Feminine stereotypes? Forget it. I cut my hair short three years ago and I’ve never looked back. I get more angry at the team playing against my college football boys than most of my male friends. And, as I’ve written about before, I hate shopping.
That’s not strictly true, of course: I enjoy shopping for shoes and tee-shirts. Things you don’t need to try on. Things that always look good and come in a variety of colors and patterns. That’s fun.
But every time I decide I need a new pair of pants, everything gets unnecessarily complicated. And I remember that recovery is a process, not a destination.
Obviously, there was a small event that sparked the need to write a post about this, and that small event happens to be back-to-school shopping. I’ll be starting my last year of college in about two weeks, and it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of one of the last times my parents will be willing to take me to the mall and get me a few new things to wear. After all, my Ramen-noodles-and-Goodwill budget days are just on the horizon.
As far as I’ve come in recovery, there are still some things that are incredibly difficult for me. Going up a size or two in clothes is one of those.
Now, I can rationalize my way through my discomfort until the cows come home. I can say that sizes across stores are not consistent, that size isn’t important and it’s how much healthier I am now that matters. I can remember how much I liked that pair of jeans I tried on twenty minutes ago, and how comfortable I was in them. And yet, when I hit that moment that the jeans in the size I thought I was no longer go over my thighs, I still get that sinking feeling in my stomach.
Why is this my particular issue? I don’t know, but every time I have to go to the mall, I notice that my thoughts become more negative, and my behaviors inch closer and closer to what could be considered a relapse. I want to be able to fit into the clothes I used to wear, though I know that there’s nothing wrong with my body the way it is now.
There are plenty of things to be learned from this pattern, but I’m going to focus on two of them here that might be useful to people other than myself. Meaning I’ll let slide the fact that I should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 for the sake of my sanity.
First, the fashion industry is not designed to bolster positive self-esteem.
This is as depressing as it is readily apparent. The media has recently bedeviled stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and, more recently, LuluLemon, that deliberately exclude what they call “plus-size” women and what logic and rational thinking call “the average-sized American woman.” Runway models are being recruited at eating disorder clinics. Fashion magazine editors are airbrushing out hipbones and ribcages on their models, leaving us with impossibly thin women with the consequences of extreme thinness erased with Photoshop. Sizes across stores are not consistent, and so it’s almost a given that you will go up three sizes just by crossing to the other side of the mall.
All this is to say that it’s not surprising that shopping might make somebody feel bad about themselves.
It doesn’t justify the practice, nor does it mean that looking for jeans is invariably a death sentence to your self-esteem. For me, it sometimes helps to realize that the problems I’m having are not because I’m crazy, but because there’s something endemic, something inherently twisted about the system. I’m not giving myself a free pass to mope, but I don’t need to blame myself for it.
Second, and I’ve said this before, recovery is a process, not an end point.
It’s more frustrating than usual that shopping can still get under my skin like this, because I really thought that I was doing well in recovery. I am able to go several days without worrying about my weight or beating myself up, and while my weight is still not quite as stable as I might like, it’s certainly better than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.
It’s been a year since I actively began recovering from anorexia. I’ve marked September 1st on my calendar as my one-year anniversary, and I intend on celebrating in some random and exciting way. I’ve made a lot of progress. And while I do believe that full and total recovery from any eating disorder is 110% possible, it’s not the kind of thing that can be done by snapping your fingers and wishing it away.
Recovery takes work. It takes slip-ups. It takes realizing what pushes you over the edge and figuring out ways to face it head-on.
My head-space is still healing from yesterday, but I know that I need to find a way to look at shopping in a new light. I need to find a way to sit with the discomfort I have with my new body, and hopefully in time embrace the way I look and feel.
I still feel like I’m living through a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at the moment. My mind has been moved into a body that I don’t know how to manipulate. It’s like puberty all over again, and heaven knows puberty was awkward enough the first time around.
Recovery isn’t hopeless, and mental doubt and difficulty is not a prison sentence.
It just means that the road is always more winding and complicated than we want it to be.
But every road has to end somewhere.