Sunday, November 25, 2012

Body Talk: Eating Disorders

This week, the theme of Body Talk is Eating Disorders. I've solicited stories from friends, family, and acquaintances for this very important post. I was completely surprised by the number of responses I received, and those are just from people willing to share. I grossly underestimated the pervasiveness of these dangerous habits.

If you struggle with anorexia, bulimia, compulsive eating, or EDNOS, please know that you are not alone. That is the ultimate purpose of sharing these stories.


My Story, or, The Story of How This Little Girl Learned to Hate Her Body

This is so hard to write.

Food used to not be a problem. As a little kid, I loved to eat. Baked chicken, Nutella sandwiches, and slanac (Croatian salty melted cheese dripped on bread) were my favorite foods. I ate until I was full, and then ran around and played until I was hungry again. This changed when I went into eighth grade and started another new school.

In eighth grade, for the first time, I hung out with the cool girls. But I constantly felt like I wasn't really supposed to be friends with them. After all, boys were crazy about my friends, but not me. I deduced that it was because there was absolutely nothing interesting or special about me. I decided that my special thing would be that I would skinny. Really skinny.

I stopped eating. When I would finally eat, I would have a couple bites and quickly purge. I made myself do ridiculous exercises. The last week of eighth grade was meant to be a week of pool parties and fun, but instead I starved until I passed out. My friends begged me to eat, and I prided myself on my refusal skills. When I fit into a pair of size 0 Hollister shorts for the last dance of the school year, I felt like I was the epitome of success. I wore a tube top that kept slipping off of me. At 104 pounds, I felt beautiful.

But I was still the last girl asked to slow dance. And the boy I was crazy about didn't even dance with me. Was all my work for nothing?

That summer, I stayed with my grandparents in the States. Without contact with my friends, the urgency of the competition faded. I ate regularly again, and I gained some weight back. I developed a healthier mindset, and I made some new friends when school resumed in the fall. I thought I kicked my eating disorder's butt.

And I had. For a while.

Another move after 9th grade shook up my confidence. I was home alone during the day in the summer while my dad was at work and my mom and brother were in the States. I spent hours looking at thinspiration and exercising to prepare for a new school. I decided I would embrace the role of Skinny Girl again. My dad gave me a gym membership as a gift, and I took classes and worked out as often as I could. I started throwing up and starving again to give myself an edge. A very sharp edge.

I finally told my dad about my problem after a work out. I was very closed to fainting, and I was emotionally and physically drained. I told him that I had been throwing up, and he hugged me while I cried.

Even with the support of my family, I struggled to heal. I would binge secretly at night and purge when no one was home. I continued to look at thinspiration for hours. I couldn't eat in front of people. I was caught up in a cycle of awful habits.

After moving again, I got real help. I started going to therapy regularly, and medication helped with my obsessive thoughts. I learned that I cannot look at thinspiration, even for a few minutes. I still relapse occasionally, but I'm reaching a point where hurting myself through restriction of food no longer seems like a reasonable option.

Today, I eat for myself. I eat for my parents. I eat for my boyfriend, my brother, my Nanna, my cousins, and my aunts and uncles. I eat to be a good example, and I eat to be strong and healthy.


Getting pulled under is effortless. Picking up your sick and broken body is the painful part. Infinite thoughts race through your mind like lightning bolts recklessly colliding in a merciless storm, telling you that this is all wrong: You don’t deserve this. You’re repulsive. You don’t need to do this. Your life depends on this addiction; and when your life has wasted away to aching moments on your bathroom floor and clawing out your own throat to take away the guilt, the thought of pulling yourself out of the toilet long enough to get better seems disgustingly dismal. But, that’s bulimia.
Minutes morph into hours as you sit lifeless in front of the toilet, a portal promising a better life where being thin and under control is possible. After the heaping mass of bile and undigested food comes surging back up for the first time, that’s when the game gets easy. It gets easier to hate yourself, torture yourself. It gets easier to believe, that yes, you fat nothing, you do deserve this.
I spent two and a half years of my life chasing after a demon that would never love me. But gradually, I began to turn around and run in the other direction. On my way back through the ruins, I read Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted: a Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. One passage will stay with me forever because of its truth and candor: “to know what you are doing is hurting you, maybe killing you, and to be afraid of that fact—but to cling to the idea that this will save you.” She materialized my nightmares into words I could have never dreamed of putting together. She made sense of the impossible and irrational. Marya Hornbacher made bulimia something I could beat.
 And beat it I did. But just because I was no longer battling bulimia doesn’t mean that it didn’t lurk in the shadows of my mind watching me take on newer, stronger demons. A proud coach. As sick as it sounds, I owe something to that disease. It did what no motivational speaker, no therapist, no treatment program could ever do; it taught me that the only person who truly had the power to save me was me. I took to heart the importance and necessity of a positive body image and self-esteem because I lacked both for so long. I had to fight for myself, and in order to do so, I had to start believing I was worth fighting for. I had to come to terms with my body each time I passed a mirror or put food in my mouth. Becoming an acquaintance of each bulge, friend of each inch, and lover of every curve was no easy task. But I’ve come out triumphant, and for that I congratulate myself. I can be proof to young girls that yes, bulimia is beatable. More importantly, I’m starting to feel good about myself again, something that I never thought I could do. I truly feel beautiful.


Whatever doctors call ‘overweight,’ I'm positive I was never.
Growing up I always felt substantially stronger (weighing 140 pounds at age 15) and taller (5 feet 6 inches) than most of the children around me. Most would enjoy this stature- I hated it. I was constantly -obsessively - noticing and envying people with slimmer physiques.

I decided to change my body at age 15, I was going to be thin (you know, like the fashion models). Whether my decision was influenced by the celebrity idolizing culture of America or by the people around me- I'm not sure. I started losing weight by exercising and dieting; and was overall miserable because I had no idea how to healthily achieve my goal. I was aware of the "calories in then calories out" diets. I was researching how many calories were in a tic tac and how many sit ups it would take to burn said tic tac. I started at 140 pounds and dropped 20 pounds in a little less than a month. Great success story, right? Most people would put that on a commercial for an weight-loss program.
However, after a month of losing weight I couldn't stop. Initially it felt euphoric buying smaller sizes of clothes, having others notice my success, looking in the mirror and smiling - but then it spiraled out of my control. I wasn't eating enough calories to maintain my weight and would have influxes where my weight would spike from binging. I would punish myself by starving and/or purging, disregarding exercise because my energy was diminished. I wanted to step on the scale and be a pound lighter than the last time I checked (and I would check that scale every four hours).

Since I started 'dieting' I have been hospitalized three times. The hospitalizations were not exclusively because my weight tumbled to 108 pounds- but because of my mental state and other self-inflicted health problems. I was anxious and depressed; I wasn't a fashion model, I wasn't slim or confident. I was frail, sick, and completely miserable- I couldn't even wear the 'cute' clothes that I loss weight to fit into.

My life hit a turning point, around age 20-21, when I realized that: "You are what you eat" is such a practical precept. If I eat nothing, I will be nothing. Lack of nutrients will deteriorate my mind and soul! I did not want to fall apart anymore for my own well-being and for the people I cared about. I gained weight (I've maintained 115 pounds for over a year) and eliminated the unhealthy habits (starving, binging and purging).

The unfortunate part of my circumstance is that I still have trouble labeling myself as "anorexic" or a "recovered bulimic" because it is now an engrained part of my lifestyle/eating habits. I developed a system of eating, after hours of research on nutrition and maintenance for the human body, where I eat 300 calories every three hours. Additionally each of my meals only consist of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins (oils and fats included). The meal plan is tedious and requires an enormous amount of self-control. Some people are very disenchanted by how regimented my diet is. I still count calories and reject desserts- most people brush me off as a 'health nut', which is substantially better than 'sick'. To eradicate my obsessive compulsive weighing I no longer own a scale and I am only evaluated by my doctor. I can assertively say I am now happier, healthier, and have energy to experience life rather than the weight of it.


Is it any surprise that so many people suffer when we are being bombarded with conflicting messages on a daily basis? I saw this at the supermarket while in Pittsburgh.


It wasn't about being thin; it was about being in control. I hated feeling. Every thread of anxiety, every pang of fear - they made me weak. It didn't count as crying, I rationalized when my eyes watered from another lunch spent with my head hanging over the toilet bowl. After a trying day, a binge would comfort me and punish me with every swallow. Throwing up made me feel clean, in a way. Like I could be cold and calculating and have it be a good thing. I didn't stop until blood tainted the half dozen donuts I'd shoved down after failing a math test, and even then it took months of slip-ups and bad days for it to sink in: I need to let myself cry sometimes. Because I can't live the rest of my life stealing into bathrooms, hoping no one's watching for scabbed knuckles and watering eyes.


Since the 6th grade I have suffered from anorexia. It started when I got my first boyfriend and I refused to eat lunch and it all went downhill from there. It started so I would only eat dinner, then dinner became smaller and smaller until I barely ate enough to survive. 7th grade my parents started to notice and make me eat, which is when I turned bulimic. Then switching between anorexia and bulimia for about a year and a half when I was sent to a mental hospital for you guess it, eating disorders, cutting, extremely high anxiety, attempted suicide, and extreme depression. Since then, I have been better, but I am still struggling with the above. Anorexia was my first step in the door of crazy mental chaos.

I've had an eating disorder for about 7 years now. It all began when I was in middle school, about 7th grade. A good friend of mine and I didn't realize what we were doing was bad for us, but we'd essentially starve ourselves all week and then treat ourselves on the weekends with whatever we wanted. I danced, sometimes seven days a week, played lacross, got nothing but straight As. When I got to high school I ended up quitting dance for a social life, and my eating disorder subsequently went into hiding for most of high school. I simply ate more. But the problem with eating disorders is they are almost impossible to overcome on your own. As soon as I left high school, thrown into the world of work and college and a long distance eating disorder "came back" so to speak. This past summer...this past summer I had absolutely no life. I lost all ambition. I lost my inspiration. For some reason, I could only focus on losing weight. And I did. In less than a year I dropped 30 pounds. What else did I lose? Almost everything, it seemed. I couldn't do art. All my friendships were strained. If I consumed anything at all, I would go and work out or take laxatives or plan to fast the following day. And why? I'm still not sure. I'm still in a constant struggle with this. But there are support groups in the area for this, which is beneficial to many people. Not really myself, though. If I try to talk about my eating disorder much, I end up clamming up. All I try to do now that has helped me is focus on the future, which is bright and wonderful. And focus on the only thing I love, love, love (that isn't a human) photography. It makes me happy and it makes me feel good. Eating disorders are terrible awful creatures that take away all the thoughts that behoove you and replace them with ones that destroy you from the inside out. Sad, but so true.

(from a shared journal)
"I only want to feel special, loved, and beautiful. What is wrong with me? Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I look so sad. I am a victim of myself. But also, I want to tell somebody that I don't want to eat. I want help. But I also want them to tell me to, and I say no. I want them to fight for it. And fight for me."
"I just thought to myself that I might go back to not eating, no one would see me everyday and **** wouldn't be able to do anything about it. I acknowledge that it's not a healthy way to deal with my feelings, and I don't want to go back to that. But I feel so ashamed sometimes. And it can be a long lasting shame too, it doesn't always go away easily. I just don't know what to do."
"Well. I am better. And even if I fall and stumble a little, I know it will get better. Cause you are surrounded by love. All the love in the world. Why worry about trivial things? You know better. You don't have to go back. And you shouldn't. Why would you? You don't need to. Look around you. So many angels, human and energy. You are never isolated and alone."


As usual, you are invited to share your own story in the comments.  I hope you find strength in reading and sharing. You are beautiful.

I would forget that I am I
and break the heavy chain that binds me fast
whose links about myself my deeds have cast
- San Tayana


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm on The Militant Baker Today!

Hi everyone!

I am over the moon right now. I am so close to squealing like a Spice Girl.

 Jes from The Militant Baker has republished a post I wrote for Body Talk! I really admire Jes and the type of empowering content she chooses to publish.
Working with her to edit my writing was an incredible experience. She offered guidance in a very genuine, kind way, and she helped me enhance my work. I am very grateful.

To read the post on her blog featuring my writing, please click the link below:

If you are coming to my blog from The Militant Baker, welcome!

My name is Jenna, and The Awkward Indie Girl is a place where I share my outfits, day-to-day activities, inspiration, scanned vintage photographs, photography, and most recently, my personal journey towards accepting my body.

Here are some recent posts you might enjoy reading:

Thank you for visiting, and I hope you'll stay!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Body Talk: The Skin You're In

Today's segment of the Body Talk series is about something that we all deal with, but no one wants to talk about: skin and all of its problems. 

I have problem skin, but it was at its worst when I was in 10th grade. My mom and I went to Paris, and I never put up any of the pictures because I was so embarrassed by how my skin looked. I wore a ton of make-up, which only gave me the Jersey Shore effect and some spotty coverage. Looking at the picture below now, I can say that my skin wasn't that bad, but it used to make me burst into tears. 

Waking up in the morning with a fresh, angry break-out can still put me in a bad mood, but it no longer makes me doubt the quality of my personality. A zit doesn't stop me from talking to someone. I put on a little concealer and go about my day.

If you haven't guessed, my skin is very sensitive. I've managed to find two products that work well for me: 

I think there's no point in just covering up the problem; you should treat it, too. The Neutrogena product is better if I have a large area to cover, and the Almay one works great when there are just a couple of trouble spots. When I have an skincare emergency, I dab on a little Benzoyl Peroxide Gel from Walgreens. That will zap my zit, but it really irritates my skin (which is why I use it so sparingly).

Sometimes cosmetics aren't enough, and that's when you can get a dermatologist involved. I've used Finacea and Differin, which were both prescribed to me, and I had medium results. If topical creams don't work for you, you can also try a birth control pill specially designed to help your skin out. Going on the pill is what it took for me to get my skin at a level I can comfortably manage. 

In drastic cases, you may decide to take a more aggressive position against your acne. I was actually preparing to go on Accutane (why I started the birth control pill), but it turned out I didn't need it. When it comes to your skin, it's your call. Waking up and feeling good about your face is important. It's up to you to decide how much time and money you want to invest.

I also wanted to touch on some of the products I use to clean my skin. 
3) Sephora skin scrubber 

The little pink skin scrubber is what I use to apply both of the products. I got it at Sephora for $1, and it was one of the best dollars I've ever spent. When I'm done using it, I always clean it with hot water and soap (just to make sure it doesn't turn into a bacteria breeding-ground). I use both of these products in the shower. As a word of advice, when you get out of the shower, do not judge your skin. It will look redder than it ever would normally. Just put on some lotion, and chill out. Then come back a few minutes later and do any touching up that you want to do.

Here's a picture of me today without make-up or any editing. As you can see, I do not have prefect skin because everybody breaks out. You, me, Jessica Alba, and that really cute guy in your math class.

Forgive your skin, and cut yourself a break.
To be cliche, it's underneath that matters anyway.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Body Talk: Secrets

I'm starting a new series on The Awkward Indie Girl Blog called "Body Talk." Every Sunday, I'll be posting about body acceptance or a related topic. Today's topic is secrets.
Everyone has secrets about their body, and it's time to end the secrecy and shame. I'm starting by posting five of the secrets I've kept about my own body. My hope is that by reading these, you feel like you're not alone. We all have downright weird thoughts about our bodies, but that doesn't mean you're the only one who is having them. If you like, feel free to post your own body secrets, even anonymously.

I haven't been able to go into a changing room at a mall or department store without crying for almost two years.

This is why I primarily shop at thrift stores and consignment shops (that, and the more reasonable prices). For some reason, at a thrift store, if something doesn't fit me just right, I don't take it personally. I blame the clothes. But at a store in the mall, I blame myself when a pair of skinny jeans is just plain unflattering. Trying on clothes is a sure way to put me in an awful mood.

Putting on a bathing suit is one of the most embarrassing experiences I can think of.

I dread swimsuit season. I just don't like feeling so exposed! I don't romp around in my underwear, so why would I do it in a bathing suit? I've gotten much better at setting aside feelings of mortification in recent years, but it's still a struggle. I've found a couple great tankinis and one-pieces that make me more comfortable, even if I do end up looking like I feel out of Lands' End catalogue. Sufficient coverage is a sure way to boost confidence.

I have a tummy.

Yup, no washboard abs here. Not even a hint of definition. Today, I'm okay with that, but other days I'm not. Acceptance is a slow process, but it's an important one. Sure, I could get rid of my tummy if I exercised more frequently and cut back on calorie consumption, but having a flat stomach is not a priority right now. I'm not ruling it out for a future goal though :)

Sometimes I get caught up on the size of the clothing, not the fit.

I have left a great outfit at the store because I was ashamed of the size on the tags. Conversely, I've brought home clothing that is the size I want to be, not the size I actually am. It's a tough habit to break, especially when you're shopping in the women's department, not the juniors'. I'm trying harder to focus on how clothing looks on and makes me feel, while focusing less on the numbers. Every store has different sizing, anyway! It's a cruel game to play with yourself, and it's one I need to stop.

I love the freckle on my left shoulder.

Loving a part of our body shouldn't be a secret! But for some reason, when we take pride in one of features, we feel ashamed. Loving something superficial about yourself does not make you superficial; it makes you human. It's not petty or self-obsessed to think there is something pretty about you, even if that thing is so small as a freckle.

So those are my secrets. I feel better already :)

Please remember you are welcome to share your own!