Our Unhealthy Bodies Can’t: The Problem with Project Heal’s New Campaign

“My Healthy Body Can” is the title of Project Heal’s new campaign. In conjunction with Straight Curve Film, the organization is encouraging participants celebrate their recovered bodies by posting pictures of themselves engaging in various (presumably physical) activities that they are now healthy enough to enjoy. The endeavour and its endeavourees are admirable, but there are some very obvious issues here.

This is a remarkably ableist, exclusive, and offensive campaign. With its tagline, “My Healthy Body Can” this movement neglects and excludes a huge portion of the recovery community–the chronically ill, the disabled, individuals who settled at unconventional body weights, and those with irreparable damage done by their eating disorder. What about them? Their unhealthy bodies can’t. Does that somehow disqualify them from celebration? Does that deprive them of support? Does that discredit their achievements? Does that discount their recoveries?

It shouldn’t. They have had to fight even harder for recovery. Treatment resources are harder to come by, care is more expensive, certain problems are taken less seriously, and every day is a struggle to balance the mental and physical components of their recovery. Some of of them will never recover from their eating disorders; some of them literally can’t.

I am one of those people–one of the unhealthy, one of the excluded, one of the perpetually sick. I will never recover from my eating disorder. I have incurable cardiovascular, endocrine, reproductive, digestive, and metabolic damage from ten years of severe anorexia. I suffered a heart attack that has led to irreversible myocardial tissue death and dangerous tachyarrhythmias, which will only get worse; I do not get periods, have a less than optimal body fat percentage, and can never bear children; I eat a specialized diet of 4000 calories a day, catered to my numerous acquired food tolerances and permanently low electrolytes, to barely maintain a below minimum BMI; I see doctors weekly, exercise daily, and take medications (nearly) hourly to keep my liver running, my kidneys working, and my heart beating, but, despite all that, I will someday need transplants anyway. My body is not and never will be healthy, and because of that, there are many things I cannot do. Maybe you can ride your horses and do your yoga (thank you, Amalie Lee for that gem!), but I’ll be here in a hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor, trying not die.

So, Project Heal, I’ll ask you once again. What about us? I see you’ve replied to your dissenters with a copy-and-pasted link to a tokenistic (phrase borrowed from the wonderful Michelle Elman) blog post, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, that isn’t good enough. Please apologize, please revise your campaign slogan, and better yet, please help us. We want and need, deserve and demand change. Increased support and resources for the minority members of the eating disorder recovery community–for those of us who don’t have the perfect, conventional recovery–are essential. Our unhealthy bodies can’t, but we matter, too; we deserve help, too; and most importantly, we can recover, too.

Rebirthday

I died on August 29th of last year. My heart stopped, and anorexia killed me. I was technically dead for three minutes.The doctors didn’t think I would make it. I was too far gone. The defibrillators weren’t working; my heart was too damaged; I would never recover from anorexia. Why bother trying? They called my cardiologist to tell her patient had died; she told them to try one more time.

They did, and that’s when the miracle happened. That’s when my heart started beating again; that’s when my lungs started breathing again. That’s when I opened my eyes; that’s when I learned to see. There were sparkles on the ceiling and jewel-drops in my eyes. There was a buzzing in my ears and a million voices in my head; I could hear them all clearly, and they were telling me the truth–the cold, hard, cement-stairwell truth: They told me I couldn’t go on like this; they told me I had to recover. 

And they were right; I knew they were. I couldn’t go on like this, and I didn’t want to. I had to make a change; I had to do this once and for all; I had to recover. 

And so on August 29th, 2016, after ten long years, I finally began my recovery journey. I sought the help of a dietician, psychologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist, general practitioner, and liver specialist. I underwent extensive physical and psychological therapy. I gained thirty-eight pounds. I got in touch with my emotions. I learned to eat and exercise in moderation. I found freedom with food and within myself. I broke away from anorexia, and I came back to life.

I was reborn on August 29th of last year. My heart started, and I beat anorexia. I’ve been alive for approximately 525,600 minutes. I survived. The doctors saved me; my heart conditions are now managed with medications; I am recovering from anorexia. Who would’ve thought? I made it out alive, and you can, too. 

Health at Every Size?

After quite a bit of pondering, I can only assume that the Health at Every Size movement is trying to say ‘health is not a size’ or ‘health is more than a size’. Proponents’ point is that you don’t have to be a size 2 to be healthy, and that just because you’re a size 2, you’re not automatically a mentally stable non-smoker with stellar blood pressure and a liver that’ll last forever. We understand and agree with these sentiments, but we find the diction in which they are presented to be misinterpretable, misleading, and consequently malign.

The movement’s signature phrase literally states ‘every size is healthy’ and ‘you are healthy at every size’. This is false and fallacious, promoting, intentionally or otherwise, obesity and emaciation, thereby endorsing the disordered measures used to achieve such physiques. As a result, misconceptions get perpetuated, and people are spoonfed the perfect reason to continue with their eating disorder(s)–oh, it’s healthy!

It’s not. Both extremes can damage your skeletal, neural, digestive, and cardiovascular systems, and both can result in hormonal-irregularity-induced depression and/or mania. Associated behaviors of each can cause electrolyte imbalances and nutritional deficiencies, which, in turn, lead to bone abrasion, muscle atrophy, and organ arrest. Clearly, neither side of the scale behoves your health–physically NOR mentally.

Serious health consequences stem from being severely under- or overweight, and that is something the body positivity and recovery communities need to acknowledge. Yes, everyBODY is beautiful, but no, not everyBODY is healthy. We are doing everyone disservice by glossing over the facts, by conflating body positivity and health, by deluding ourselves with yet another unattainable ideal. Health at Every Size is a medical impossibility, and we must stop pretending that it isn’t.

Body Negativity: The Deterioration of the BoPo Movement

You don’t have to be a plus-size lingerie model to be body positive. You don’t have to have cellulite, back fat, and stomach rolls to be body positive. You don’t have to forgo makeup, obsess over Aerie, and take #transformationtuesday selfies to be body positive. You don’t have to be young, middle-class, able-bodied, or female to be body positive. You don’t have to be anything to be body positive–and that is the point!

Body positivity is a quintessentially inclusive movement, one rooted in compassion and kindness. It is a celebration of diversity and individuality, of you–however you look, whatever you do, whoever you are. You are honored and embraced regardless and because of your size, shape, skintone, and sex. There is no such thing as ‘too big’, ‘too small’, ‘too pretty,’ ‘too ugly’, ‘too muscular,’ ‘too fat’, ‘too dark’, too whatever. You are labelless; you are limitless, and so, too, is body positivity.

I am, thusly, appalled when I consider the movement’s current state. The aforesaid idyll has festered, and a cultural cultivation of love has become a constricted, commercialised entity. Body positivity has turned into a marketing scheme, a hot-hourglass-babe appreciation club devoted to selling of sweatpants, supplements, and sex tips. ‘Be body positive!’ Billboards scream. ‘No, not like that, but we have this overpriced hairbrush to help you!’

We, the movement and its members, should be fighting this. We should be standing together and soldiering against this catastrophic consumerism NOT buying into it. We are imploding when we should explode–marginalising, criticising, and excluding each other when we should unite, compliment, and include. Body positivity is quickly becoming body negativity from the inside out, and that is intolerable. This is not a time for hate, but a time for change. So please, please be kind, be considerate, be inclusive, be supportive, and most of all be positive, because, after all, isn’t THAT what body positivity is all about?

Pretty: A Rumination on the Word

I’m going to tell you about my least favorite word: Pretty, a word which here means, “superficially attractive” or “to some degree but not superlatively”. I have devoted over half of my life to “pretty”, to pursuing it, to apotheosizing it, to trying to be it. Pretty thin. Pretty smart. Pretty talented. Pretty normal. Pretty perfect. Pretty. I coated my face in makeup, practiced violin til my fingers bled, splurged on clothes I couldn’t afford, and literally starved myself to death. It got me nowhere, nowhere but a hospital bed in the cardiac ward. Laying there, makeup smudged and skin sallow, dressed in a hospital gown and tangled in tubes, I was anything but “pretty”. But have I ever been, will I ever be pretty?

No, and that’s okay. That’s great; that’s wonderful. I don’t need to be pretty, and I don’t want to be. Why should I be conventionally attractive when I can be uniquely beautiful? Why should I be decent when I can be extraordinary? Why should I be a comparative when I can be a superlative? Why should I be “pretty” when I can be so much more?

Very. I’m going to be “very”. Very intelligent. Very accomplished. Very kind. Very happy. Very me.