photo by Ashley Armitage
Stomach rolls exist. Off the corner of my mouth, the words sounded ugly. That’s how the media portrays imperfections to us—stomach rolls, wedgies, stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, and pores must all be erased, flattened, blurred.
When I was sixteen I thought that thigh gaps and hip bones were some of my most sacred possessions. Every now and then I would stand in front of a mirror and stare at that tiny crack between my thighs.
In my first year of college, I spent a semester in a digital tools class fixing up flawed imperfections on the faces and bodies of people who to me seemed perfect. It’s one thing editing your pictures, your so-called imperfections. But it’s a whole different experience clicking and distorting somebody’s waist in a photograph. At that point, I realized that the majority of glossy images on magazine covers aren’t a raw depiction of the human body. I completed all of my assignments and even got an A in that class, but what I really learned wasn’t exactly what the instructor was trying to teach. I suddenly understood that most commercial fashion magazines aren’t trying to reflect life, but rather, are selling a polished dream and the idea of escapism. ‘Beauty,’ a word which is religiously repeated throughout magazine titles and articles, felt ugly.
When did I realize stomach rolls exist? They don’t show them on the internet, not in those plastic, commercialized images of toothpick-legged models with bouncy platinum hair. I don’t see them as I mindlessly scroll through my Instagram feed, thumb flushing up and down in a repetitive motion. Where are the stomach rolls?
I know I have them—not all the time, but whenever I bend down to cuff my jeans or slouch a little too much while sitting with my legs crossed. The monster in my stomach has pushed them out. He pushes them so that they both can coexist.
Personifying something makes it easier to live with and speak to, almost like a friend, I guess. Some people personify their eating disorder, calling it Ana (short for anorexia). Two years ago I saw a film about eating disorders. It’s the story of a young girl who stumbles upon an online forum on which anorexics post thinspiration and secret tips and tricks on how to get smaller. To be honest, I only watched the movie because I wanted to see this girl shrink. I wanted to know how far I could go without dying. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to take up less space. And I despised him, the monster in my stomach.
Serving size 1 oz (28g/About 15 chips)
Calories 160 - Calories from fat 90
Total fat 10g - 16% daily value
Fat was the ugly word, and I liked things beautiful. He agreed. Every time I read the nutrition label, he squinched my stomach a little more. “Have it,” he said. “Just have it and starve later.”
Eventually I became quite fond of him residing there. I liked to feel as if I was never alone. Most nights he would twirl my stomach, aching for sugar. “I’m not hungry,” I said.
“But I am.” His words were compelling, as if they were my true thoughts. Like a thief, I tiptoed down to the kitchen, opened the fridge’s door, and stood there. “What are you waiting for?” he nudged.
“There’s nothing here that I want to eat,” I replied after a while.
“Get the chocolate.” he said.
“I don’t even like chocolate.” My eyes were fixated on the gold foil-wrapped box of chocolate at the top level of the fridge.
“I know,” he said as I grabbed the box and shut the light off.
I don’t deprive myself of desserts and fatty food—I just would rather have fruit and eat healthily. But it’s true that I don’t like the taste of chocolate. I don’t crave it, and I wouldn’t even buy it at the grocery store. Especially those that were prettily wrapped in fancy foil. But my monster is quite manipulative, and that night I finished the entire box in an hour.
Of course the morning after followed with 30 minutes in the bathroom, getting on and off the toilet thinking, The longer I stay in here the easier it would be to rid of what I binged. That didn’t work. I have never struggled with bulimia because I’m terrified of vomiting. But starving to me felt feasible. My mouth repeatedly whispered, “I’m not eating today, I’m not going to eat, I’m not eating today.” For some reason, I believed by not eating an entire day, I would lose a pound. I had done it before, it worked. But I gained two pounds the following day. Water weight, I thought.
Growing up with an eating disorder, I became familiar with weight divided by height divided by height. It took a few Google searches to find the average BMIs of devastatingly beautiful models like Kate Moss, who was my body inspiration. Although I rarely measured myself, stepping onto a scale every morning was a ritual. I didn’t realize it was an obsession because I always told myself it was important to keep track of my weight, to make sure I wasn’t going to be fat again. I was convinced it wasn’t an obsession until one family vacation when my sister found out that I was trying to fit the scale into our shared suitcase. I’m quite confident she has always known about my eating disorder, but perhaps she thought it was really difficult to confront me about. I didn’t try to justify what I was doing to her; I knew she was aware I weighed myself unclothed every morning at 9 AM.
It took a long time until I could call my monster an eating disorder. For a long time, it was easier treating him as another person residing inside of me. The first step to recovery was to accept him as who he is, not a version of who I am but a resident in my head. But it’s hard to completely let him go. I know he doesn’t belong there, but how could I get rid of something that had been an integral part of myself?
It all began with beautiful edited pictures of standards I now know don’t exist. I stopped allowing those images to circulate my mind. And unfollowing accounts that only promote bodies sizes 0 to 6 helped me feel more grounded in reality. Our phone cameras, after all, can sometimes be too critical of our supposed imperfections. Emma Mercury wrote in one of her blog posts on "The Messy Heads," “What looks good on camera: contour, lips, eyes, hair that way, powder face, nose and lips fixed, looks so off in person. Maybe we should change our cameras instead of our bodies.”
We do want the best for ourselves, but sometimes the available options seem rather incompetent. What has helped me stop my ED from consuming my life and mentality is finding other aspects of life to focus on. I found other things about myself to take care of and work hard on; I found long-lasting love from family and friends who have helped me validate my love for myself. I don’t believe in the too-good-to-be-true idea of getting rid of an eating disorder, though, because mental illnesses can’t just be wiped off like a stain.
My first step to recovery was finding what defines me better than my physical appearance. I realized that when I was uncertain about my self-worth, it was easy to fall into the void of self-doubt and self-consciousness. In social situations, people are primarily concerned with their own appearance and actions; thus, we’re often less judged by others than we actually believe. In addition to becoming less self-conscious, I began exploring my personality. I found that I really appreciate my compassion for other people and the animals; I like myself for my ability to create meaningful connections with others and the comfort that I bring to people around me. By focusing on having a good heart rather than a beautiful appearance, I started finding it harder to dislike myself due to the beauty which radiates from within. Eventually, I stopped thinking that I needed to fit into size 0 jeans to be deserving of beauty.
My final step, something that I am still working on, is focusing on different ways that I can love myself. Loving yourself isn’t a one-step process. It’s a consistent effort of trial and error—again, nothing can be perfect. I explored my different interests and took pride in my creativity, my eagerness to create and influence changes. I converted from vegetarianism to veganism, and I tried to learn about the world through film, people’s stories, traveling, and making new friends. As I begin to cultivate more meaning in my life, I stop thinking about the monster who once existed in my head. Through my photography and poetry, I convince myself that I am unleashing beauty into the world. And when you believe you’re a creator of beauty, it’s strange to believe ugliness exists within yourself.
Yeah, stomach rolls exist. But they’re not ugly.