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When 29-year-old Haddi made the decision to step out of her comfort zone, she didn’t realise it would lead to the end of her seven-year-long battle with anorexia.
There is something that I did once upon a time that was truly out of my comfort zone. I didn’t realise it then, but this single decision would lead to the end of my seven-year-long battle with anorexia. This decision was terrifying. It was humiliating. It took everything in me not to give up. What was supposed to take one month ended up consuming six of my college months. I wept on the library’s floor because of this decision. I covered my face with embarrassment when my boyfriend Jimmy, who’s now my husband, tried comforting me. It was awful, yet I will still put my endorsement on this one because, when it was through, I had never been so free in my life.
Before I reveal this life-altering course of action, I need to explain a few things about myself. I have been blessed with two fabulous, thin, attractive parents who generously passed on their genes to me and my two gorgeous sisters. The three of us have never been overweight, and if beauty is measured based on society’s expectations (which it should not be), we’re doing all right. I’m not intending to brag. But you need to have this information to understand…
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It all started in grade nine, when I was finally noticed by my male counterparts at school. It was exhilarating after having cried myself to sleep nearly every night in grade eight because I did not have friends and nobody seemed to notice me. So at fourteen I started wearing clothes that were just a little tighter and a little shorter, and the reaction was pleasing. As the interaction between myself and these popular boys grew bolder, innocent teasing began to take place. I sat with them at lunch, and they began to comment on my lunch choices. Nothing was peculiar about what I was eating. But the teasing wasn’t about what I was eating; it was about how much I was eating. Again, nothing peculiar about that. The boys thought it would be fun to tell me I was fat, and that I had better slow down or skip this meal. Of course they were only flirting, but after days, weeks and months of their flirting, I began to think that maybe I could stand to lose a few kilos. And I did. I lost five kilograms that year after deciding to skip lunches altogether.
Thus my eating disorder began. It was mild, and never landed me in the hospital. My parents were mostly unaware, but it consumed me. Everything I did made me conscious of how my body looked to others. Soon the consciousness of my body led to hatred of myself. I couldn’t stand to look at myself, yet I couldn’t be taken away from my mirror. It was an obsession that followed me everywhere… My self-image remained just barely above zero. There are other parts of my story, particularly about suicide, depression, anxiety and self-loathing, but for now I’ll keep it focused on self-image. I tried heavier make-up, I tried colouring my hair, I tried different styles of clothing… I tried telling myself that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. It all failed to open my eyes to any beauty that could be found inside me.
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I was discouraged and disgusted with who I was, because in my mind I was who I looked like, and what I looked like was not acceptable to me. No matter the number on the scale, it was never quite low enough and my stomach was never flat enough. By this point of my story, I had been dating Jimmy for just a few months. We hadn’t said we loved each other yet. This is when I made one very life-altering choice, and my boyfriend was going to have to suffer the consequences.
What happened was that our church was initiating a month-long fast. Fasting from food has always been difficult and even unwise for me to participate in, because of the weight issue, but primarily because I am nearly guaranteed a migraine if I go too long without eating. I was contemplating how I could fast, and suddenly it hit me. It excited and terrified me simultaneously, but I knew what I had to do. I was going to fast from wearing make-up. Jimmy, the ever-supportive man that he is, was thrilled for me and this plan of action. He saw how his words did little to persuade me of the beauty he saw in me, so some outside help was more than welcome on his end.
So I washed my face that night and removed all my make-up. The first few days went all right – I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing, and the adrenaline overshadowed my fear. The fear of being exposed. The fear of being ugly. The fear of being plain. The fear of disenchanting my boyfriend. The fear of being worthless. But soon the adrenaline faded and reality set in. I was walking around in public without any make-up on, letting people see my raw, mid-winter-pale face. Panic began to rise when I walked outside. Embarrassment at my condition kept me from making eye contact. I wanted to scream apologies to everyone who had to look at me throughout the day. I wanted everyone to know that this was only temporary – that they’d get the less ugly me soon enough. And then Jimmy had the guts to tell me I was beautiful.
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I cringed, physically. I literally covered my face and did my best to plug my ears. He was wrong. He was cruel to lie to me in my weak position. He told me again. This time it was like a knife in my chest, just between the ribs, and it was twisting. The tears started burning, and I knew I was going to turn myself from ugly to hideous if I let the crying out. But I had no choice; he was still trying to convince me that he found me beautiful. It would have been okay if he told me I was beautiful on the inside but no, he meant the outside, and he was serious. Sobs came on full force and I wanted to scream.
If you’ve never had a lie exposed in yourself and had to fight it – let me tell you, those things do not go quietly… Letting go of this lie was painful. It felt wrong to believe what Jimmy was telling me… You see, what happened was that people started talking to me more, they started complimenting me more. I was told over and over and over again how pretty I was without make-up. Unprompted. Without agenda. And slowly, over a month’s time, the lie was being cut out of my heart.
By the time my month was over, I was a new creation. I looked in the mirror with gladness. I could accept my boyfriend’s affections without guilt or shame. On the day my fast was finished, I decided I wasn’t ready to put make-up back on. And for six months I didn’t. Only after I went through this fast did I feel truly beautiful for the first time in my post-childhood life. And only after this fast did I recover from my eating disorder of seven years.
It has been over seven years since my make-up fast. I am honest when I say that self-image is no longer a problem for me. I do wear make-up, but I have learned how to have a healthy relationship with make-up, and I know that it does not define me. I’ve had two babies in this time, gaining over 20kg with each pregnancy without batting an eye. I eat regular, healthy meals without worrying how it will affect my waistline. I am simply free from the bondage that food and self-image had imposed on me for so long…
Looking for more info on eating disorders? Read this woman’s story on what it’s really like to suffer with a binge-eating disorder.
Excerpted from Grief Diaries: Through The Eyes Of An Eating Disorder by Linda Cheldelin Fell.