One of my most powerful experiences during the eating disorder recovery process came when we began to work on body image.
We addressed and explored the behaviour of checking. Checking refers to an obsessive thought and behaviour about appearance. Checking is often done hundreds of times per day – without ever even being aware of it.
What checking behaviours was I engaging in?
There was really only one; I was a mirror-checker. Every reflective surface became my guide – my guide to hell. My mind had formed an ideal of what I was supposed to look like down to every last itty bitty detail. I never measured up.
I looked in the mirror first thing in the morning before I got in the shower. You ugly piece of shit – how can anyone be attracted to you? Women are to wake up in the morning with beautiful flowing hair and dewy, well-slept skin. You’re a fucking horror show!
I looked in the mirror when I got out of the shower. OH MY GOD! Look at your stomach! Fuck, that’s gross! You haven’t even had kids – your stomach shouldn’t look like that. You’ve really let yourself go!
I looked in the mirror as I was putting on my makeup and drying my hair. Fuck your skin is gross. It’s freckled and wrinkled. Do your best, I guess…make sure you eat well today though. You are what you eat! Your skin looks so bad because you eat like shit. You really need to try harder.
I looked in the mirror when I was getting dressed. You disgusting mess of a woman. Look at your thighs and your cratered ass. You are an embarrassment to women. Try to put on something that will cover those thighs, ass, and stomach, would you? Oh my gosh, you are disgraceful. I can’t believe you’re going to go out and make the world look at you today. Tsk, tsk, tsk!
I looked in the mirror between all these tasks too, checking. Checking to see if things had changed, checking to see if things got better, checking to see if I could just get through with this today, checking to make sure it didn’t get worse, checking to make sure everything was staying in place. Check, check, check. And this was in a matter of two hours before I left the house for work.
I looked in the mirror one last time before I headed out the door for work. All I could do was shake my head, exasperated.
At work, I looked in the mirror every time I went to the washroom – about once per hour. I checked the front, I checked the back, I checked the side, I checked far away, I checked close up. Fuck – you are FAT. Your teeth are yellow. You skin is sallow. Your hair is a fucking mess. Oh, fuck, it’s embarrassing. Good luck to you, loser!
By the time I got home I was so wounded and depleted. I would put on my sweats to try to cover my identity. I’d put my hair up. I wanted to stay inside forever. I was exhausted.
I continued to look in the mirror in the evening. Before dinner, after dinner, during commercials, after commercials, during shows, while on the phone, between work at the computer. How is it that one person can be so horribly defective?
Solitude finally comes to me. No one is around. Everyone is sleeping. Now I can escape. I pull out the cereal, the table cream, the toast, the leftovers, the hidden stash of chocolate and cookies, the ice cream finale to make it all come back up smoothly. I have peace for about 45 minutes – the mind is gone, and so is the pain.
Reality eventually surfaces when the food is gone and my stomach is so full and distended that I cannot even stand up fully erect. I hurt so badly. And I’m disgusted once again. I make my way to the washroom, praying that the deed will be quick. At the end, I stand in front of the mirror again with bloodshot, watery eyes and a trail of vomit sliding down my chin and my right hand. Why has God forsaken me?
I climb into bed and pray for a miracle. It begins again the next day.
And that is what the mirror did to me. The mirror was a reinforcement of my horribly negative and completely inaccurate thoughts.
I was asked in Body Image to try to curb the checking behaviours. But how was I going to do that? Mirrors are EVERYWHERE! Well, I gave it some thought and I came up with a plan. First, I would avoid mirrors and force myself to not look in them when I stood before them. Secondly, the one mirror that gave me the most trouble, the full length mirror in my bedroom, I would put a sheet over it. That would prevent the temptation to look.
I draped a sheet over the full length beast and a sort of miraculous thing happened. As I got dressed the next day, there was no voice. There was silence in the room. The voice couldn’t see what was there so it had nothing to say. Instead, I was transported inside myself where a feeling was planted. It was like being blind and feeling my way instead of seeing my way. I felt like I was okay. My clothes matched. My clothes fit okay. I guess that will do…the judgement was gone. You cannot judge what you cannot see. There was something to this, something in this sheet that prevented me from looking to something outside of me for validation.
Over time, a long time, and not without struggle, I began to feel just being. There was no vision or ideal – because I couldn’t see one. All I could do was feel.
Today, I look not long in a mirror. I am a more authentic self when I immerse myself in being and feeling. I cannot be any other physical form than what I am, and why would I want to be?
I am not you. I am only me.