Despite my continuing attempts to clue myself up regarding the Universe and everything in it, I still manage to astound myself at my naivety. I suppose this sounds rather farcical. Why should this surprise me? Am I that conceited that I believe I can know everything? You will be pleased to hear that I am not that conceited. I am a firm proponent of the idea that with every new discovery we make our ignorance expand by a greater magnitude. Yet, I am astounded.
Up until about 6 months ago I always considered eating disorders as rather solitary illnesses. The struggle of the individual to overcome. Then I was introduced to thinspo. In case you have never heard of his term before, it is an abbreviation of the portmanteau thinsporation or thinspiration; I am sure you can work it out. I actually recollect hearing the term thinsporation a long, long time ago; I had no idea it had endured and evolved. Thinspo is now a shibboleth; a congregation. From my voyeuristic encounter it appears to consist of tips, stories, and pictures, which seem to act as active propaganda and complicit indoctrination by those that seek to be thin. Those engaged with thinspo also seem to be resigned to it. In spite of much of the content supporting body dysmorphia and the instigation and maintenance of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia (stylised ana and mia), it also seems to be a social network that heavily hints at a wide knowing sadness and a painful capitulation, which often results in solace and empathy.
There are little signs that those who achieve the dangerously low body fat, jutting rib cage, pronounced hip bones, and ‘thigh gap’ can sustain any happiness because of it. Many exhibit a strong contention against the judgement and prejudice of others based on how they look. This seems to be the dissonance that accompanies the dysmorphia. The general feeling is that most of the people engaging with pro-ana and thinspo are righteously and firmly opposed to prejudice and bigotry in any of its forms. Though it seems to be predominated by ‘westernised’ young white females, I have never seen any exhibition of racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, or much external sizeism for that matter; but a significant disconnect is obvious in that they all strive so hard in forcing a doctrine that prejudices themselves against themselves. I myself am not totally disconnected. I may be in my 30’s and male, but I have had my problems with food. I know what is to be painfully hungry and unable to eat. I know what it is to feel ashamed and detached from my body. I know what it is to want to look significantly different. I will admit that my hunger and inability to eat was derivative of a stomach ulcer. I will admit that my dysmorphia was derivative of long term use of prescription steroids in my early teens.
I suppose that warrants explanation. I started suffering paralyses due to a chemical imbalance in my brain and had to go on steroids. This resulted in me putting on tremendous amounts of weight. I went from being 8 stone, about 51 kilograms or 112 pounds, to 13 stone, about 83 kilograms or 182 pounds, in around 6 months. This coincided with puberty, which on its own was a pretty fuckin’ weird time. The result was I was a slim, energetic, and (if I do say so myself) attractive young boy trapped in, what can be regarded by capitalist lifestyle inspired doctrine, a fat, ugly body. I became aware just how ashamed I was of my body during a physical exercise lesson. I didn’t want to get changed in front of the other boys because I was fat; so I purposefully left my kit at home in the hope that I could sit out the lesson. I’d obviously done this once too often and my tutor, a sadistic meathead, decided I should do the lesson in my underwear. I’d stopped wearing a vest at this point and so was made to do the lesson bear chested and in my Y-fronts. I had moobs and rolls of fat that seemed to vibrate viciously round my body with every movement. I had done a pretty good job up to that point of disguising just how fat I had become. Stripped down to underpants, socks, and trainers it come as a comedic revelation to all the boys and, even worse, the girls in the class. They duly took the piss and compounded my self loathing. I was humiliated.
Even after I had left school there were men who regarded my man boobs as play things. Though, this was disguised as a craic, it was obvious to me these men got gratification from doing it. I became angry and violent, but that’s another story. I soon began to lose weight by driving myself into the ground loading and unloading lorries; purposefully doing more than my fair share. I refrained from eating during my lunch break. This unfortunately coincided with my development of a stomach ulcer. I soon started to get excruciating pain when I did eat. I was terribly hungry much of the time, but that paled in comparison to the gut wrenching of the ulcer. So, from being overweight due to a doctor’s prescription I worked myself down to a rake. I lost the moobs and had also lost my tolerance for piss-takers. At my worst, I was a grown 6ft man, but l only weighed 9 stone, 57 kilograms or 126 pounds. I was dangerously underweight. Put those figures into a BMI calculator.
I had become so mentally exhausted that I quit my job. The doctor prescribed me a heavy course of antibiotics and the nutritionist put me on an enriched liquid diet; mainly full fat milk mixed with dried milk, and the vitamin and calorie packed nourishment drinks they were giving to cancer patients around that time. After a couple of months I started to feel better, and more myself. The pain went, I was happier, I got my appetite back, and over the forthcoming years I ballooned to 15 stone, 95 kilograms or 210 pounds. Although, when I found out I was outside the weight parameters to do a parachute jump I decided I needed to lose weight. That, coupled later with falling in love, compelled me to start working out and adopting the French food-mindset, which basically is if I overindulge one day I do not indulge the next; which is not code for starve, just don’t eat shit and don’t eat too much. It’s not a hard and fast rule; more a guideline. The result is I’m now 12 and a half stone, about 80 kilograms or 175 pounds, with more muscle. I think I am doing okay.
I’m not sure what all this will tell you. I’m not into oneupmanship. I do not pretend to know what the people who are compelled to engage with thinspo and pro-ana content are going through. All I know is that being hungry is a terrible feeling, and dealing with body dysmorphia is really bad. I feel I can empathise on both these counts. Though, I was never diagnosed with any mental illness (I never sought any diagnosis), and I know that many of those who use thinspo, apart from esteem issues resulting from media and marketing, also suffer anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and many more that I am unable to recount or am even aware.
The emotional support and understanding permeating the thinspo/pro-ana phenomenon seems to be cathartic, wise, and a relief. The problem seems to be the detrimental practical advice that motivates towards deeper illness. Control seems to be both bane and blessing in this. It seems to all boil down to control and belonging. The techniques put forward actually give the individual a grotesque and tangible control over their thought processes with demonstrable effect in the external world and the shibboleth promises a relief from loneliness. That promise appears to be a lie, whilst the control is a validation. However, that control seems to come with the sacrifice of the self. The self seems to become defined by the control; and control seems to become defined by the illness.
I can not reiterate enough that I really do not know what the people I have alluded to in this post are going through day to day, week to week, hour to hour. All I will say is that I care. I am glad I never encountered anything like thinspo when I was a teenager, as I feel I may have succumbed to the allure, and become ill and (more) persistently neurotic because of it. I am open to all comment and criticism. I profess to know nothing, and welcome enlightenment and contention. Every human is beautiful. Every human deserves happiness and freedom from oppression.