An excerpt from my project, "Dear Google, How Many Calories Do You Burn Crying?". This was a piece created for my class, Art and Social Transformation (SWP939). Below I have included the written portion of this assignment. Enjoy.
Inspired by Barbara Kruger’s collagist and feminist art, Hey Google… How Many Calories Do You Burn Crying? illustrates Western society’s patriarchal objectification of the female body and the emergence of fat-phobic discourses within social structures (e.g. medicine, education, family). Adopting a feminist, post-modern lens, the collage directly addresses (Kruger, n.d.) and critiques colonial beauty standards and empowers viewers to create new epistemologies that transcend positivist foundations (Vaughan, 2005). Hoping to revolutionize the definition of beauty, the collage features a woman vomiting images of thin models and weight loss headlines (e.g. DROP POUNDS). This representation of bulimia/purging symbolizes the dichotomy between the need to conform to Western beauty standards, and the need to resist its pro-diet culture (Bordo, 1993; MacSween, 1993; Malson & Burns, 2009; Mandell & Johnson; 2017).
At the micro level, Vaughan (2005) suggests that art can be used to persuade and educate viewers, effectively creating individual empowerment and resistance. Witnessing a woman expel pro-diet ideologies, rather than half-digested food, can persuade one to shift biases regarding disordered eating behaviours. Instead of identifying forceful vomiting as an individual pathology, it can be viewed as a practice that stems from larger social systems (i.e. diet culture) (Vaughan, 2005). The re-authoring of dominant discourses can empower women to externalize disordered eating behaviours; a stepping-stone to deconstructing patriarchal, taken for granted norms (Pretorius & Kellen, 2015). Furthermore, re-authoring allows women to acknowledge histories (Pretorius & Kellen, 2015) of male dominance and colonization and to resist its impact on body policing today. As Lionnet suggested, collage-making and viewing can be practices of decolonization and liberation, as it allows individuals to “bypass the ancient symmetries… that have governed the ground and the very condition of thought… in Western philosophy” (Vaughan, 2005, p. 32).
Hey Google… How Many Calories Do You Burn Crying? can offer insights surrounding the root causes of disordered eating, including the linkage of disordered eating to broader systems and structures of power in which individuals live (Malson & Burns, 2009; Vaughan, 2005). Subsequently, the collage becomes a commonplace that brings voices of different identities together (Vaughan, 2005); voices that are impacted by Western beauty ideals. Furthermore, the gathering of diverse individuals and communities can encourage emotionally difficult conversations, including the sharing of personal experiences (Mandell & Johnson, 2017; Martinez, 2007; Vaughan, 2005). For instance, collective discussions regarding the pressures of Western beauty can empower participants to resist pro-diet ideologies (e.g. intermittent fasting) and to discover new ways of navigating the world (Pretorius & Kellen, 2015). Similar to mtissage, collages can promote solidarity amongst its viewers; “a fundamental principle of political action against hegemonic languages” (Vaughan, 2005, p. 32). In this way, Hey Google… How Many Calories Do You Burn Crying? creates an accessible space where individuals can reopen scripts (Vaughan, 2005) of thinness as a means to build new knowledge while challenging dominant structures and systems.
The collage can inspire artists and their audiences to take on activist roles (Vaughan, 2005) that promote the questioning of power dynamics, the re-evaluation of sizeist discourses, and the resistance of structural, fatphobic practices. Artistic mediums (i.e. collage-making, paintings) are created through collective imaginations and creative energies (Griffin, 2004), in which inspired political movements including The Dove Self Esteem Project. Collages offer a balance between pessimism and psychological escape (Griffin, 2004), in which mobilizes, rather than paralyzes the active resistor. For instance, the patriarchal policing of the female body can be an overwhelming and constraining experience for women, however, the collage can incite conversations and feelings of hope (Griffin 2004; Martinez, 2007; Vaughan 2005). By touching something real within the individual (Griffin, 2004), Hey Google… How Many Calories Do You Burn Crying? can transform individual and public perceptions, resulting in the resistance of society’s damaging, yet pervasive, fatphobic, diet-driven culture.
"This right here, has been my breakfast for the past two weeks. Well, truthfully, it's been my breakfast and lunch. I wake up every morning convincing myself that this is enough. That this will sustain me through two meals. But let's be honest here... this is barely two choices (for those who know TGH lingo... you know what I mean). Two choices (aka 200 calories) is what I ate for breakfast during my first three days of treatment. It's been two years. How did I find myself back here? Well, I have some ideas. It didn't start out this way, but it never does. It started out by me, or should I say, my eating disorder, convincing me that I should have brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. Is that okay? I mean, sure... If you're having ENOUGH to actually call it a brunch. Then before I knew it, or really... before anyone with an eating disorder knows it, you have less and less.
"You're not doing anything in quarantine, you don't want to GAIN weight."
"At least I'm eating something."
"This is a HEALTHY breakfast. Everyone does this."
"This could be way worse".
"I'm recovered now, I don't have a problem anymore".
These are dangerous statements. These are statements that allow your eating disorder to come creeping in because you believe that you don't have a problem anymore. You believe you are invincible. Well, tough luck. You're not invincible. I'm not invincible. My eating disorder wanted me to believe that restricting would not trigger a whole load of other symptoms. My eating disorder wanted me to believe that I was recovered because it knew that the second my defences were down, the second it could come back into my life. And it did. Full force. Monday came the heavy restriction. Tuesday came the purging. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (today), came the obsession. Obsession with my body. Obsession with the mirror. Obsession with food. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN SO QUICKLY? Like I said earlier, I have some ideas.
1. Lack of control... This world is unpredictable, especially with COVID-19. Folks with eating disorders turn to food as a means to feel in control, when their life is out of control, or at least, appears to be. Somehow, magically, stress becomes reduced and you feel better. Feeling this false sense of control is a coping mechanism.
2. I don't want to feel feelings... An eating disorder has always helped numb my emotions. Helped numb my trauma, so I wouldn't have to feel so deeply. In real life, I often distracted myself and kept myself busy in order to avoid drowning in my own thoughts and emotions. With COVID-19, we all have a lot of time to think. This can be especially dangerous for some people.
3. I miss it... "ARE YOU CRAZY?". I'm sure this is what some people will think after reading that. "I UNDERSTAND". I'm sure this is what folks in recovery will think after reading that. Did my eating disorder take everything away from me? Basically. Did my eating disorder make me hate every aspect of my life? Yes. So what could I possibly miss from it? Well, like Marya Hornbacher describes so eloquently;
"This is the pitiful stage where you do not qualify as an eating disordered
person. And you feel bad about this. You feel like you ought to still merit
worry, still have the power to summon a flurry of nurses, their disdain
It is incredibly invalidating to live in the brain of an eating disordered person, but to not live in the body of one. So... what now? Continue with restricting, purging, overexercising, and obsession in which ultimately leads to death? Or, get back on track. Well, we all know the latter is the "right decision". It is also the "harder decision". The decision that takes the most courage and strength. The decision that says a big fuck you to ED. The one that shows ED they are no longer welcome. I am lucky to be in a place of recovery where I can catch myself slipping and think critically about self-destruction, before committing to it. That doesn't make my decision any more easier, trust me. But what choice do I have? If I do not pick recovery then I am picking starvation, obsession, pain, regret, shame, heart break, isolation, and death. I refuse to pick that. I refuse to go back.
"If this illness feels right now like a cage, please try to hear me: it isn't locked. It has been open all along. You are free to go." - Hornbacher.
The thing about being passively suicidal is that there are no red flags. There are no ambulance sirens, or 911 calls, or the locking medication cabinets. The thing about being passively suicidal is that there are no inpatient visits, or late night followups, or the drinking of charcoal.
But you know what there is?
There is the standing a little too close to the yellow line on the subway. There is the "forgetting" to look both ways before crossing the street. There is the "I know I can get up today, but I'd prefer not to".
There is the...
"I have an excessive amount of medication on my nightstand... just in case."
There is the...
"Marriage? Why think that far into the future if I'm not even going to be alive by then?"
There is the...
"No I don't need to go to the hospital, but no I do need to go to the hospital."
There is the...
"Of course life will continue on the same when I'm gone."
Being passively suicidal is NOT being fragile like a flower. It's being fragile like a motherfucking time bomb.
I am sitting in this laundromat
With lime green and turquoise walls
Pink floors and industrial washers and dryers
Several people sharing this moment with me
Each with their own lives and thoughts and feelings
To me they are strangers
To each of them
I am someone different .
I am a stranger too
Sitting cross legged
With their face in their notebook
Scribbling notes .
I am a student
With their sticker-covered laptop
Perched precariously upon the table top
A cross from where they sit .
I am the obnoxious millennial
H umming or singing or dancing to each song
P laying over the radio
A sking for the wifi password
P robably just to go on social media .
I am a conformist
W ith their pink and sparkly nails
O versized scarf and lulu lemon pants
D ressed all in black .
I am a non-conformist
With their septum pierced
and combat boots
B ut then again
D epending on who you ask
T hat is conformity too .
I am a room-mate
T o the one that sits beside me
W ho knows only her version of me
I am a best friend
I am a stranger
I am a nobody
I am myself
A nd I am no one in this same moment
I am someone different
I n the eyes of those around me
Written by my beautiful friend Maddie Lamirande, Identity.
(I am not going to say anything about this poem because that would very modernist of me).
I want to start off by saying that I got this idea from my dietitian, who I saw today, and suggested a goal be looking back at this year in its entirety. I was curious as to why she wanted me to do this, because usually, setting goals with her means to achieve something. That a certain something in my recovery needed to be improved - whether that'd be "drinking more water", or "trying more fear foods", etc. So, I thought to myself, "What can possibly be achieved when looking back at this shitty fucking hell-hole of a year?". As if she had read my mind, (and I swear she can at this point), she told me to simply look at how far I've come this year, and that she was proud.
I honestly did not think that I would survive this year. Each day was heavier than the last. Every part of me was tired, all the time. I was so tired that I stopped loving and caring about everything I used to love and care for. All I thought about, every second of every day was my eating disorder. I became a person that I, my family, and my friends could no longer recognize. I truly thought that whatever hell I was in, was unescapable. I remember calling my case manager one night, sobbing, begging her to help me - because I did not know how to help myself anymore. I got a point where I forgot how to survive, let alone live. I did not know how to feed myself, I barely slept, and I could not do anything sober anymore. I told myself every night that if I did not wake up the next morning, then that would be a fucking miracle - for me, and for everyone around me as well.
In June, I went inpatient to detox off of substances. I could not have done this without my psychiatrist because she fought for a bed for me. I honestly believe that if she did not do this, I would not be alive today. I am forever grateful for that, and for being alive. The biggest thing I learned from this experience was that I was loved, and that people wanted me to get better, to fight for myself again. During my inpatient stay, I was busy, Everyday I had a friend come down, for hours, and stay with me. When my friends could not come, my mother would. They distracted me from the reality of the detox, and tried to take my pain away. They tried to help carry that pain, so it was no longer crushing me. I cannot thank them enough.
When I had successfully detoxed, I started the Eating Disorders Day Program. Looking back, I was still incredibly symptomatic at the time, because I was not fully ready to let go of my eating disorder. I still could not see a life without it, and so I did not take treatment as seriously as I should have. That being said, I was kicked out three weeks later. I felt like a complete failure, a reject if you will. The staff in this program said that maybe I was not ready to take on recovery, and that my life was too chaotic. What I didn't know at the time was that what they had said was actually a blessing in disguise. I called my dietitian as soon as I was discharged, and told her that I needed my life back. I was willing to work my ass off and fight for recovery in order to prove the staff wrong. See the thing about me is, I will always, ALWAYS, prove you wrong.
The day of my appointment was one of the best days of 2018 for me. My dietitian and I had our session outside, sitting on the grass. It was a beautiful day outside, and I was excited. It was the first time she was meeting me sober. Sober, determined, and angry. Angry at my eating disorder for taking my life away. Angry enough to prove someone wrong. I knew for a fact that day that I would recover, and live the life that I was capable of living. I also knew that I was not alone, and that she would be by my side every step of the way. To this day, she is still one of my greatest supports. She has been the main support in my entire recovery, and I am incredibly thankful.
So, what have I learned this year?
I learned that I was born with a fire inside of me. This drive, this passion, this motivation. This light that never burns out, but can fade from time to time. I learned that I have to be careful when the fire is dim, because it feels all consuming, yet it is not. Everything may seem dark, and sometimes the light is so low that it appears to be lost. But it is not lost, it is still in me. I learned that the fire inside me can burn bright. That I am capable of tending to a fire that is strong and brave. A flame that crackles because it is so loud, and takes up so much space. This is the fire that helped fight for recovery. This is the fire that will continue to help me through my life. And knowing that I have this fire, is the greatest lesson I learned this year.
To my younger self,
Hey, it’s me. I know that I look a lot older, but I promise that it’s still me. I am here to talk to you and help you out, because I know how tough life can get. I know that throughout the years, you have cried over and over about how unfair life is. It seems like endless challenges have been thrown your way, so I’m here to tell you that it will get better.
Six years old is pretty fun, huh? You love reading in your room on your favorite yellow stool. You go to the park a lot, because going on the swings makes you laugh so hard that your tummy hurts. You go to the temple with mum every Sunday, because it’s nice and calm there. You love every day, because you get to see your friends, and you get to tell stories with them. I know your absolute favourite thing to do was figure skate. That is, until you had your accident. My love, I know it hurts, but I promise you that you will heal, and later on, you’ll go skating with your friends every winter.
Ten years old. You’re in Grade 5, which means you’re the oldest, and you feel the coolest. But be nice to the younger grades. Remember, they’re scared too. I know you’re wondering if what’s happening at home is normal. I know that you feel confused, and lost, but baby girl it’s not your fault. You are hurting, at home, at school, and at taekwondo. I think that’s why you’re so good at it. It helped you take all your anger away. I know you wished someone would’ve helped you. You prayed for a different family, a different mother. But no one came to your rescue. The bruises and scars were not visible. Most importantly, the heartache wasn’t either. My love, I know it hurts, but I promise you that you will heal, and later on, you’ll get the help you need.
Twelve years old is pretty crazy, right? You found your largest passion in life. Dance. I know that feel so proud that your first-year dancing, is actually your first year competing as well. I know it brings you this feeling that you cannot describe. I still cannot describe this feeling. But there cannot be flowers without rain. You are so overwhelmed. The abuse at home has not stopped, and you cannot numb the pain. You think everything is your fault, so you hurt yourself. You hurt yourself until that is not enough, and the only thing you crave is protection and love. So, you tell your counsellor at school. Dad was so mad that he almost crashed the car with you in it. Mom almost bought a plane ticket back to China. My love, I know it hurts, but I promise you that you will heal, and later on, you’ll meet a woman named Rachel. She’ll help you.
Sixteen years old. A lot has changed. You look different because you get your eyebrows done every other week, and you wear makeup. I know you're stressed though. High school, especially one where you major in dance, is a lot. You also compete in dance, and I am proud that you’re able to balance everything. On the outside, everything looks perfect. But on the inside, well, you have never felt worse. You have never experienced loss, or a true love until now. I’m sorry you had to experience both at once. I know her promises seemed real, and her eyes… Her eyes were beautiful. Too bad they told you lies. I know you can’t stop crying when she leaves. No one can fix the pain, not even Rachel. So, you cry, and cry, and cry. You beg her to come back. She doesn’t. I’m sorry but now I can say for sure… She is not coming back. I know it hurts. I know it hurt so much that you tried to die. I’m sorry the hospital was so lonely and cold. My love, I know it hurts, but I promise you that you will heal, and later on, she will try to come back. But you will say no this time.
Eighteen. Almost thirty separate hospital visits. Almost $3000 spent on drugs. More than 365 days starving. I know it seems like it will never, ever, ever get better. You think you are meant to live in pain, because you solemnly swear that skinny is the only thing you want. You cry every night, wishing someone was there to hold your hand. You think Susan, Rachel, and every other health professional is going crazy. Everyone is going crazy but you. Oh, baby girl, please listen to them. They are right. You put yourself through so much pain. Laxatives. Starving. Fainting. Binging. Purging. Over-exercising. Cutting. Using. Dying. You swear that every treatment program is failing you. The waitlists are too long, the rules are too strict. You are lost, and scared. Do you remember this feeling from when you were twelve? You think moving back home will kill you, and it certainly felt like it was. Every argument was a reason to “never eat again”. Every night when you fall asleep, you are scared. Scared that you won’t wake up, and that you will. My love, I know it hurts, but I promise you that you will heal, and later on, you will eat chocolate, while Susan wears an avocado hat.
I wanted to share a reminder that I wrote to myself while I was on the subway headed to an appointment. This reminder was written out of desperation, pain, and fear. Before you read this, I need to put out a trigger warning. This reminder speaks in detail of eating disorder symptoms, substance abuse, and of physical health consequences that I endured due to the former. Please read at your discretion.
With only four days of restriction and drug use (270 mg of Vyvanse)...
- I ended up not sleeping at all for two nights
- I was mentally drained
- I was physically weak
- I was very nauseous (I had to stop walking every couple of steps to settle my stomach)
- I couldn't stand up straight
- I was dry heaving
- I was very dizzy
- I was numb, emotionless
- It was very hard for me to breathe
- I had chest pains and a very rapid heart rate
- I was cold but clammy, sweating uncomfortably
- I couldn't feel anything, my body was numb
- I ended up in the hospital
- I felt defeated, started believing in myself less and less
- I didn't feel like a person anymore, I was a robot
- I wanted more drugs
It's that easy. It is that easy to spiral. It was only four days, and you are more defeated than ever. Jen, whatever you're feeling right now, it will pass. Feeling emotions is healthy, it's needed. It can't be avoided.
Do you remember the nausea? So nauseous that you couldn't talk, because you were that close to vomiting. Do you remember how fast your heart beat? How you had to concentrate on your breathing because you were so scared that if you missed one breath, that you would die? Do you remember the numbness? This is what scared you the most. You couldn't feel anyone's touch. Do you remember the fear? How you froze because toy thought one wrong move would simply kill you? Do you remember PICKING UP THE PHONE AND CALLING ***** FOR HELP?! Finally confessing your behaviours because your own fear beat the eating disorder's. It is not worth it. Being sick is not desired - it's painful, it's scary, it's worrisome to those around you... It's draining.
Right now, as you are typing this, you are on the subway. You are sipping your latte slowly, because you are still so nauseous, and toy don't want to vomit all over the cart. You are concentrated on your breathing, because it's still hard to inhale deeply. Last night, you took your last pill. Now you have to face the consequences of the come down. Every single time this happens, you promise that that was the last. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. But you forget the pain, both physical and mental. Hopefully this message will remind you of it. Jen, please this is literally yourself begging you to stop. Stop being mean to your body. It serves you no good. I promise these terrible feeling will pass. You don't need to use. You don't need to restrict. Please.
Can I just say that it is so fucking nice and refreshing to finally be able to associate dance with freedom. To associate movement with self care and love, rather than punishment. To be able to accept new opportunities and experiences, while taking breaks every now and then, and be emotionally okay with that, is truly a blessing. The love and passion I have for this beautiful art form is not a new found experience. I recognize this feeling. The feeling of moving, simply for the magic of moving. The feeling of community and safety, and never wanting to part from the studio. The feeling of pure happiness and gratification. I remember this feeling from before I was severely ill. When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I thought I had lost this feeling. I was completely hopeless, and genuinely thought that I would never be able to get it back. Little did I know, the feeling never left. I just couldn't feel it because it was buried so deep within me, along with all my other emotions. The eating disorder was so loud and pressing, that everything else became secondary to it. My illness took up so much space, that there was no space left for the things I actually needed (dance). There came a point, where I would take a dance class and feel absolutely nothing throughout it. It was as if I was a robot, being completely controlled by my eating disorder and its' wishes.
When I was pre-maturely discharged from Toronto General Hospital, I was so lost. I knew that if I kept dancing unwillingly, I would eventually lose my relationship with dance. And if that had happened, I would lose myself. So, I took a break. I listened to my dietitian, and worked extremely hard with her. Every session, I would ask, "Can I PLEASE dance now?!". Like a child, begging for approval, hoping and hoping she would give me the okay. Eventually, we came up with an exercise contract. In order for me to dance, I would have had to have all meals and snacks (with no compensatory behaviours) 48 hours prior. Plus, I was only allowed to take a maximum of three classes a week. When my dietitian gave me the okay, I literally beamed with joy. You never really do realize how much you take something for granted, until it's taken away from you.
The break was exactly what I needed. It gave my body time to heal, and it gave me the chance to re-evaluate why I was dancing. Was it purely for exercise? Or did I crave dance because I missed dancing?
When I went back to dance, I took it slow. My first class was a beginner contemporary class, and I swear, I genuinely enjoyed every second of it. Not once did I think about the eating disorder. I was fully immersed in the class and choreography, so much so, that I did not body check once. I felt stronger, and my concentration had improved drastically. My endurance was better, and I no longer felt unsteady. I could move without worrying about imperfections, judgments, and most importantly, without worrying that I would collapse. After that class, I decided to stick with contemporary, because it brought back that magical feeling I had described above. Don't get me wrong, my relationship with dance is not linear. There are days where I can't see past the exercise portion of dance. On those days, I decide to sit down and reflect. I dig and dig and dig for that feeling I once felt, and it is not easy. Most times, I have to dig past my eating disorder... Past a loud, obnoxious, toxic voice in order to find the passion and love I have for dance. Although it's exhausting, there is one thing I know for sure. That feeling is not gone, it's simply inside me, and my job is to find it.
Choreography: Ming Bo Lam
Dancers: Izumi Ishikawa, Jennifer Li
Don't get me wrong, I still relied on the people who loved me. Those who sat with me in the hospital, and never left my side. Those who held onto hope for me, when I felt like I had none left. You all know who you are. This being said, darling, look around. I know it may feel like you have no one in your corner, but I guarantee you that that is not true. I promise that there is someone who cares about you, and would be absolutely devastated in your absence. If you cannot think of anyone, know that I care, and I would be devastated. Think about what you would say to a good friend if they were feeling the way you do now. Would you want them to leave?
I validate your heartache. Maybe you feel that your life will never get better. That everyone would be better off without you. That the sun will never rise again. At least that's what I thought. I convinced myself that I had nothing to look forward to, and that suicide was my only option. Your thoughts may be different than mine, or maybe they are similar. Regardless, I am here to tell you that those thoughts are not true. You are worth more than you may believe, and I promise that it will get better. It may not be right away, but it will come. Please live and give yourself the chance to experience genuine happiness again.
Please talk to someone. Journal. Nap. Play with your dog. Go to a park. Watch a movie. Try to ride out all the intense emotions you may be feeling. Do what you need to do to stay. I know I cannot convince you, but please don't leave quite yet.
Growing up, body image was something I always struggled with. I remember being in the eighth grade and thinking my thighs were too large, and my hips were too wide. I was constantly comparing my body, tearing apart every inch of my skin. I was never truly satisfied with my physical appearance. My ideal body type represented those of a child; a flat chest, narrow hips, and a thigh gap were features that I strived for. This body type is commonly glamourized in the media, and as a young girl, I was often exposed to the message that thin equalled beautiful. Overtime, this toxic message became ingrained into my head and played a large factor in the development of my eating disorder. To this day, I struggle to accept my body for what is simply is, and often hurt my body in order to achieve such unrealistic standards.
I never considered my body to be a temple. A magnificent machine that allows me to function day to day. That allows me to laugh, to dance, to sleep, to breathe. Instead, I treated my body like a battlefield. Starving it, cutting it, drugging it, and torturing it. No matter how much weight I lost, it was never enough. Every time I crossed off a new goal weight, I lost a little bit more of myself. I was completely miserable.
With all this being said, I want to apologize to you, body. Body, I am sorry. I am sorry I did not prioritize you. I am sorry that I did not honour your hunger and fullness cues. I am sorry for shrinking you into something you did not want to be. I am sorry for despising parts of you. I am sorry that I took you for granted. I am sorry that you were not allowed to experience the new body that's supposed to come after puberty. I am sorry that I ever apologized for your womanhood. So body, let me finally be your friend. Please forgive me.