CW: Eating Disorders
Alright folks, here it is. In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I’d like to share my story about taking up space.
Before we get started, some things to know…
- Things that will not be in this story: numbers, pictures, or neat and tidy bows. The first two elements are unhelpful and the last is just not possible.
- Things that will be in this story: snark, empathy, and my very best attempts at honesty.
Here we go…
I struggled with disordered eating from around age 16 to age 22.
This isn’t meant to be a grand reveal. My guess is many of you super sleuth-y sleuthers were able to guess that’s where this blog was going from the content warning at the top. Y’all get five gold stars.
It isn’t a secret–and it’s not something I’m ashamed of. In fact, I think it’s important that people speak out about mental health struggles they’ve had in order to lessen the stigmas surrounding them. That said, it’s something I’ve never written about publicly because, frankly, it’s pretty boring to me.
Much as I wish I could write a story with all the drama of a Degrassi very special episode, the years I spent not eating were incredibly boring.
Many elements of the story are incredibly cliched and familiar: straight-A student goes to school for musical theatre and restricts eating to conform to industry standards.
If you’ve ever watched a TV series set in a high school, you know where this goes.
She wastes away, there’s a dramatic intervention with lots of crying and shouting, she wakes up in a hospital bed, someone holds her hand, she swears she’s going to fight this, we roll credits, there’s a quick PSA with the actor after the episode with a hot-line your can call, and she’s recovered by the next episode.
Tidy, right? Nice dramatic structure. Pretty engaging.
Not how it happened for me.
For me is was more like:
Girl stops eating. Girl loses some weight, but not enough to look concerning. People close to Girl keep telling her how good she looks. Girl loses her period and is cold all the time. Girl decides to talk to male endocrinologist, who tells Girl he doubts her lack of periods and vitamin deficiency have anything to do with her diet because she “looks fine to me.” (The doctor does not ask Girl what her diet consists of.) Girl continues not really eating for another couple years. Girl never cries or shouts because she doesn’t really feel emotions–not eating takes the edge off that kind of thing. Girl wonders why she’s not auditioning very well despite looking the most “castable” she’s ever looked. Girl wonders if it has anything to do with the fact that she doesn’t “feel emotions” which is apparently something directors are looking for. Girl has a bad breakup and feels things for the first time in a while. Girl goes to therapy and has it explained to her that it’s possible to have an eating disorder without being emaciated. Girl spends a couple years in outpatient treatment while continuing to do things like pay taxes, and go to auditions, and do laundry. Girl reminds herself to stop referring to herself as a “girl” since attempting to achieve a pre-pubescent physique is kiiiiiinda part of the problem.
To ease the new-found anxiety that comes with having feelings again, Woman decided to read a new play or listen to a next musical every day for a year. Woman continues to work on food and exercise issues. Woman starts a business. Woman makes progress and backslides. Woman books some roles and does not book some roles. Woman makes progress and backslides. Woman is back to a healthy weight for her body type. Woman doesn’t get comments about her body anymore which she both loves and hates. Woman makes progress and backslides. Woman starts to feel more comfortable taking up space both literally and metaphorically and hesitantly begins to accept she’s more “castable” at this size if it means she’s not completely numbed out to the world. Sometimes the Woman doesn’t believe this, but most the time she does.
Roll credits, I guess?
You still reading?
Like I said, not the cleanest narrative…
So why share it at all?
(Don’t worry, I’m also asking myself that question right now.)
Here’ s what I think I’ve come up with…
I put off getting treatment for a really long time because I didn’t think I was sick enough to merit getting help.
I was worried that, unless I had a Lifetime Original Movie moment, I was being over-dramatic. I was worried I would be dismissed as not underweight enough.
Which brings me to why I’m writing this.
My story kind of bores me. And it probably will bore many actors reading this because it is SO. FREAKING. COMMON.
I’d say at least half the actors I meet have a disordered relationship with food. I won’t say they have eating disorders because (SPOILER ALERT) I am not a doctor, but our cultural baseline for how we deal with food and bodies is deeply, deeply skewed.
You hear it in the many discussions of diets and cleanses in audition holding rooms. You see it in the wording of casting breakdowns. You feel it in your gut when you see an advertisement for a “Broadway Body” class.
So that’s why I’m choosing to share my story this year– as a tiny homing beacon to all the folks out there trying to be brave and take up space in a world that keeps telling them to shrink.
To those of you trying to swim against that current, making progress and backsliding time and time again: I see you. I love you. I support you. Keep swimming.
We’re getting mixed signals. You can’t expect to spend 23.5 hours a day attempting to make yourself smaller, and then walk into an audition room and be brave, vulnerable, and expansive.
Believe me–I’ve tried.
So, if you can only be one or the other, which one are you going to pick?
My heart goes out to any of you grappling with these contradictions right now.
And if at any point my tone came off as glib or dismissive during this article, know that that’s about ME and not you. I am bored by my own story, but that’s because it’s my own story. If you are going through something similar right now, I urge you to reach out to a professional, whether or not you feel your struggle is dramatic enough to be featured on Degrassi. If it is causing you suffering, seek help.
If you had strep throat, you would go get antibiotics–you wouldn’t compare yourself to the meningitis patients and go, “Well, it’s not THAT bad…”
You get my point.
Anyway, I promised there would be no tidy bows with this article, so I’ll just go the after school special route and leave you this link to the NationalEatingDisorders.org help page.
As always, wishing you an expansive audition season!