I took some time to decide whether to share my thoughts, but after clicking onto You Tube this morning, and seeing yet another video – I had to write this.
One of the main reasons I created Jiggsy, was because when I came back from treatment in the US, I had spent 7 months learning, exploring and discovering ‘me.’ Me without my eating disorder, as my only map of who I was. Before I went, I was ‘Laura, with anorexia,’ ‘Laura, the sick one,’ ‘Laura, the one that needs looking after.’ My eating disorder went on for so long, that myself and everyone around me had forgotten who I was without anorexia. Recovery has helped me to grow as a person. I now know what I like, and what I don’t like. I know how to feel my feelings and sit with them, no matter how painful they are. I know what it is like to experience happiness, anger, sadness…sometimes all at once.
When I came back from the US I was frustrated with social media, and the numbers of people documenting their recovery, exclusively in relation to their physical appearance. I was disheartened that all I found was transformation pictures, before and after pictures, images of what someone had eaten, what they were going to eat, or what they wanted to eat. Where were the stories about how their life had changed, how they had grown, what they had learnt – everything that went beyond the physical appearance? Creating Jiggsy was about building a community where others could share all the things about them from the inside out.
So, where am I going with this? You Tube has bred another whole kind of platform for people to share about their recovery. For the most part I think this it is a great place for people to engage, take inspiration and motivation from others, but…and it’s a BIG but…it’s also become a place where someone’s recovery, is now their new identity. ‘What I eat in a day,’ ‘instagram controls what I eat,’ ‘my sister chooses my food today,’ ‘my biggest challenge yet,’ ‘I eat fried food for one whole day.’ I could go on, but these are just a few of the video titles I have come across recently.
Even though my relationship with food took over my life and normalising my eating was essential, food was never the real problem. Whether an eating disorder begins as a way to lose weight or be healthier (which mine never was), it quickly becomes much more. It was my way to cope with a whole catalogue of feelings and emotions, that I didn’t have the tools to deal with. This is why I find these videos so limiting. The authors rarely ever talk about the deeper, more complex reasons as to why their relationship to a particular food is relevant to their life in the bigger picture. The comments that their subscribers post underneath the video are also interesting to read. When I clicked on the latest video by one very popular Vlogger, there was a consistent theme to the comments…
- “How did you eat that, I would be so scared,”
- “There was so much sugar in that,”
- “Omg, how did you manage cookie and milkshake that’s amazing!!”
- “Seeing how beautiful your body is, even after you’ve actually eaten, gives me hope that I’m not going to eat and suddenly gain 10000lbs.”
I could go on, but the last one sums up a lot for me. The comment is directly related to weight and body shape. How about what else is going on in her world? What else has recovery given her other than a plate of fried food? What is she feeling beyond the surface?
When you have an eating disorder, life is so heavily focused on food; everything I did or didn’t do was based on what or when I would eat. Recovery has therefore given me a new way of living, where food is not the only thing that is in my life. These videos are also misleading and potentially harmful to viewers recovering from an eating disorder. Why, because…
- Everybody’s nutritional needs are different.
- Every BODY is different.
- We all have different food preferences.
- We all move/exercise differently.
- No single day is the same as the one before or the one to come.
- There is NO ONE BODY that is exactly the same!
But more than that, these videos are just creating another identity for the person. Instead of getting attention because they are ill, they are getting attention and validation for what meal plan they choose that day. I appreciate that for some people these kind of videos are interesting, but is it perhaps not just a kind of voyeurism? Part of my recovery was about learning not to compare myself to others in ANY capacity. When I did, it only led to feeling guilty, shameful and not good enough. Gazing at a tanned girl with never ending legs, who is seemingly eating pizza and doughnuts all day, or the fitness ‘model’ who is a fruitarian with glowing skin, never worked out too well for me. It is the same as any kind of social media ‘filter,’ you are only seeing a snippet of their life…who knows what they do the rest of the time when you are not watching.
I have never and will never share what I eat in a day, because thank goodness my life does not revolve around food anymore. I am too busy getting on with life to document everything I am eating. I also feel a certain sense of responsibility as a mental health advocate, to avoid creating another space where food holds so much power for someone. Recovery from an eating disorder is about freedom from food, but also freedom in life and all that comes with it. These are the stories and experiences that are most valuable, and the ones that I hope others will begin to share more of.