Romanticizing Anorexia

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CW: self harm, eating disorders

You know the girl: waifish, pale, delicate. Her shoulder blades stick out like wings and her skin is papery thin. There’s something dark in her, something romantic, something to be protected. She wastes away in front of you and you can’t save her, but you know you must. She draws you in, beautiful and broken and lost. She has those big eyes, that long hair, the neediness, the depth. She seems to be in touch with something more real than the rest of us, as if she’s being drawn into another reality and we can’t follow.

Thin scars stripe her skin where she watched the blood paint pictures on her body, tell her story. She’s made of glass, but she bleeds. The pale skin, the dark red blood, a beautiful image that reminds us even death can stir our souls. Day after day she strives for perfection. Nothing ever seems to break in her. She holds the weight of her brilliance, of her deep compassion, of her need to please. She is always moving, always doing, always creating, always perfecting.

You know the girl: the anorexic.

Only you don’t. Because what they don’t tell you is the rest of the story. They don’t tell you about the night you couldn’t find your razor and so you went searching for a dull kitchen knife instead, and without the sharp edges all you got was a few measly scratches. Romantic my ass, those moments are pathetic.

They don’t tell you about the bizarre heart palpitations that come and go (but usually come when a doctor’s not around because bodies love nothing more than to gaslight) and the fact that it HURTS. They don’t tell you about the days you sit in bed and wonder whether you have the energy to walk to class or not, how you have to stop on the stairs halfway up and sit, your chest heaving, how your friends start to drop away because it sounds too exhausting to go out, to get coffee, to see them.

They don’t tell you about the insomnia, and I promise you insomnia is not romantic. They don’t tell you about lying in bed and staring at the wall or the ceiling and then at the clock and then at the ceiling for hours of sheer emptiness. You turn over. Your mind wanders. You turn over. You wonder if you’ll ever sleep. You turn on the light and wonder how you’ll make it through tomorrow. Definitely what everyone wants to be doing.

They don’t tell you about how stupid you feel when you look back on the fights you had with your parents and your friends and your therapist and realize that nothing you said made sense. They don’t tell you about the intense anger and self-righteousness based on the pointless ideal of “skinny” that pulls apart all your relationships and leaves you spending your Friday night sitting alone in your room crying. Again. So sexy.

And they certainly don’t tell you what kinds of people that “romantic anorexia” attracts: the ones who want to save you, the ones who “get” you, the ones who are willing to sit through your depressed tirades. Oddly enough, these are not often the people you want to be attracting. Oddly enough, the ones who understand what you’re feeling are rarely there to help.

I won’t deny that there are moments when you’re lost in the dark places of your head that you’re convinced you’ve seen through the facade of the world and your martyrdom will provide salvation. I won’t deny that there are moments when your friends come rushing to help you and you know deep in your bones that the only reason they keep showing is because of guilt; if you stopped being sick everyone would leave. I won’t deny that there’s a draw and a pull to the starvation.

But it’s empty. It looks romantic, but there is no substance. It’s cotton candy philosophy; you think you’ve ingested soul food, but it’s just air. There is no deep fulfillment hidden behind the starvation, no amazing insight. There’s nothing wrong with spending time trying to understand the draw, with explaining why you did the things you did (because most people just can’t understand), but we can’t forget what the starvation days look like when you’re coming from the perspective of a full stomach and a clear head: they look flat out stupid.

Of course there are some good physiological reasons people restrict and it works as a coping mechanism for a while, but the mystique of it all is as empty as the idealized anorexic girl that lives in your head.There is a romance to it, but it’s the same romance we’ve developed for vampires: a bit silly and wholly unrealistic.

It’s time to pull back the romanticized veil of anorexia and speak honestly. No more pictures of big, meaningful eyes, no more “powerful” pictures of mirrors and scales, no more tell-alls about how much weight she lost and how the modeling industry kept asking for more. Honesty.