In which I shrink unexpectedly and unintentionally, and find it quite weird and culturally rage-inducing (cn: numbers, but no absolute values. Feel free to skip to bold bit for rage.)

So, boy and I went on holiday a few weeks ago, and I came back with food poisoning. I’ve now had probably-bacterial-gastroenteritis-but-fortunately-without-actual-vomiting for getting on for three weeks now, and now some coldy thing has turned up as well to keep it company. After a week or so I’d noticed I was shrinking a bit (my boobs! What? Unfair!) and then I was alone in the boy’s house yesterday (mine does not contain scales – I haven’t been weighed except by doctors for years, it genuinely doesn’t bother me or enhance my life) and I’ve lost a good 10% – 15% of my normal bodyweight. I’m finding it a bit…psychologically weird. Some of it will probably be muscle tone, because I haven’t been able to swim, and stomach contents, because I am (obviously) eating a lot less, but still.

Why weird? Well, I had sort of got my head around liking being a smallish girl with actual tits and hips and stuff. A couple of years ago I hurt my knee (ah, post-ana joints!) and started swimming front crawl instead of breaststroke. It made a sufficiently noticeable (preferable, in my eyes) difference to my shape that I genuinely just…relaxed and let my body get on with it, which was…unprecedentedly nice. Anyone unfortunate enough to have read the more ED-focused bits of this blog will know that’s a hard-won victory. And now I’m suddenly shrinking with no conscious volition, and it’s…weird. I’m still 3 kilos or so above my decade+ old hospital discharge weight, but then my hospital discharge weight was a bmi of 16, and I’m not keen to be that thin again (see previous re. genuinely liking having boobs and stuff) and it’s frankly doing my nut when I think about it (which, to be honest, I try not to, but still).

I don’t think I’d realised the extent to which the bit of my head which assumed that I was a fairly healthy weight because while I’d rather be smaller I couldn’t be fucked to starve myself all the time had genuinely…become mistaken. Whilst I’m glad it has, i’m not sure what this means ‘going forward’. Hopefully I will just recover and eat normally and my body will sort itself out, but there’s a tiny minority of my head going ‘hang on. What’s happening here? Shouldn’t I want this? I don’t want my 23″ waist back? Am I sure?’

It’s a bit of a headfuck.

Anyway, leaving my personal ramblings mostly to one side for a bit, it makes me incandescently fucking angry that I am encouraged by our all-pervasive ‘weight loss is always healthy’ culture to have been really quite ill for three weeks now but still have considerable cultural space to go ‘but at least I’ve lost weight, that’s a good thing.’ Like there are actual real people, walking around in the world, who think that even weight loss achieved through, um, diorrhea, collapse and nausea is worth having, that random numbers on a scale and a variably slender silhouette are actually more important than things like health or, often, fitness. (This article by a friend of mine outlines the significant psychological and medical cost of such blinkered thinking.) 

We as a culture so often seem to care more about shape than we do about function, and it infuriates me beyond belief. For the vast majority of human history significant weight loss has – unsurprisingly – meant cause for concern, a sign of unhealth/illness, and now that seems to have been entirely erased in sociocultural consciousness. Even though unexplained weight loss is a warning sign for a whole bunch of medical problems, from diabetes to endochrine shit to cancer, you would be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the number of people who say things like ‘you look amazing – have you lost weight?’ without for a single.tiny.second stopping to interrogate what that might mean to the [ex-ana?/seriously ill?/depressed?/grieving?/still recovering from recent illness?/in the early stages of cancer?/other serious illness and doesn’t want to talk about it yet?] person they’re talking to.

Even as someone who has in some sense struck the cultural jackpot in that I can eat ‘normally’ (like that’s even a concept that exists for members of my gender and generation in this day and age) and still look noticeably slender, this stuff is really fucking troubling. It was troubling as an anorexic when people dropped the ‘you look amazing’; it was troubling in recovery when people used words like ‘healthy’ and I worried whether they actually meant ‘fat and ugly’; admittedly it’s sometimes fun as a fully-recovered adult when people try and inflict diet talk on me unthinkingly and I roll out my troubled past or make up one of the previous scenarios depending on audience, but still. The world would be a MUCH BETTER PLACE if we could all just stop with the personal remarks about other people’s bodies/weight/shape/size, for whatever reason. It doesn’t matter whether you stop because you don’t want to upset an ED sufferer or you’re trying to avoid being a douche around a cancer patient – can we not talk about each other’s minds or work or creativity or talent or even (if you must give physical compliments) consciously chosen things like clothing instead?

About Goblin

Academic, critic, endlessly fascinated; reads, thinks, listens and talks far more than is good for her. Ex-anorexic, ex-ME, excitable, queer, kinky, nosy, mouthy. Purveyor of uncomfortable truths. Talks filth in public. Likes rabbits, old houses with big windows and John Wilmot Earl of Rochester. Needs more sleep.
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4 Responses to In which I shrink unexpectedly and unintentionally, and find it quite weird and culturally rage-inducing (cn: numbers, but no absolute values. Feel free to skip to bold bit for rage.)

  1. Stacy says:

    To paraphrase a lover, “When will people stop confusing stomach viruses with actual health???”
    After a Vomiting Epidemic made its way around our college dorm, a couple gals were like, look I have lost 10 pounds! And because she was everybody’s mother, she was all, no. You need soup and then rice and then solids, and once you are healthy again then we can talk about why you thought losing ten pounds was so great. Because when you’re sick for a short period of time it’s mostly dehydration, not fat loss (which people usually mean when they say weight).

    I too am disappointed by the conflation of weight loss/health. When I was doing marathon training last year, my weight (literally, the amount of my mass * gravity) increased… but I felt more toned and healthy (plus could run really far). I took great joy in telling people who commented (because science), actually, my weight has increased because muscle is more dense than fat and I have more of it now, and it has happened to fall in a shapely place. Like onto my thighs (I love my beastly thighs! I feel like I can crush things with them!) And then I’d continue to talk to them about how awesome muscle is, and how awkward it is that they comment on my weight when what they should really be noticing is that I am aglow from being outside all the time and enjoying myself, and please give me money to support Bone Cancer Research. I’m pretty pleased that the leaders of my sports club, two lovely ladies, noticed my improvement in terms of performance/endurance rather than tone.

    In osteology we often deride the use of “health” as it has practically no meaning in the absence of a huge amount of personal data. We’ll often see a skeleton and comment, “a perfectly healthy dead person,” because there’s no indication of the cause of death. That person could have suffered from gastroenteritis and been depressed (if we can ascribe modern/Western ideas of mental health onto any person dead over 300 years): would they have considered themselves healthy? Would society have considered them healthy? Health is such a nebulous concept, and it’s really weird used as a compliment. Last week lots of people told me I looked really healthy because I had “color in my cheeks”. Thanks, rosacea.

    Also, this:


  2. Catherine says:

    Sorry to hear you’ve not been well Sasha; hoping you recover soon.
    I suppose a compliment such as “You’re looking healthy” simply means “I have noticed that your outward, physical appearance satisfies the modern cultural construction of what it means to be beautiful according to artificial social standards.”
    Stacy – I love your concept of the ‘perfectly healthy’ skeleton – mental health is such a taboo subject still because it isn’t so overtly manifest. Is there even such a thing as a ‘perfectly healthy brain’?


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