I won’t comment on the propensity of us to use social media (let’s say Facebook for brevity) for validation, to manipulate our self-esteem, or to lurk behind the veil of anonymity and say what’s in the darkest pockets of our mind. We all know that. We know what we’re doing when we hit “like” or whatever emoji is most appropriate now. We know what we’re doing when we post filtered selfies, perhaps the twelfth one we took, the one that makes our cheekbones look best. We all know this.
But, still, no matter our age, our race or ethnicity, our background or any perceived level of success we’ve received, it can smack us down when someone—maybe someone we barely know or have never met at all—decides to pass judgment. Even one word can gouge into us like blackberry brambles, leaving us with a bloody mess to clean up for ourselves.
Why do we post our bodies, offer them up for judgment, when we know what the results might be?
Maybe the chance of an ego stroke is worth it.
Doughnuts with ED
Before sharing this particular incident, I’m happy to point out that, yes, I’ve been called sensitive before. That I need to “thicken my skin” (that particular remark was made by my freshly minted new college boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s mother when he “surprised” me by taking me to their house on Thanksgiving and I was visibly uncomfortable with it). I grab onto the bad stuff, smell it, and roll it over and over in my hands until it’s a gleaming, smooth polish. But I’m not going to delve into the whole labeling game and claim that I’m a “highly sensitive person” excuse. Which is, I’ve seen, “a thing” now. It’s just how I am. Some people who know me, to varying degrees, realize this. Although I’ve become very good over the decades at acting immune and indifferent (my natural resting bitch face helped immensely with this).
I don’t know if this particular person—let’s call him Conner—knew it. We were acquaintances in college, but I don’t think I ever spoke to him one on one. Getting drunk in the general vicinity of one another fifteen years ago is more than a strong enough rope to tie us together on Facebook though.
We all know a Conner. Highly social, embodies the kind of “school spirit” that has him plastering photos of college mascots decades later, and has always done well with women. In all these years of “Facebook friendship,” I don’t think he ever liked or commented on any of my posts or photos. Until he did.
I was in the deepest recesses of my eating disorder (ED), largely cut off from any social circles at all. That’s how it goes. It’s tough to be social when almost every social situation revolves around food. When you can’t eat, there’s not much you can do.
But every six weeks, planned down to the minute, was a binge day. And by binge, I mean eating like a normal person on holiday. Doughnuts were my favorite.
Proof of Life
A lot of people have heard of the Instagram trend “You did not eat that.” It gathers photos of skinny women (almost purely women) eating so-called “junk food” with the claim of “You did not eat that.” I’m certainly not saying any of these women have an eating disorder. Plus, Instagramming photos of food is far from a unique trend. However, it seems the idea that skinny women who eat must be faking it. Or have an eating disorder.
I don’t really know why I documented the food I ate when I was at my worst. It certainly wasn’t all I documented or even the majority. I’d never been accused of being someone who over-posts about restaurant dishes. I don’t think I was trying to “show off” that I was so incredibly thin that half my hair had fallen out, my always low blood pressure was steadily creeping into dangerous territory, or that my bad cholesterol was raging (all common signs of anorexia) but goddamnit look, I can still eat a doughnut! I think I was just trying to cling to the few brief seconds of joy when I allowed myself to eat—which was, of course, always followed by weeks of intense guilt and exercise-induced bulimia.
It was a photo of me holding up a doughnut. I was wearing a baseball cap because it’s incredibly shameful when a woman loses her hair. And I think I looked happy.
I was surprised when I got the little red notification “Conner has commented on your photo.” Maybe he particularly liked the place where I got the doughnut? But the comment simply said, “Better lay off the doughnuts! Lol.”
I was almost five-foot-seven and barely over 100 pounds. I had so little fat on me that my heart was consuming itself. You don’t just lose fat with severe restriction, you lose muscle—and the heart is a big, important muscle. I had so little fat on me that my body couldn’t keep itself warm. I sprouted lanugo, a type of peach fuzz fur, on my face in my body’s last desperate attempt at temperature regulation. Of course, I threaded that off. And I was being told by someone I barely knew, by a man, that I better be careful. God forbid I get “so big” that I’d have to start wearing adult women’s size 0. As it was, I was wearing kids sizes because that’s all that fit, though sometimes I could find a size 00 that didn’t hang off me.
And all this? How strikingly thin I was that my waist looked truly like an ants’? It was very evident in my Facebook photos during that period. Not that it mattered. Not that it would have mattered if it was “very evident” that I was a so-called normal size, overweight, or obese.
Do we sign on for judgment when we post on social media?
The Next Case
I highly doubt Conner gave that comment a second thought. Although I did lay into him, hard, in a scathing response. I don’t recall what I said exactly, but it included something along the lines of, “When a woman of my height and weight is being told to ‘lay off the doughnuts,’ what does that mean for women of a more normal weight?” He never responded.
I also highly doubt that he realized what an impact those words had on me. That was about two years ago now, and they have become a permanent part of my memories, buried in my hippocampus. They become part of the drywall for my ED. And I hate that a person I barely knew has power over me. That I gave him such power over me.
But our personalities and eating disorder alike, they don’t always follow common sense. They’re largely beasts that roam and do as they please. And just like any wild animal has natural preferences, how some raccoons like the neighbor’s trashcan better while others prefer to perch on plum trees sucking on natural fruit flesh, it’s innate and honed over our lifetime. Our personalities and eating disorders often react like animals. It’s just that now, with social media, they’re given a bigger and much more public stage.
Our actions, when we respond (and sometimes just as importantly don’t) on social media, can make a huge impact. And we probably don’t even know it—unless, of course, it’s happening to us.
(Photo is personal)