Do my jeans make me look green?

Optimists are said to see out of "rose-colored glasses," but green is my favorite color. So when my therapist asked me to decorate a pair of kid's sunglasses to show how ED colors my world, I grabbed my lime green Sharpie and started coloring. Each lens became solid green because the ED colors everything.

Except it really doesn't cover everything- at least not equally.

I know that when I look at myself in the mirror, it's the equivalent of wearing green glasses whereas no one else does. What I see isn't what others see. The other problem is that the "greenness" of my vision isn't apparent to me. Why? Most of the time, my thinking matches up to other people's.

The coffee is hot, the shirt is white, we're running late, the scissors are sharp. If I'm seeing green, then everyone is seeing green. So when ED started to distort my thinking and turned my looking-at-myself-vision green, it wasn't immediately obvious. At first, I didn't ask people if they thought I was fat or if I was eating too much, because, clearly, I was fat and I was eating too much. I didn't need reassurance on that. Even if I had, their denial would have simply meant that they were blind to all things green- or they were being nice so as to not hurt my feelings.*

The tint increased slowly on other factors. Lunch would seem too large, so I would cut something out. And then the decreased lunch would start to seem too large, so I would cut something else out. Soon, eating lunch at all seemed rather ludicrous. For me. I could understand that other people would need to eat lunch, though I did feel more than just a twinge of superiority that I didn't need something as banal as lunch. I could still probably judge an adequate lunch for another person, but not for me.

My selective green vision continues, whether it's that I can look in the mirror and declare myself porcine, even though I would say someone who wears Size X (my size) is NOT FAT. I do tend to hold myself to higher standards, but this phenomenon goes beyond even that. I look in the mirror, and I see green. I see fat. It's not that I expect myself to be thinner than everyone else (well, not outside of the AN, that is), it's more that I see what I see and it's green.

Body image-wise, I guess my vision has always been tinted a little bit green. I always thought I was larger than anyone else. Looking back at old photos, I can see that I was probably taller and heavier than "average," but the difference isn't that pronounced. I am not the giant marshmallow man from Ghostbusters in comparison to a group of teeny-tiny people. But when I graduated high school, I would have called myself one of the largest people in my class, hands down. Was I? Probably not. Would I swear to the end of my days that I was? You better believe it.

And maybe that's why I never thought to question these perceptions of myself- they were always real to me, and since my perception of everything else matched up, why wouldn't it for body image, too?

I don't know what to do about having these green glasses on all the time. Having worn them for so long has almost literally colored my vision. I see a larger person in the mirror because I expect to see a larger person in the mirror. And most of the time, I do see what other people see when looking around, just not when looking inward. I don't know how to deal with the fact that objects in the mirror are not what they appear, even if the object in the mirror is very real and seemingly very gross. Previous body image therapy focused on helping me understand that my vision was, in fact, distorted. Which was quasi-helpful then, but not as helpful now.

How do I see what's real if I don't even know what real looks like?

*If my writing professor ever reads this paragraph and sees the mixed metaphors, I will die of shame. This is not indicative of your fantastic teaching, Ann!

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Anonymous said...

I understand this completely, and though I try not to, I stand in front of the mirror, scrutinizing minuscule changes to my weight (real or not)...despite the fact that I am trying to gain weight. I think it was really hammered home to me close to my lowest weight, when I told a friend of mine that I wouldn't want to eat a cheeseburger because I might get fat. He replied: "X, if you ate 3 cheeseburgers a day you wouldn't be fat." This is perhaps not true, really made me second guess my own perceptions. I can see when others are skinnier than me (I think) and when they are too skinny...but myself? Noooo. said...

The weirdest thing to me is that I might (or might not) have some distortions when I look at myself, but I know I have distortions with how I feel my clothes fit. I'll put pants on and I'll think, "Oh my gosh these are so tight. I'm getting fatter every day!" Two hours later I'll think, "Good, the pants are baggy. I was wrong earlier when I thought they were too tight." Two hours later I'm back to thinking they're too tight. Then all of the sudden I'll think they fit just right. My response to that is, "pants aren't allowed to fit just right. They're supposed to be too big!" In one day, my pants go from too tight to just right to too big and back again....

Eating Alone said...

Ummmmm... what happened? I let you find the stuff that work's and then report back. I'm more of a follower type. I would it love it it you could find something that helps this. I'm still the biggest person in the room and it's not fair! I still eat the smallest portion, when someone cut's back, I'll cut back more. So the distortion is with body and with food. Heck work is brining in luch today, I ordered off the kiddie side of the menu. My RD is going to kill me.

Dandelion said...

If you find that your perceptions are skewed, then find an objective criteria and stick with it- healthy BMI range, the weight range your nutritionist/physician have recommended, etc.
If you're still within that range, then dismiss any thoughts that you're too large or eating too much regardless of how "true" that "green vision" appears.

Crimson Wife said...

My problem is not that I think I'm the heaviest person around but that I'm heavier than *I* feel I should be. Intellectually, I know that wearing my current size and having a BMI of 21.5 doesn't make me objectively "fat". And I can try to reassure myself that it's only been 7 months since I gave birth to my youngest child.

That doesn't keep ED from taunting me with the knowledge that Heidi Klum modeled lingerie mere weeks after giving birth and that she was recently quoted as saying she's wearing non-maternity size 10 clothing during her current 4th pregnancy. The rational part of me knows it's ridiculous to hold myself to the same standard but try telling that to ED.

Thank God I have my kids because wanting to be healthy for their sake is what keeps me from giving in to ED's temptations...

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

"How do I see what's real if I don't even know what real looks like?"

You create the real you want to see. You create a positive real. And you can. :)

I think what you describe is a problem so many with eating disorders face. And you describe it so well.

Comparisons are futile. The first step is to step comparing yourself to what you see. Simply see. Don't see "fatter than this" or "thinner than that." Just see. It's so difficult, but it's possible with the right training of the mind.

You are recognizing the task that is at hand and that's the first step.

By the way, green is my favorite color too. :)

Kathryn said...

In the book "Life Without Ed," (which I would highly recommend to EVERYONE), the author describes a time when she was fighting the proverbial "monster in the mirror." She went into her friend's house one day, saw herself in the mirror, and was disgusted because she was so fat. The next day, she came into the same house, same mirror, and was shocked to find out that she must have lost 15 pounds! That person in the mirror looked lovely!

I can definitely relate to this. I always saw myself as the fat kid throughout my childhood and young adult years. That is, until one recent day during my recovery, when my mother asked me whether anyone had ever actually called me FAT. I thought, and I thought, and I thought some more. No one but me had ever called me fat. I was the sole person who had that opinion.

What relief.

Also, one last thing: My therapist says that body image issues are, in some ways, blessings. When I look in the mirror and see a giant, scary, ugly person ... something is going on in my life to cause that. So that's my cue to find out what's going on -- and fix the problem. Job stress, relationship issues ... it's not about me actually being larger than I was yesterday. These feelings can be our personal barometers.

Doesn't make it any easier at the time, but this has changed my perspective a bit ...

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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