When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.
— Yogi Ramacharaka
My body and I have had a turbulent relationship.
Some of my earliest memories are of racing through the fragrant pine forest behind my house, crawling through the underbrush to scout the best site for the girls’ tree fort. We played tomboy games of escape in the summer twilight. I reveled in movement. I enjoyed my body with the enthusiasm of discovery and the pride of ownership. But somewhere along the line that early joy was squelched. A dissonance grew between what I saw as the realities of my female physical body, the changing emotional needs of my heart, and the thoughts and beliefs of my teenage mind.
I was in an early wave of the generation that Mary Pipher, PhD, describes so well in her book Reviving Ophelia. Girls who experienced a disconnect from themselves as they came of age. As I grew through adolescence I lost track of those things I loved, including my passions for physicality, art, and nature. I focused instead on being what others (my classmates, boys, and the evermore ubiquitous media) seemed to want and expected. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s watching media images of beauty grow super thin, culminating in Twiggy and heroin chic. Oh, the titillating shock of extreme thinness! And I liked it. And I could do it. Almost. The only problem was that a full social life required eating, and lots of it. So many thin girls seemed able to eat cheeseburgers, fries, Cokes, and never gain weight. It just didn’t add up.
I remember my freshman biology teacher introducing the idea of women who vomited after gorging on junk food. The women who did this were presented as selfish, crazy, and bad Christians, but a seed was sewn in my mind. Though it was “bad,” here was an easy solution to an impossible problem. So I began to experiment. And it worked. At first, purging was an occasional way to deal with high-calorie social situations. But it kept expanding. It made me feel more in control, even though a world of deceit and secrecy was wrapped around it and I often felt physically lousy because of it. It became a larger and larger part of my life. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had a full-blown eating disorder. While I eventually got the guidance and support I needed to end the destructive cycle, disordered eating and its emotional paradigm haunt me to this day. Certainly the consumer culture and media obsession with super-thinness haven’t changed. The unhealthy trends that promote eating more and faster and doing more in less time haven’t changed. But who I am and how I care for myself have.