Denim & Disordered Eating...

By Lucy Harbron - 20:06

I wonder how many changing rooms I’ve cried in, or how many women, in general, have cried in the Zara changing room I was in this afternoon, trying to do up the zip.

I’ve found myself in the worst position; I need new jeans. Just the thought makes me want to curl up and not step a toe into a shop but I’ve been doing that for a while. My trusty pair of black wide legs jeans have been serving me well. They came to me as if in a dream, fitting perfectly on the first attempt, something unheard of for a H&M pair. But now the frayed bottoms have started to actually be worthy of my grandad’s mocking, and the seams are fading to an unnerving grey as fibres cling on for dear life. It’s been nearly 2 years so I know it’s time to let them go but each time I pick up a new contender, I always find an excuse to abandon the mission.

It’s so common it’s almost a joke, a veiled self-deprecating one in my case as I try to laugh of the tears I shed in Topshop. But something about this situation, the feeling of the cold metal buttons digging into skin, the cling around my thighs, the jumping, the pulling, the lights beaming down, no. Jean shopping is one of the things that confront me, saying I’m still not quite okay about all this.
I’ve not really written much about disordered eating, finding it so tricky and far scarier than writing my numerous rambles about depression or anxiety. Maybe it’s because the stigma around those topics is loosening, while there still seems to be a very definite image of eating disorders, one that I thankfully don’t fit in. I’m also hugely aware of my privilege on the topic, I’m physically healthy, something which made all my therapy appointments drip with guilt, as I sat in the waiting room feeling like I didn't belong there, didn't deserve the support as I saw others around me fading and frail. I had to have it drilled into my head that I was worthy of help, my therapist told me over and over that eating disorders have very little to do with food. But each time she said the word disorder I felt myself pull back, knowing it was unhealthy to not eat but not realising the same toxicity in bullying myself over everything I did eat.

It’s sad how much of it all can be chalked up to societal pressures. In my 2nd year of uni when a doctor referred me to an eating disorder specialist, I was so confused. I thought all girls felt the same like it was just part of womanhood to fall victim to this. I thought it was normal to think about food all the time, to constantly be meticulously planning your next meal, considering the calories, plotting in workouts, needing to find a justification behind every mouthful because simply caring for myself felt lazy and not enough. I thought it was something everyone felt like we were all supposed to exist in flux between diet and binge, moving that line more and more as I started to consider eating a normal healthy meal as an act of unrestrained gluttony. Everything tasted guilty and I thought that was normal because I thought I had to be conscious of my body 24/7. It was wild to me to find out that wasn’t true, gazing mouth-open at my therapist the first time she told me that I didn’t have to be thinking about my appearance all the time.

It’s even sadder how many people will read that and see themselves. We’re a generation plagued by casual eating disorders, the first to be raised on easy-access celebrity culture like babies swaddled by family PCs and mobile phones. Images of these small-and-therefore-perfect bodies have been a constant, one of the few some people have probably had. You’re never too far away from an image of a model, from a shop that thinks all bodies are the same and a hipless size 6 is the only right way to do it. And few things make it clear that this mentality has stuck around than jean shopping. Few things will remind you that you’re recovering from disordered eating more than crying in a changing room, just trying to find some blue jeans.

Today I’ve tried on sizes 10, 12, 14 and 16 jeans, fitting into different sizes of different styles even within the same shop. I know I’m somewhere between a 10 and a 12, but even beyond that, I know the number of sizes really means nothing but somewhere around struggling into size 14 mom jeans I lost a couple of tears. Stood in the gross yellow overhead light, red from the retail heat, jeans stuck round your thighs is a quick way to slam yourself back down. Things have been difficult recently. January diet culture is overwhelming and everywhere and now lent discussions make restriction feel so normal, but I’ve been holding it down, meditating and holding my stomach like a loved one. But half an hour of trying to get my hips into jeans that reject them makes it all feel worthless. I curse myself for the breakfast I ate, obsessively retrace and pick apart the week’s dinners, vow to not eat another thing today, to work out, to start prioritising weight loss and stop being so lazy. I’d slipped and fall back into it all, all because of a £35 pair of jeans.

I tell myself it’s stupid but it’s not at all. I would never belittle the vocalisation of triggers and thoughts from someone with anorexia or bulimia, so why do I do it to myself?

While I’m healthy and having a lot of good days recently where I adore my body, shopping for jeans is always there to remind me that I struggle with disordered eating and I’m still in recovery. It would be all too easy to let it be, resign the voice in the back of my head to a permanent resident, accept that I’ll always be hyper-conscious. But then I start joining in the diet conversations, start beating myself up for not exercising, stop eating breakfast. It spirals because it’s unhealthy, and it’s best to tackle now rather than 3 miles deeper in the pit.

I’m now on hour 3 of writing this, feeling the familiar guilt creep in as I sit and write about eating disorders while eating cake. I’m still learning that this doesn’t counteract that. Eating doesn’t mean I don’t have an eating disorder and my tears over jeans don’t have to be laughed off as stupid because I’m still settling right in the middle of the average size. I’m still learning that, trying to remind myself daily. So I’m writing this to re-read, to say that we don’t have to accept that feeling crap about your body and obsessive over food is normal, because normality should be the glorious feeling of complete apathy at worst and total celebration at best. I’m writing this as a technique somewhere between procrastination and motivation, acknowledging that things have been really difficult recently but I will buy jeans, I ! Will ! Buy ! Jeans ! And I’ll feel great in them, and I won’t feel trapped in this gross sticky cycle of guilt and conflict forever, that is not a state any of us deserve to live in, shrugging off the damage as casual.

If you’re struggling at all, you deserve support. You are worthy of help so don’t feel guilty for talking to a professional, no matter what weight you are or how much you eat.

Now I’ve finished my cake, think I’ll go try again.

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