In 2010 I self-published my book Being Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa and used the featured image in this post as my book cover. I received a lot of different feedback from people asking why I chose this image as my cover. Some felt it was too provocative, too sexy, not sick enough to portray an anorexic body. Some thought the body looked really healthy and well and “normal”. (Yes, I was a raver in the late nineties hence the luminous green lycra tights!)
The truth is that this image is a self-portrait that I shot in the mirror at the acme of my anorexia when I was not well at all. In fact I weighed thirty-five pounds less than I do now at a normal, healthy weight. I was out of my mind, out of control and starving. I was fit for one thing only—an inpatient treatment for eating disorders but that wasn’t my path. The thing is that photography is deceptive. It’s dangerous to believe everything you see.
But there is meaning behind why I chose this image for my original cover, which is more important than how it ‘looks’ and many readers “got” that I chose it because it symbolized something deeper. Interestingly some of these impressions came from older men who read the book. A seventy-something friend of my father’s who read my book and found it chilling—he said it read like a thriller—said, in a thick French accent that he hated the cover. I asked him why and he said it felt insulting. Like the girl on the cover (me) was saying “fuck you” to the world. I told him she/I was. That’s a huge part of anorexia’s purpose; it’s there to serve as armor, to “protect” you so that the world can’t hurt you. My uncle, a writer too, in his late fifties, said it reminded of the term “navel-gazing”:
: useless or excessive self-contemplation
I love that! Superficially, that’s exactly what anorexia is in a nutshell. You literally gaze at your navel, your stomach, your seat of self—the solar plexus—in useless or excessive self-contemplation. Anorexia is a very egotistical disorder. It’s all about the sufferer and the sufferer’s suffering. There is no room for anything else in the sufferer’s life.
What I love about this image, and what is so sad about it is that the area from my stomach to my knees was all that I cared about for the decade of my anorexia. Nothing else. It was my sole focus. It was everything. My days revolved entirely around restricting food to ensure that my flesh did not expand, my body did not get bigger and that my stomach and thighs remained the same or smaller, leaner, slimmer, thinner. Most importantly, I inspected the gap between my thighs daily, throughout the day, to make sure it hadn’t grown. That was the marker of my success. The gap between my thighs.
Of course anyone who knows anything about anorexia will know that this is merely the superficial manifestation of an extremely complex psychological disorder that in fact has little to do with weight or food and is really about an attempt to control or alleviate psychic and emotional pain that is overwhelming. But to an anorexic stuck in the spiraling mental torture of this disorder, all she knows is that what is important to her is that the gap between her thighs stays small. It’s a very sad way to live because nothing else feels important. Nothing. For me, it was as though my entire world view was my torso and thighs and all my attention and energy was focused on the space, the gap between my thighs.
Now my world is so much bigger than that. I’m a mother. I’m a writer. I’m a published author. I’m a partner. A friend. A colleague. A yogi. My world is huge. It’s bigger than I could ever have dreamed. I have healthy connections with amazing people in my life. I’m part of conscious and uplifting communities that I contribute to in many ways. I’m creative as a copywriter in my job and as a writer/author rebirthing my book with She Writes Press in July. I never ever thought I’d reach this point when I can truly say I am in love with my life. It’s an amazing feeling. And I wish this sense of liberation on anyone who is suffering the soul confining and emotionally suffocating effects of an eating disorder. Please know that your life can be so much bigger than the gap between your thighs. You’ve just got to want it.
Comment below and let me know what you think! Do you relate to this navel-gazing symbolism? Do you know someone whose life is so small but is too afraid to let it be big?