Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Francheska De La Cruz on 09/28/2011

When History Repeats Itself

a future anorexic? who knows.

a future anorexic? who knows.

You know the saying that history can repeat itself? It sounds cliche, but it’s kind of shocking when it happens to you in real life.

Before I was a proud feminist/atheist/vegetarian I was unfortunately anorexic. Yet no one in my family seemed to notice the signs, even though when I think back they were pretty obvious. I would constantly check myself in the mirror and talk about dieting and weight loss. I would secretly go online and read fasting tips on anorexia sights. When my family discovered my notebook full of “thinsperation” I had a total meltdown and decided those days were over and I would come to respect my body and those of others for what they were.

Lately I’ve been noticing the first signs of anorexia in my cousin. She is about 11 years old and is gorgeous even by todays beauty standards for most adult women. But as of late she has been compulsively looking in mirrors and grabbing (imaginary) fat off of her thighs. She’s constantly asking me how to go on a diet and constantly demeaning herself with derogatory words. When I first noticed this I asked myself if maybe I was just imagining those things the way my cousin imagined the fat on her pre-pubescent thighs. But when I went through my old journals again I realized that this wasn’t imaginary and if I didn’t try to help – and quick – she would go through the same thing that I did and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Ever. So, I went and told her mother.

The thing that stunned me the most was that when I confronted my aunt about the situation, she casually brushed it aside like it was nothing. She told me she preferred her daughter thin anyways. My cousin doesn’t listen to me, either. She says she just wants to be skinnier and not even facts about how horrible eating disorders are scare her.

I think the internet has only made it easier for my generation to have eating disorders. It’s easy to Google anorexia tips and find forums where people encourage this type of behavior. There’s not enough web regulation to permanently get these websites off of the internet. I’m a little afraid for girls as young as nine who are starting to notice things like dieting and body image, who also have parents who praise beauty above talent or intelligence. Then, on top of everything, the media idolizes sexualized images of photo-shopped women. I’m afraid for my cousin, and I just wish her mom could open her eyes and see what she’s doing.

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  • Zoe @ at 6:05 pm, September 28th, 2011

    The Internet is definitely becoming a haven for “thinspiration”. I have a Tumblr and occasionally thinspo pops up on my dash before I become pissed and go unfollow whoever posted that garbage.

  • Megg @ at 12:46 am, September 29th, 2011

    I am currently on overnight leave, as an inpatient for an eating disorder.

    the sad truth is, no one realises how serious this is.

    my cousing who is 9, is self harming.. she is alot like me and i told my aunt to get her a good therapist.

  • Alexa @ at 10:53 am, September 29th, 2011

    This is a very well-written post! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it explicitly written how much easier the internet makes it for young girls to develop eating-disorder habits… And I’m sorry your family isn’t taking your concerns seriously.

  • Juliana @ at 9:08 am, October 4th, 2011

    This is so scary! Maybe if you talk to your mom and have her talk to your aunt? There is certainly a line between intervention and going too far, but I really hope you can help your cousin….

  • Vanessa M @ at 10:06 am, October 4th, 2011

    I’m a vegetarian feminist too, although I’m a christian (courtesy of J.Lee Grady’s book “10 lies the church tells women) though :)

    By the way, I know this is going to be hard for you, but maybe you should share your story of being an anorexic to your cousin, and if she won’t budge, tell her mom or her dad, and if that doesn’t work either, I think you should tell your mom. This isn’t going to be easy, I know, but I hope it can help you and your cousin :)

  • icefox @ at 6:27 pm, October 4th, 2011

    If I were in that situation, this is what I would do (I have no idea if it’s the GOOD thing to do, so don’t quote me)-
    I would tell her how to be “on a diet,” but only give her tips that would do her no harm. Things like eating calcium and protein and fiber and exercising, and I’d inform her (this is a true fact, people) that eating less makes your metabolism slow down. Also, people who have been anorexics for long periods of time can actually lose brain mass. I don’t see how anyone CAN’T be scared by that!

  • Dana @ at 9:14 pm, October 4th, 2011

    The media and social times are the driving fore in many young teens developing eating disorders. I personally can relate to your cousin because my cousin is currently in 4th grade and has placed herself on a diet because she has this notion that dieting is fun! She does not have a strict diet but it is scary to think that a fourth grader wants to diet because she sees that everyone on television has the fixation with dieting so feels the desire to diet as well.

    Your aunt must be living by the notion that beauty is power. Beauty is not power, confidence is power. This is what needs to be drilled into the minds of the younger generations, that confidence is the sexy.

  • Bobby @ at 11:11 am, October 6th, 2011

    Francheska, this sounds like it is a very real and potentially serious situation. Your 11 year old cousin definitely appears to be following in your footsteps, or as you put it, “history is repeating itself.” As you had mentioned in your post, you said that you unfortunately were battling with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia, earlier in your life time. The things that you looked up online probably made you feel even worse about your own self image and caused you to fast even more. I definitely agree with Zoe’s post that the Internet has become a place where “thinspiration” is becoming more and more prominent. The media is a huge source of this and it puts a great amount of pressure on women, and as we see here, young girls to be “thin.” Now I’m putting thin in quotation marks because I think there are two different kinds of “thin.” For one, someone can be thin while also being healthy by eating right and getting enough exercise. On the other hand, some people are thin, but they do not exhibit healthy habits, such as not eating enough or starving one’s self. I am currently taking a Women and Gender Studies course and this is one of the main topics that we have been discussing over the past couple weeks. We have learned that a great example of this type of pressure to be “thin” and “beautiful” is in the modeling industry. Something that I found very staggering was a statistic that I saw in a Youtube video that my class watched–it said that the average woman model in today’s world weighs about 23% LESS than the average woman. That is compared to about an 8% difference between models and the average woman from about 25 years ago. That is a 15% difference which is relatively a large difference. As I mentioned before, I believe that the outside pressure of being “thin and pretty” has caused this drastic increase in women and girls trying to lose weight. Sorry to digress, but now back to your real life situation. It sounds to me like although you were very upset at the time that your family found your notebook with all of your “thinspiration” thoughts and ideas, that it was actually one of the best things that could have come out of that situation. As you said, that made you put your previous ways behind you and allowed you to start over with a fresh beginning by deciding to accept your body as the way it was meant to be. With regards to your younger cousin and her aunt, I think you should try to talk with both of them and share your feelings with them about this serious subject. You can share your personal experiences with them about your story, which I think will make what you say even more powerful than it already is. To me, it is absolutely WAY too early for an 11 year old girl to be looking at herself in the mirror and thinking that she is not thin enough. As I’m sure you are aware, kids’ bodies at that age are still growing a lot and developing. It would be very unfortunate to see this young cousin of yours to develop some physical problems or even an eating disorder later on in her life. I would also encourage her mother to listen to you and take what you have to say very seriously because the life and health of her daughter should be placed at a very high importance. I hope that both your aunt and younger cousin come to realize that their current actions may have some serious consequences down the road and that they will listen to your story and make a change for the better.

  • Zoe @ at 11:26 am, October 7th, 2011

    It is unfortunate but loved ones tend to only see what they want to see. I had a similar situation. I was a full blown bulimic in middle school. I used binging and purging (often but not always together) to deal with stress. Because I was being bullied in school, every day after barely eating lunch I’d go to the one private bathroom in the school to throw up. Eventually I was able to go to my parents and got the help I needed.

    Fastforward seven years. I’m twenty years old and in a difficult place in my life. I had just dropped out of cooking school because I was miserable. Due to medication I had been on, combined with a natural slowing down of my metabolism and being surrounded by delicious, cheap food at my school, I had gained some weight in the two years I was there. After having a change in meds I started dropping the weight. At first it was natural, but I got such a rush at being thin again that I found myself restricted food. I started obsessively counting calories, keeping a notebook and fasting if I went over 700 calories a day.

    My parents ignored the signs. Like with you, they were there and rather obvious. Constantly grabbing any spare fat on my stomach and thighs, weighing myself four or five times a day and most obviously, barely eating. And of course, the massive drop of weight. In just four months I lost over 30 pounds, going from a healthy if not teeny 148 to 115. I’m tall so the weight loss was not good.

    But my parents could not see it because they didn’t want to. For two years after getting out of the clinic when I was 13 they mapped out my meals and kept me in their sight for two hours after each one. They took stock of any junk food in the house, so they’d know if a lot went missing over one night. But as I seemed to get better, they convinced themselves I was cured.

    As with my previous disorder, I was once again the one who had to realize I needed help and request it.

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