don’t wanna be fat anymore… that’s not crazy” or it’s “immoral.. you don’t need a therapist, you need to go speak to a pastor.”
With all due respect, every single one of those answers is inappropriate and incorrect.
As I said before, I didn’t write this post to appear as if I’m on a soapbox and looking down at anyone as if I have all the answers. I asked more than enough questions in this post to make it clear that I don’t have the answers… I just have the understanding. I have the confusion. I have the hurt, the fear and the empathy for women who have gone through this and are still going through this… and would rather remain overweight (even though they may still secretely hate fat) than look at the reasons they may have gained the weight in the first place, for fear of re-developing their eating disorder.
I write this for awareness. I write this in the hopes that the mothers who read my site will hug their daughters a little tighter, praise them for being intelligent and loving human beings who may feel uncomfortable with their bodies, but should never see that as a reason to jeopardize their health. Hell, I write this in hopes that the women who read my site will hug themselves a little tighter, praise themselves for being intelligent and loving human beings who may feel uncomfortable with their bodies, but should never see that as a reason to jeopardize their health. I write this hoping that we will realize how we’ve let this fat hatred push us to a painful desperation that causes us to risk our lives to be thin. I write this in the hopes that we will create environments that will encourage women to (a) no longer hate themselves for not wanting to change, (b) no longer hate themselves for wanting to change but not understanding why it’s so hard and (c) no longer feel compelled to hate or shame other women for being in different places in their journey.. because we all know the pressures involved with weight in this society. Black, White, Latina, Asian, whatever.
I write this for all the Black women I know and love – even the ones who e-mail me that I’ve never met – who are just done with the dieting, done with the pain, done with the self-hatred, done with the pressure, done with it all. I’m writing this for each woman who is ready to stop and just… find God within herself… and love her… fiercely.