Racism, Anxiety and Eating Disorders
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
“You’re too big.” – my body anxiety.
Say hello to the loud and bold voice that accompanied me through the first 20 years of my life. She and I? We had a love/hate relationship. I mostly hated her.
She convinced me to starve myself, to purge with laxatives and excessive exercise, and to think that being leaner would make me happier. And the sad part is I listened to her. But I never really knew the reasons behind her nudging. They just sounded SO enticing. They sounded like a way I could be accepted, loved, and admired. So I just listened, and never really asked questions.
Until she damn near killed me.
At 21, I had binged, purged, and dieted so much that my intestines were literally bleeding from the anguish I put them through daily. I was in pain, and depressed. I had been in therapy for three years up to this point to cure an eating disorder, which I discovered was absolutely futile. Why?
Because honey, ohhhh honey. Let me tell you, trying to cure an eating disorder is like taking an Advil for chest pain when you are really having a heart attack. Eating disorders, in my experience, are symptoms of MUCH deeper spiritual wounds. And I am going to tell you how I unraveled my eating disorder to discover that the root was racial profiling, and fear of rejection and isolation from my family. Hear me out.
I met a therapist during my senior year of college who was the first to ask me, “why do you want to be thinner?”
Good Lord, I thought. I have never even asked myself that question before. I just assumed everyone wanted to be thinner. But I decided I wouldn’t hold back with my answers. I was going to say the first thing that came to my mind and see if I could get any insight. I was desperate for some insight.
“My family doesn’t want me to be thick.” I blurted out. What? I had never had that thought before. Where in the world did that come from...
To set a little context here: my therapist was a tall, insanely beautiful, powerful, curvy, long-haired black woman who walked the halls like she owned the damn things. Basically, she was Beyoncé. And Beyoncé just heard a girl tell her that being thick was not okay. Like no, that is not okay.
“Why do they not want you to be thick?” she asked, with a tone that bordered between fury and curiosity.
“I don’t know. I guess because they don‘t like when I date black men. And when my ass is thicker, I attract more black men. And they don‘t talk to me when I date black men.”
She was holding back a mixture of frustration and laughter, I could tell. But I was having an epiphany. Of course, there is a lot to unpack here about race, interracial relationships, and growing up in an intolerant home (another blog post entirely), but I realized in that therapy session that my body anxiety, my constant need to shrink myself, was an attempt to win my family’s approval by not attracting (and dating) African American men so I wouldn’t feel rejected by them. I just wanted them to love me. I wanted them to accept me how I was. But somehow, comments made about my muscular and curvy body, whether good or bad, as I was growing up made me feel like I wouldn’t be until my body fit a certain size and I started attracting the “right” men. I remember feeling guilty if I wore a skirt that made my ass look large, because of the cat calls I would get at school. I began to feel like my body made me dirty and unacceptable. And even after I experienced rape, I battled feelings of guilt, that maybe it was my curvy body that made this happen to me.
It is so sad that a girl could grow up thinking that her natural-born body could make her dirty and unacceptable. Of course, these feelings were my own interpretation of other people’s behavior, and very well could not have been how they actually felt or believed. But I have to own the stories I told myself, and the way I felt because those feelings have dictated a large part of my life. My feelings are nobody‘s to resolve, not my family‘s, not a stranger... only mine. And family, if you ever read this, I know it will probably hurt you to hear me say. I know you didn’t mean anything. And I’m not blaming you for anything. And I know that your comments about my body probably came from a place of not thinking through their impact. It’s okay, and I love you. But this is me taking responsibility for the way it made me feel and unraveling the story I told myself to remedy feelings of rejection. I am the one who chooses what to do with those feelings now. I hope you can understand. I realize now that the anxiety I was feeling about my body came from trying to please you. From trying to be perfect to win your attention and adoration. From trying to please you by changing who I am, and what I look like. I wonder what would have happened if I had not assumed what you wanted from me in order to accept me, and if I would have just have been myself. I probably would have had a lot less anxiety, and that is my own responsibility.
But let me tell you something that I learned from all this baby girl – can I tell you one thing?
That anxiety will ALWAYS be present if we are trying to please someone in a way that misaligns with our core values and our souls. Anxiety will ALWAYS be present if we have given someone else our power by living by or reacting to what they think of us. And now I know that 90% of the time I am experiencing anxiety, it is a product of me being misaligned with my own values, trying to please someone other than myself, and giving up my power. I have learned that I am my own responsibility. I gave my family power over my own happiness with my body, albeit subconsciously. And once I realized what I had done, you best believe I took that shit back as quickly as possible.
But let’s get back to that therapy session, shall we?
“So, how do YOU want your body to look? And how do you want to feel about it?” my Beyoncé-esque therapist asked me.
“Thick. Healthy. And I want my ass to be large because I like it that way. It makes me feel powerful and sexy and feminine. And I want to feel PROUD when I look in the mirror.”
“Then go be that.”
Can we give two claps for Beyoncé please? She helped me set myself free that day.
Since then, I have NEVER looked back. This was the defining moment for me. This was when I realized that my body anxiety was not so much a product of neurons misfiring in my brain, but of a rejection and fear-fueled program that had been running in my subconscious mind since I was a little girl, telling me that my curvy body made me unacceptable. And I have learned that while anxiety is painful, uncomfortable and horrible, it is THE best indicator of places in our souls that are calling out for healing, deep work and responsibility. And we are the only ones who can do that work.
I am doing that work now.
I am my own responsibility.