BY KATE FARRELL
There was a bin in our ward, it was tucked right under the phone booth (yes, those exist still) and looked innocent enough, but I made a deliberate point to avoid it whenever I went down that hallway. It was a topic that came up in some of our skills groups, but I never thought that it was significant to me. Clothing and your eating disorder; the relationship. What clothing you keep that keeps you sick, what clothing you avoid because it doesn’t fit your eating disorder persona.
For many people, thinking that something as “shallow” as fashion has a huge impact in the recovery of an eating disorder is unthinkable. And it doesn’t help that eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, are already so misunderstood. One thing you need to understand to know why that bin was so intimidating is this; eating disorders completely take over your identity. So when I went into inpatient treatment in Guelph to fight my five year battle with anorexia, I was at a crossroads. I wanted to be free from the eating disorder that ruined relationships, took away countless birthdays, dinners out, travels, time at school etc. But it was also the way I knew how to live, and the only sense of identity I had.
Style/fashion and eating disorders are rarely heard in the same sentence (unless you are talking about the stereotype of the starving supermodel). When I was sick with my eating disorder, my sense of style and sense of self was taken over by my disorder. I didn’t like wearing jeans, the idea of something tight and form-fitting released all my insecurities. I struggled with over exercise as well, so running shoes and athletic wear was my go-to attire. Anything baggy was good, and wearing something nice, or investing in an expensive piece of jewelry, was something that I had to “earn”.
Style goes beyond a piece of fabric you put on in the morning. No matter if you spend ten minutes or one hour getting ready, you still make a conscious choice of what to put on your body, how you want to present yourself to the world. Your entire persona can be conveyed by your outfit. With anorexia though, you have no identity of your own because you are completely consumed by your “sick” identity. A huge part of the recovery process is finding out who you are (because the disease isn’t awful enough already you’re forced to repeat that tragic mid-teen existential phase that may or may not have included bright yellow hoodies and colour coordinated braces).
Putting on a pair of jeans, going to a store to actually buy something nice for yourself – in recovery, these signify the fact that you are actually proud of your body again. Taking time to craft your style in recovery can be an insanely powerful tool in reclaiming who you are separate from that, excuse my French, bitch of a disorder. That bin in rehab was in the back of my mind as I tried on a skirt that I got at a point I was extremely sick. The top button didn’t do up anymore; for a split second, I was about to keep it, in case I ever fit into it again. Tempting as the eating disorder was to my brain if I kept the skirt it just meant that I was still holding on to the chance of going back to my eating disorder, back to my “sick” self; the self where I was isolated, lonely, and miserable. I walked out of my room, threw the skirt in the bin, and put on something else in an instant.
Fighting against my eating disorder is a constant battle in my life today, my style is reflective of that battle. Baggy clothing helps hide the insecurity, whereas bold choices represent the days I feel more confident. I’m still fighting. And a huge sense of pride was throwing out that item of clothing that I associated with my “sick” self. It reminds me that in that moment, I took a conscious step towards recovery. I didn’t want to have a piece of clothing to “go back to” when I was done recovery, because going back to that size would mean going back to my eating disorder. And I’m ready for next season.