For the past four months, I’ve sat every week in the darkened office of my psychologist. Every week, she asks me, “Do you believe that your body deserves to be healthy?” Every week I pause and think. Every week I say, “no.”
I am twenty-two years old, a recent graduate of an elite university. I am part of the “praise generation.” The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about how my generation has been praised too much. Our intellects, it would seem, are primed for greatness. But our bodies? We are part of the obesity generation, and the Nicole Richie generation. Our minds are told to be dominating, while are our bodies are told to be diminutive. Which version do I believe?
Under the pouring rain and our flat black caps, I remember feeling stunned at my own graduation, dazed by the strength of conviction of my fellow graduates. Our intellect and our hard work had been nurtured, tested, and rewarded throughout the past four years, and now we would move on to greatness. Fulbright Scholarships, Harvard Medical School, investment banking – these pinnacles of achievement were ours, as long as we believed in ourselves.
I meandered amongst the graduates, the perfect products of an American university education. I posed for pictures with friends. My smile was cerebral.
The week after graduation, my psychologist asked me why I felt “cerebral.” “Where was your body in all of this?” she asks. “My body?” I reply. I don’t remember. I don’t want to think about it. My body haunts me.
Last fall, I realized I had an eating disorder. I was great with the psychologists, the doctors, the nutritionists. I communicated my feelings, I studied the material, I did the hard work of trying to get better. My mind, although struggling under the stress, acted valiantly. Yet again, all those mantras – “believe in yourself!” – went to work. I can do this, I can get better, I told myself.
And I wasn’t alone. At school I discovered numerous girls who had taken a year off to live at group centers to recover from their eating disorder. Most of the girls I knew called themselves “fat” on a daily basis. Most of the people I knew wanted to change their bodies. At the school gym, the whizzing treadmills, the pumping elliptical machines – they signified the user’s war with her body. Many of my fellow students read ancient political thought or 19th century German texts, all while wiping her brow, gritting her teeth, eying the calories burned on her personal monitor.
How many people in my generation believe in their whole self? We are trained to believe in our intellect, our social skills, our experiences. I want to believe in more than my intellect. I want to also believe in my body. Today I am putting my foot down against my eating disorder. I’m saying outloud, and with hope: “In this I believe. I believe in me. All of me.”
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