My boyfriend and I used to engage in a conversation in which he always presumed the role of 'Devil's Avocado'.
It happened when I would position myself on the defence of a non-diet lifestyle or argue that diets for weight loss are painful, violent, more than likely to fail and not an ethical action to promote. Y'know, my normal shtick. And even though I thought my argument was compelling and evidence-rich and just good common sense, it still didn't resonate with him. He would still argue that it wasn't 'healthy' to eat 'xyz' food everyday or that dieting wasn't harmful or that it's possible to live a normal life and still avoid all carbohydrates six days a week. And bless him, love me as much as he does and supportive as he is and as engaged and intelligent as I know him to be, I think that for a long time, he just didn't get what had happened to me. I don't think a lot of people did. I was told I 'wasn't that bad' or that I looked great or lead a 'balanced life'. I wasn't ever skeletal. I wasn't ever clinically diagnosed. I engaged in behaviours that are praised and have hashtags dedicated to them. I did it. I lost the weight. I ate 'clean'. I had a toned stomach. I worked out 5 times a week. My body fat percentage was in the 'athletic' range. I was 'healthy'. And why should we question systems and regimes and beliefs that make girls like me 'healthy'?
Except I wasn't healthy.
Not at all.
I was obsessive and paranoid and undernourished and overexercised and I didn't have a period for over two years and that phase of my life left scarring psychological and biological damage enough to strip me of time, money, energy and the ability to have a child.
And so one day, after another terse discussion or comment that I felt was reductive, I put my experience, and what I think is the experience of many people, into a different perspective. And I think it hit home. I put it a little something like this:
Take any of your biological drives: to sleep, to drink water, to urinate, whatever, something that your body gives you distinct signals on in the hopes that you react to the need accordingly. So take the drive, and imagine that you have been fighting against it, ignoring it, acting against your physiology since you were a child; since you were 13, 14, 15, all the way through into your twenties. And you do so because there has always been a niggling feeling at the back of your mind that you aren't good enough because this one biological drive has made you look different to your friends, to your siblings, to the people you see on TV and in magazines. And so you try to fight against that drive. You go up and down, both on the scale and in skirt size, but also in self-esteem and confidence. You are praised when you fight against the drive, when you deny yourself, when you hurt yourself, when you beat yourself up. And in return, the culture tells you that when you submit, understandably to the biological drive, you by implication fail. You aren't as worthy. You don't get praise.
So you keep going. You keep fighting against the drive. And one year, when you feel a little sad and lost, this fight takes hold. It gives you something to do, something to dedicate time and money and energy and headspace to. The praise that you aren't able to give yourself, the praise that doesn't come from a fulfilling job or a direction in life, comes from your success in fighting against your body's needs. Well done you. You fought another day. You ignored your body's signals. You triumphed in ignoring your biological drive. You won.
But the fight is not without its negative consequence. You don't have time for anything else. You spend a lot of time plotting about how best to fight against the drive; how to improve your defence, how to reembark on an attack should you submit to the need. It's a constant worry. And the niggling though that started this whole thing off, that you weren't good enough because you couldn't fight against the drive as well as you thought everyone else was, that never goes away, no matter how much praise you get. The thoughts stay with you to this day. It causes deep psychological damage.
And more so than that, it causes biological damage. It is painful. Your hair falls out. Your body stops trusting you. It stops sending vital signals. It shuts down systems that aren't vital to survival. (In my case, my period stopped for over two years: my body couldn't rely on me to feed it and rest it properly that it would allow me to carry a baby). When I was younger, it was my dream to be married at 21 and have a baby at 22. I have always wanted to be a mum. Obviously that isn't the case now because I like expensive brunches and my Dad still pays my phone bill, but if circumstances were different and I did want a child last year, I couldn't. Because of the fight against my body.
And so knowing what I know happened to me, and knowing what happens to thousands of men and women like me, when anyone tries to defend this fight against the drive, saying it was ethical, nay necessary for diets and restriction and weight loss purely for aesthetic satisfaction, to defend that some cases aren't serious enough, that restricting whole food groups without reason is normal, that tracking calories is natural, my drive to fight is a little different.