Originally published September 19, 2016 - RayBan.Com
Courage isn’t just about having the guts to jump out of a plane, get on stage, or down on one knee. Being courageous is owning that moment and accepting yourself for who you are, warts and all.
Remember learning to ride a bike? The fear when you thought you could fall, and then that feeling when you didn’t? Yeah. That. Over the next six months, discover six courageous acts on Ray-Ban.com that inspire and encourage all kinds of courage. It’s easy enough to coast through life without breaking a sweat, but deep down we know that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
This one we can all relate to. How many times have we leapt, most of us fell, but a few lucky ones were caught somewhere on the way down, or found wings just before hitting the ground. The point is, taking that step off the cliff takes a lot of courage, and to be honest, I'm afraid I might be losing that impulse. Pain is an excellent teacher, and I'm a straight A student. This might be one of the hardest things for me to do as of late, leap in the name of love, when it's very easy to hold back and play safe. Listen up Kenny, #ItTakesCourage
This one I think comes easiest to me. Ambition is part of my core DNA, and I recognize that hard work is the only way to achieve these massive dreams. I applied for that school and got it, wanted New York and did it. Push is what I do best. But sometimes we all go through a slump where it's hard to get or stay motivated, when it's just easier to stay in bed, or not go to that audition, or apply for that job, or pitch that story. Here's where you have to look yourself in the mirror and say WE GOT THIS! But you already know, #ItTakesCourage
Mmmm, yes indeed. I'm familiar.
In the spring of 2006, at the age of 14, I invited bulimia to come live with me. She never moved out. Sometimes I tuck her deep in my closet, behind forgotten dresses and old shoes. Then one day, I’ll come across her – as if by accident – and experience genuine surprise that she remains with me. Other times, for a few days or perhaps a week or month, she’ll emerge from that closet to sleep at my side, closer than a sister or lover would.
This is our story. #ItTakesCourage
'We’ll have one of everything on this half of the menu'
Selwyn is in town.
Like a good friend, he honors his promise to my mother to check in on me every time he visits New York from Cape Town. This usually includes a dinner, a show and a brunch or two, and anyone who knows Selwyn knows meal times are occasions. I didn’t eat today especially.
'Bring the King Crab last.'
He’s ordered 13 different dishes and there are only 5 of us at the table. A glass of champagne to start, and at least a bottle each of premium Sake -for those of us who aren’t with child- and the night has officially begun. I smile tentatively at my glass in an attempt to conceal the shame of my excitement; ‘I’ll just have a bite of everything, nothing more’, I tell myself, ‘the bill is surely the price of my obscene Manhattan rental cost, it would be rude not to.’
I wore high-waisted trousers to hide the inevitable bulge in my belly that would surface after the fourth dish arrived at the table. Family style of course; we share a tasting culture.
The wildflower tempura is exquisite and the trio of spring roll is changing my life. ‘I have no more room’, I think to myself, tipsy from the Sake burning in my cheeks. ‘Have another glass, it will be easier that way.’
I grab a crab leg and pick the meat out with a fork delicate enough for a princess, but with the enthusiasm of Attila The Hun. I grimace as the last bite pushes back against my waist belt. That’s my cue. I excuse myself from the table and take my drink with me to the bathroom. This is a fine establishment, there is music in the restroom, and the attendant is a comfortable distance from the stalls. I lock myself into one and put my glass up on the ledge lined with incense and Peonies, squat over the bowl in my 5 inch stilettos, and use my index finger to press down on the back of my tongue. I’ve been drinking, so the reflex comes easy.
Heave, one, two, three, victory. Second set; heave one, two, victory. It gets easier every time. 3 sets as standard, another two for surety. I begin to cough and I know I’m done. I spit, stand up, flush, and escape the cubicle to wash my hands. I look up at myself in the mirror while the hot water washes away my guilt. My eyes are watering and my make up a little smudged; I wipe the watery smudges under my lashes and catch a lithely blonde looking at me knowingly. She probably thinks I was sniffing cocaine in there, and some how I’m comforted by that thought. ‘You’re ridiculous’, I think to myself, ‘are you listening to yourself?’
I take a sip of water, rinse out my mouth and spit it out; I know better than to wear lipstick to dinner, this isn't my first rodeo. I take a gulp of my cocktail and adjust my waist belt. I’m ready. I smile at the attendant and all but skip back to the table like a pageant queen; serene.
‘At least you got to taste everything, and no one suspects a thing.’
They've ordered dessert. I bite my inner cheek to keep from crying.
I am 23 years old.
'Bulimia nervosa,' according to Goldbloom et al. (1992, 171), 'is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating and various attempts to counteract the effect of ingested calories.' Counteractions may include vomiting, dieting, exercise, and the use of diuretics and laxatives (see Tobin, Johnson, and Dennis 1992).
More young women engage in bulimic behaviors – and more often – than ever before (Rosenweig and Spruill 1987). It is estimated that 46% of adolescent American girls have binged, and over 11% have purged at least once (Crowther, Post, and Zaynor 1985). By the time they reach college, 10% will fit the criteria for bulimia (Gray and Ford 1985).
Though the term bulimia (literally meaning 'ox hunger') has been used for centuries (Parry-Jones and Parry-Jones, 1991), the medical community considered it a sub syndrome of Anorexia until 1979 (Russell 1979). Since then, it has been extensively studied as a separate 'disorder'. Most research on bulimia has been conducted by physicians and therapists. Here is their story.
Physicians and therapists focus mainly on medical and psychological aspects of bulimia. The bulimic's home environment, psychological traits, behavioral tendencies, physical health, and treatment options have been thoroughly discusses in the literature.
Many studies suggest that an 'unhealthy' home predisposes one to bulimia. Researchers believe that circumstances such as abuse (Pitts and Waller, 1993), high parental conflict (Lacy, Coker, and Birtchnell, 1986), and alcohol misuse (Chandy et al. 1995) occur more frequently in bulimics’ families than in families of non-bulimics.
In addition to common environmental factors, therapists indicate that bulimic share psychological characteristics. Those mentioned most often include: body dissatisfaction (Thompson, Berg and Shatford, 1987), low self-esteem (Pertschuk et al. 1989), self-directed hostility (Armstrong and Roth 2989). Some research even links bulimia to depression (Greenberg 1986) and borderline personality disorder (Skodol et al. 1993).
Therapists also associate bulimia with certain behavioral tendencies. They suggest that bulimics demonstrate overall impulsivity (Heilbrun and Bloomfield 1986) and perfectionism (Thompson et al. 1987) as well as problems with drinking (Striegel-Moore and Huydc 1993) and drugs (Bulik et al. 1992).
Physicians claim that bulimia threatens physical health. They connect binging and purging to insufficient levels of vitamins (Philip et al. 1988), enamel erosion (Philip et al. 1991), migraine headaches (Brewerton and George 1993), bowel disorders (Neil 1989), frontal lobe lesions (Erb et al. 1989), heart failure (Kohn 1987), and even death (Neil 1980).
In the medical and psychological literature on bulimia, the voices of physicians and therapists speak. First they tell me about my 'troubled childhood.'
‘Wait a minute’ I say. ‘I grew up in a (mostly) stable and loving home (we moved countries a lot).’ Then they tell me about my ‘psychological and behavioral problems.’
‘But I’m a functioning, well-adjusted adult,’ I insist.
I want their story to help me understand my participation in the dark secret world of bulimia. But it doesn’t. According to the story they tell, I have no reason (indeed no RIGHT) to be bulimic. But I am, and I know I’m not alone.
For almost a decade, I have moved through this covert culture of young women, and I can take you there.
I enter the upstairs bathroom and flick on the light. The door closes behind me, and I turn to push the lock.
I slide the digital scale back from the pale blue-papered wall. Stepping on, I watch the glowing number roll. I imagine myself to be a contestant on The Price Is Right. Today, the ‘big wheel’ stops on…35. ‘That can’t be right,’ I think to myself as I step off.
‘I’d like to sin again, Bob,’ I say to my imaginary host.
Once more, the whirling digits come to rest at 35kgs. I kick off my sandals – no change. I shed my long sleeved t-shirt – nope. My skinny jeans and underwear – still 35. I dress quickly and bolt out of the bathroom.
‘Toasted cheese and tomato soup okay for lunch?’ my mother asks as I pass her in the hall.
‘I don’t want any lunch, Mom,’ I say, scuttling out the back door. I run laps around the house until I can no longer breathe.
I am 9 years old.
‘You have cellulite,’ Juliette tells me.
‘What?’ I ask, trying to negotiate last year’s bathing suit over my hips.
‘Cell-yoo-lite,’ she repeats.
‘Those fatty dimples on the back of your legs.’
‘Where?’ I ask, turning my butt toward the mirror.
‘There,’ Juliette says, pointing.
‘I don’t see anything.’
‘Look, she orders, moving me closer to the mirror. ‘See how your skin back here is bumpy.’
‘That’s cellulite,’ Juliette says.
‘Yuck. What can I do?’
‘Diet and exercise,’ she suggests. ‘For now, you might want to wear a towel around your waist.’
‘Yeah. I wouldn’t want anyone else to see my cellulite.’
‘My mom says it makes a woman’s thighs look like cottage cheese,’ Juliette tells me.
‘But I’m not a woman yet.’
I am 12 years old.
A Symbolic Purge
I read these stories aloud and feel conflicted. As a feminist, I’m embarrassed by the amount of attention I’ve paid to my body. As a daughter, I worry that these revelations will hurt my parents. As a scholar, I’m concerned that fellow academics will dismiss my work as self-absorbed.
One after the other, over and over, I take these in. I swallow the words and feel them waddle down my throat. More voices, new doubts, I ingest them all.
At last, my stomach tumbles and churns, twisting, sloshing. In a mass eruption, the words rush out of my mouth – a symbolic purge. On the page, my insides lay bare for everyone to read. Perhaps I should be ashamed, but somehow, I feel only relief.
The First Time
I kneel in front of the toilet bowl, afraid yet strangely fascinated. As I stare at my rippling reflection in the pool of Sanifush-bue water, my thoughts turn to an article in the latest Teen Magazine about a young woman who induced vomiting to control her weight. It sounds repulsive in light of my experiences with the flu and hangover. Still I want to try it, to see if I can do it.
I place a shaking index finger of my right hand to the back of my throat. I hold it there for five seconds, but nothing happens. I push it down further. Still nothing. Further. Nothing. Frustrated, I move it around in a circular motion. At last, I feel my stomach contract, and this encourages me to continue. Just then, I gag loudly. Sshhh. I keep pushing. Victory.
I am 14 years old.
My cheek presses against his chest. His breathing shifts over from consciousness to sleep.
Do it Kenny, don’t wait.
‘Wenzi?’ my strained voice calls out.
'I have to tell you something.’
Probably not a good opening line.
‘What’s wrong kid?’ he asks.
‘I know I should have told you this years ago, and I hope you wont be upset that I didn’t.’ Deep breath. Swallow.
It’s okay, you’re doing fine.
‘What is it?’ he asks, more insistent this time.
Loooong pause. ‘Kenny, what is it?’
He’s getting nervous, spit it out.
‘Oh, god, babe. I don’t…I…shit!’
You’ve come too far. Don’t fall apart. Just say it, Kenny. Say the words.
‘To one degree or another…I have been..Bulimic…
Fuck, I hate the sound of that word.
…Since I was 14.’
It’s out. You said it.
He pulls me in closer and I feel myself begin to suffocate under his grip. ‘Who knows about this?’
‘A few old friends from back in London, and a few we went to school with.’
Oh god. Here we go.
‘No…I haven’t told them.’
‘Jesus,’ he says.
‘Well how bad is it now?’
‘It has been much worse.’
‘That’s not what I asked.’
‘It’s not that bad. It's not so much about food anymore, it's about control.’
‘But you're so beautiful. You must know what it does to your body.’
‘I’m really glad you told me, I wish you hadn’t kept it in,’ he says as I start to cry.
‘I love you, Kenny. Tell me how I can help you. Please.’
You just did.
He pulls me closer, holds me tighter, and strokes my hair and back until I fall asleep.
I am 19 years old.
If this were a medical or psychological report, this section would contain the author’s definitive conclusions aimed at explaining, predicting, and controlling bulimia. If it were a TV drama, the ‘cured’ protagonist would be moving on to a normal life. But this is my story, and it is a story without a resolution. Unlike popular culture depictions, mine isn’t a tale of fighting my eating disorder, overcoming it, and living happily, healthily ever after. Bulimia is not a one-time battle I have won; it is an ongoing struggle with food, body, self and meaning.
It may frustrate some that I close without revealing ‘what it all means.’ But as Robert Coles (1989, 47) tells us, ‘ the beauty of a good story is it’s openness- the way you or I or anyone reading it can take it in and use it for ourselves.’
At the same time, I purposefully told my story this way. I wrote a sensual text to pull you away from the abstractions and categories that fill traditional research on eating disorders and into the experience (Parry 1991, 42), to help you engage how bulimia feels. I interjected with experiences I had as a reader of my own work, to show you that I continue to ‘experience the experiences’ (Ellis and Bochner 1992) in new and different ways.
This chronology does not offer a tidy conclusion that I know most of you want. But it does suggest movement toward a new and better place, a place of self-acceptance and empowerment. I suppose my ‘narrative challenge’ (Bochner 1994, 31) will be to live more fully as the kind of character I become at the end of my story.
For a long time I couldn’t understand why ‘someone like me’ – bright, educated, feminist – would do something like purge. I have since looked long and hard at the family and cultural stories that surround(ed) me. In the context of those stories – stories that teach all of us to relate pathologically to food and to our bodies, stories told and repeated at home, at school, and in the media – bulimia no longer seems an illogical ‘choice.’
Often, I’ll admit, the personal and professional risks of writing about myself in this way have overwhelmed me. Did I really want you to know this? What would you think of my work? How would you feel about me?
Still, I knew I had something to say that wasn’t being said. I knew I could show you in detail. And I wanted you to know.
Perhaps you already knew; if so, I offer this account as comfort and companionship. If you didn’t, I offer it as instruction. I hope that my lived experience helps maintain a critical attitude toward many of our culture’s stories of body and food, and helps create new and better stories that direct us toward healthier bodies and more contented hearts.
This is my story of the pursuit of perfection. Thank you Ray-Ban for giving me the room to speak. You can check out some more stories - I promise most of them less macabre than mine - here.