National Eating Disorder Awareness Week wraps up today. Awareness weeks are sort of a mixed bag—It's good to be aware of things, if only for a week, but when and how does awareness turn into action over the course of seven days?
Still, they do force us to train our attention away from celebrities doing terrible things very publicly or Facebook arguments about Perez Hilton's ethnicity and onto something important, even if only for a short while. To that end, here are some things that I wish I had known sooner in life, even if perhaps I couldn't.
Dear young person from roughly the ages of 11 to 19:
You will outgrow that haircut, and then get some worse ones, and then outgrow those as well. Also, please know this: You are more than a body, but a body is part of you.
By this I mean that there is more to you than the shape and size of all that flesh and bone, but you still must take care of it. You need to treat it well, because you will live in it for some time and use it to do things like dance to “Move, Bitch” at prom until a nun sternly asks the DJ to stop playing it.
You will use it to walk across a stage and receive a piece of paper signifying that you have survived high school. You will hug your knees to your chest for comfort after you are dumped. You will run because you are late (again), and the cold winter air will sting your lungs a bit and it will feel like you are dying but, you know, in a really healthy way.
You will hold your hands out in front of you and study them, with all their little marks and dents, and decide you like them. You’ll notice many people’s upper arms on the train in the summertime and how they all look so different and you will hug your arms around yourself, not even aware of it. You will see your mother’s nose and your father’s eyes, arranged, neatly, on your own face. You will get sick and be glad for the times you were not.
You will be aware of all that life inside your body, flowing and pumping through you. You will be glad to be here, in this world, inside this ramshackle machine that lets you experience it.
It’s going to take a long time to get to that place. And it’s going to take a lot of work on your part. I wish I could tell you that it gets better, but that would imply that you are passive, that the things around you and within you simply will change. And that’s not the case. You will fail and get tired of it and make excuses and feel like something has come loose inside you and that you are broken, but you’ll eventually get better.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll be completely well and healed, and that the fears and worries you feel will vanish forever. But they won’t. The good news is that you are strong enough to manage these. You need to practice being strong, though. You might need to pretend to be stronger than you feel at first, to “fake it ‘til you make it,” like people say.
And you won’t be scared of so many things anymore. You can enjoy making things to eat, for instance, and know that this is fueling a body you love and care about. A body that you are repairing. A body that will forgive you. You will enjoy the actual act of eating, of paying attention to flavors and textures and combinations instead of seeing meals as a series of numbers and statistics. You can enjoy being around other people again, and not be scared of what they will or won’t notice.
And you will get so much time back! The time avoiding places and people, the time avoiding holidays and parties. The time planning your day, laying it out in front of you like little segments of an orange, accounting for every moment and wondering how far you can stretch a can of tuna fish (packed in water).
You will feel like a person, and not like a mind, troubled and sleepless, connected to something foreign and hateful. Something that holds you back. Your body will not be a mystery to you, and your mind will not be its enemy. Someday. I promise.
You can like people who like you (and some people who won't). It will be fine. Again, I promise.
You are more than a body, but a body is part of you.
P.S. Never enter the empty subway car.
P.P.S. Call your mom
P.P.P.S. And your dad.
P.P.P.P.S. I love you a lot.