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What Is It About Anorexia That Turns Us Into Voyeurs?

I have been recovering from an eating disorder for three years. There are times I think I am on my way to defeating this disease and times I realize I will always encounter it.

Recently, someone in my partner’s past came up in conversation — and he confided that this person has an eating disorder.

My ears perked. Not only was this person the “one before me,” but she was sick with a disease I have battled for 10 years.

It stuck with me. The rest of the weekend, I quietly mulled over what he shared, waiting patiently to be alone. When he went home two days later, I nestled into my bed and headed to social media as my fingers moved with lightning speed to type in this person’s name.

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At the time, I convinced myself that I was viewing out of “empathy” or “sympathy,” but that’s bullshit. Mostly, I wanted to see how sick she is ­— which makes me wonder what it is about eating disorders that turn us into voyeurs. And is it just those of us who have battled eating disorders — or our culture? I have been in this woman’s place, and I have lived the reality of her sickness, but I couldn’t look away.

Clicking on her profile, I dived into the unwanted depths of her life. She was sick and I was ogling. Ten minutes later, I clicked back to her timeline.

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I reopened a recent picture of her. I analyzed her features. I imagined her bone structure and in turn found myself begrudging her sickness ­— incensed somehow that from these pictures it was clear she had been “better” at anorexia than I had.

When my roommates came home, I quickly switched tabs.

Reflecting in therapy a few days later, I realized I was envious not only of her former presence in my partner’s life, but of that ever-existing “look” that our culture subtly (not so subtly) values.

I looked at her pictures and I desired her self-control. I wanted her tenacity again. Like the self-sabotaging human I can be, I reflected back to the dress straps that slid down my shoulders. I remembered my sickest “anorexic days,” which were different than my “bulimic days” and “binge days,” and I missed the instant validation that came from restricting.

Anorexia is often done with what appears like grace. We simply don’t eat. I said, “no,” when others said, “yes.” We are complimented on our discipline and the subtle acknowledgment of being thin — a stamped symbol of beauty.

As a society, we frequently inquire about someone’s weight loss with “concern,” but often it’s not so much concern but an envy disguised as such. The media soaks it up and so does the public. We love underweight men/women and speculating about their sickness. Look at the tabloids. Look anywhere.

As I mulled over that girl’s pictures the other day, I remembered running myself ragged on the treadmill — relief followed after another pound lost.

Momentary relapse, followed by momentary sanity. I suppose this is the definition of recovery.

Ultimately, our culture seems to be evolving. There is now conversation on social media can actually benefit recovery. Body-positive social media is popping up everywhere, and our generation looks to be giving a middle finger to the ’90s Kate Moss look, but this doesn’t ensure that perspectives will change overnight.

 “Get off this,” I thought later that day. “Move on.”

“Get over yourself,” I ask my roommates to say when they see I’m critiquing myself in every mirror.

Challenge yourself to be present. Happiness never came with anorexia. It was a constant manipulation that can never last. You don’t live with anorexia and succeed. You will always lose.

You will have spurts of confidence in your clothes, but it will condemn you the same way heroin overtakes an addict. Slowly, and then all at once. Your brain will change because you’re starving it. Your body will shut down, and you will lose everyone because you will be intolerable to be around. You will lose your memories because you are not present.

Anorexia is a pretty person disease with an ugly soul.

Every day, those of us in recovery have to navigate carefully in order to withstand the body idealization of our culture. I don’t always succeed, but that’s OK. I understand that I fail and that it’s part of the process. I fail because I’ll miss being sick at times, and I’ll miss the false security, like Stockholm Syndrome.

Part of recovery is failure.

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So, forgive yourself — and fail again and again. And when you’ve failed enough, ask yourself, “At my thinnest, did I enjoy life? Was I engaged in my relationships? Was I alive?”

In the depths of your brain, there are whispers telling you to stay in recovery. There’s a voice asking you to change the conversation with your friends about body image and weight. “You’ll lose if you do this,” it says.

One day — when you’re ready — make the decision to move on. And don’t look at those pictures.

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