A Literary Critic’s Take on Anorexia

Six months ago exactly, I was 70.4 lbs, 6.6 lbs above my ultimate goal weight. My ribs popped out like little crescent moons; I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw them. Of course, I had to lose that last little bit of flab from my upper arms, but aside from that atrocity, I was actually–for the first time in my life–starting to like the way I looked. Each puffy, protruding vein, every visible spinal vertebra was a badge of honour; I was proud of my perfectly rectangular shoulder-blades, the gap between my thighs, the way my collar-bone stuck out, how it swooped across my chest like a seagull or a scythe. I was just a couple pounds away from being really, genuinely, truly happy… wasn’t I?

‘I’ is probably the wrong word here. In fact, from a literary-critical perspective the previous paragraph’s use of the first person pronoun in any and all of its forms is specious diction at best. ‘I’ is, after all, a word that implies (and arguably declares) connection, agency, and self, while the possessive ‘my’ carries with it an air of control. Since elementary rules of grammar dictate that the qualities of a pronoun are applicable too to its referent, this personal statement’s subject should be syllogistically characterisable by the aforelisted attributes; in this instance, however, such a linguistic transfer is ‘infelicitous’ (to borrow a term from noted theorist J.L.L. Austin), because the traits that define the pronoun are the very ones its referent so signaturely lacks. Drained of agency until her bones were hollow, purged of connection until her eyes turned red and bloody, and starved of self until even her internal organs had given up on her, the girl described above was anything but an ‘I’; frankly, considering her low blood estrogen levels and shrunken, shrivelled breasts, a compelling argument could be made that ‘she’ was hardly even a ‘she’. It, for that seems the only non-malapropos appellation, was a zombie, a walking heart attack, a disease.

Anorexia replaced me; it became who I was. I don’t know why; I’m not sure how. Perhaps my eating disorder was a natural progression of my depression; perhaps King’s wasn’t the enlightening educational experience I expected it to be and in lieu of an academic challenge I lost 40-something pounds in three months; perhaps the illness and the insecurities crept in through my pores like they convinced me calories would? The consequences are the same regardless. I flamed out of a world-class university, did irreversible damage to my body, and put my career at stake; even the most profound of psychological explanations cannot and will not change those facts.

I can, as I did at the beginning of this essay, idealise my eating disorder all I want. I can reminisce about being thin in lush, loving language. I can tell you how glamorous it was, how it was my best friend, my favourite hobby, the solution to all my problems. I can even say my eating disorder made me happy, that it allowed me to love myself, that it gave me a reason to live–and it did, for awhile at least. But that’s not the whole story; anorexia isn’t all cheekbones and cliches. Anorexia is hair that falls out in clumps, trembling knees that buckle under shaking thighs, electrolyte imbalances, chills and convulsions, heart attacks, preventricular complexes, incontinence, palpitations, supraventricular bradycardia, inappropriate sinus tachycardia; anorexia is diet pill overdoses, toothbrushes stuck down my throat, and scissors covered in crusty blood from the time I tried to slice the fat off my thighs; anorexia is having no choice but to drop out school and being forced to leave the dance studio I called home; anorexia is a mental illness, a disease, a fucking death sentence. That’s the truth, the reality, the story of anorexia, but that cannot and will not be the story of me–no, not anymore.

2 thoughts on “A Literary Critic’s Take on Anorexia

  1. You used to dance? Me too! What kind of dance did you do? I did pretty much everything, but ballet was my favorite. 😊
    To not go too far off topic, though…I really can’t relate to having an eating disorder. But I can certainly remember times as my body changed that I felt I needed to lose maybe 3-4 lbs to be in optimal physical shape. And we, as girls, were often pressured by our musical theater director to remain not as thin as possible, but as close to the thin end of normal as we could get. I do remember one summer day when my ballet teacher called me into the office after class and asked me if I’d been eating ok because she noticed I looked thinner than normal. I had been, but when I got home, I weighed myself and discovered I had lost about 2 lbs, but I attributed that to dancing during the summer.
    Did you ever feel pressure to not eat as a result of your dancing?


    1. Hey! Sorry for the belated reply! Yes, I used to dance. I danced from ages 3-11 and then again starting last year. I did ballet as a child, but at nine, I switched to theatre dance, which I much preferred. After breaking my ankle at 11, I was forced to take some time off; what was a two year mandated hiatus became a seven year one. I just, as I said, got back into dance last year; I do jazz now and some ballet for technique.
      Regarding dance and my weight, I’ve heard that some people go through that–not eating to conform to the ‘dancer’s body’ ideal. That’s not me at all! Dance is actually what motivates me TO eat! I really enjoy it, and I know I need fuel to do it. x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s