Dinner, circa 2007.
Starting a blog is always odd. I suspected this one would evolve to include personal experiences, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. It took 4 years for my previous blog to figure out what exactly it was and while this one is certainly not yet with it’s own perpetuating, internal language, I can see it beginning.
Posting the paper about Betty Draper’s disordered eating has been a wonderful experience. Friends have sought me out to discuss it specifically, and numerous bloggers focusing on eating disorders have supported and appreciated the work. This means quite a lot to me.
For over a decade, my own eating disorders were one subject I never, ever broached — at first because they were so ingrained that I couldn’t even recognize the behavior as disordered, and later, because I didn’t want anything to threaten it, which awareness does. If I could no longer feign ignorance, I would have no excuse. But in many ways, the eating disorder was the only thing I had in my life that was entirely mine; my body never was, nor were my emotions, reality, or experience. What I learned is that in hallmark behaviors, my eating disorder was born of exactly the same matter as those of Franz Kafka, Mollie Fancher, Sarah Jacob, and even fictional character Betty Draper.
For many years I was thriving, as much as one can, with extremely disordered eating. It didn’t hurt that the damage it does to the brain was (as it always is), for a while, conducive to creativity; I wrote and wrote tremendously and made art and projects and encountered the world in that hyper-alienated and technicolor way that denial of nourishment conjures. Kafka talks about this. And Louise Glück, and Eavan Boland, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion… there’s a lot of company.
Poetry and disordered eating, especially anorexia and bulimia, have a lot in common. Poetry is often about a distillation process: a chiseling and narrowing over and over, down to what is most necessary — of what is the absolute least amount required for the poem to still keep standing, and how the writer can create maximum emotional choreography with the very fewest materials. Poetry is often about denial, and hyper-precision.
Eating disorders are always a balancing act, about hiding in plain sight until the most severe degrees. Though, we can see each other. We understand the trips to the bathroom, presence of Lanugo, breath mints, fresh lip gloss, the smoke and mirrors around eating, mania and rituals around working out, rituals around food, even (and especially) when the disordered person themselves can’t see it. It’s a proficiency I honed while working in high end restaurants where I also learned tips and tricks by watching others. What was very easy for myself and other employees to see, was behavior that was otherwise invisible to said guest’s company.
As early as 6 years ago, I was still mired in eating disorders, but for some reason my husband (then, a friend) saw it quickly. Behaviors I had put in place years earlier were blatant to this person I barely knew. In tender chiding one night while we were dating, he made me a plate for dinner: a bit of steamed spinach and one peanut. It was a joke, but he was also letting me know, nicely, that he could see what I was doing. I remember looking at that plate and thinking, “…that’s too much spinach…” I know exactly what I weighed at that time too… how that whole cycle goes. It was right before I banned scales from my home for good.
To do work that contributes to the dialog around disordered eating, its roots and reasons and extreme dangers and harm, is work I feel honored to do. I hope to continue it.