Working through my Eating Disorder and Coping with Ehlers Danlos
My whole life I have been aware of my body image. My earliest memory of having a negative body image was third grade. We were in gym class and put into groups of five or so. As best as I can remember or describe it, we were meant to pull the smallest classmate around on this wheelie scooter with a rein type thing but we only had time for one kid per group to ride. (Weird, I know, but stay with me. No idea what “sport” this was). I was in a group with this girl I was always compared to because we were the two skinniest in class. This girl and her mom also bullied me and my mom. Obviously, my mom didn’t give two shits if the other mom was hateful to her because she was a grown adult. But I definitely cared that this girl was hateful to me and still is today, as grown adults.
So, I went to go sit on the scooter because I always got picked as being the lightest kid. The gym teacher came around and goes “Oh no, Jordan, “Other Girl” is much smaller than you.” The mean girl laughed at me and I had to help pull her around the gym like a sled dog. And now that I’m laying this out in prose, it’s even more messed up than I realized. This was the first time I attributed my value to my relationship with gravity. Isn’t that insane?
Sprinkled throughout my childhood, random relatives would always say “Wow, Jordan, you’re so skinny” or something similar. It was always phrased as a compliment. Like I somehow won a genetic lottery prize that made me more valuable than other people. I come from a family of women who have hips that don’t lie. I, as a child, was a rarity compared to what other children in the family had looked like. I was just a late bloomer though. I hit puberty and became thicc (with two c’s). This is where things took a turn for the worst.
I was on the swimming and diving teams from middle school through high school. I also did cross country in high school. I was super strong. In cross country, I lovingly earned the nickname “Voluptuous Boobies” or VB for short by my teammates during cross country camp when we changed into our swim suits to go play in the waterfall. Despite having a “desirable” feature, my peers commented on how “big” my thighs were and one in particular told me I could work on them and be prettier. In retrospect, they were muscular and thigh shaped. Constantly being compared to my teammates was rough.
Then I got a boyfriend. This relationship was not healthy. It involved coercive rape, mental abuse, pathological lying, etc. But that’s a story for another blog post and boy is it a doozy. He also helped further my unhealthy thinking though. He told me I needed to work on my thighs, too. He said Alessandra Ambrosio was the most beautiful woman in the world and that I should work on my thighs to get them to look like hers. And also her body in general. As a full-fledged adult, I realize this is insane. First of all, she is 5’10 and I am 5’8. In addition to being completely different humans with completely different genetic makeups, ethnic backgrounds, etc., she is PAID to look that way. He showed me Victoria Secret runway photos for comparison. Alessandra doesn’t even look like she does on the runway. She has given numerous interviews about her runway prep from things like two-a-day personal training sessions, juicing, and top of the line everything. She is paid to do this and they prep in extreme ways before the show. But my 17 year old brain didn’t understand that. Not at all.
After high school, I started modeling. Small stuff, mostly, for local designers and runways. I started getting attention from people. This eventually led to my foot in the door with acting, which I still do today. But while modeling, a big photographer who I later found out had some “allegations” against him, told me I had a great look, was barely tall enough, and to lose weight. I talked to the guy I was dating at the time and he said “Well, if he said you need to do that, then I guess you need to do that”. To my ex’s credit, he was not passing judgment on my appearance. He was a runner and used the example that if his coach told him he needed to lose weight to hit his PR in a race, he would do it. But what he didn’t know, in my disordered brain, was that his seal of approval was the permission I needed to get drastic. He looked at it from an athlete’s viewpoint and didn’t know about the ED struggle I had grown up with, so this was no fault of his. My brain didn’t distinguish. I started eating once a day.
I dropped weight and I dropped it fast. I felt great about myself. I also learned something about myself. This is when I learned that my bone structure would never let me get to where I wanted to be. People that I knew started telling me that I looked sickly and too thin. While in this state, I could hardly squeeze into a US size 4 jeans. I had no extra fat, but my bones didn’t want to be that small. Until that point, I thought anyone could model if they had the height and the diligence to stay thin. I was starving myself and the realization that my actual skeleton was made differently than supermodels was a tough pill to swallow but a good one to remember and take with me into recovery a few years down the road.
During my peak sickliest, I met Matt who later became my husband. He encouraged me to put on weight because he was worried about me. I did. My brain was coming around but it never fully got there. I spent the next 5 years obsessing over my eating, my weight, my body image, but never really addressing or doing anything about it. My Ehlers Danlos started to get pretty symptomatic and painful, not that I knew what it was yet. That led to some weight gain which adds to chronic pain. In 2017, my grandpa passed away. This sent me down a spiral with worsened OCD symptoms (diagnosed at age 3) and anxiety. I started coping with chocolate, using Matt as a portion guide even though he is 6’1 and a male, and eating things in fours. Four is my safe OCD number. I started obsessing about food being wasted taking it upon myself to ensure it wasn’t wasted. I still had that anorexic restrictive thinking pattern, but I had an OCD compulsion to eat.
I gained a few pounds and was miserable. I wasn’t properly nourished and I was the heaviest I’ve ever been and still wasn’t considered overweight by my friends but that didn’t matter to me. My BMI, however archaic it may be, still said I was overweight even though everyone around me, including doctors, said that was bollocks. I dreaded eating because I was obsessed and controlled by it. It was then, in early 2018, that I decided to make an appointment at the Charis Center, an eating disorder clinic. I started therapy with a psychologist. She began to preach this point of “can you appreciate the function of your body separately from your opinion of how it looks?” That concept was totally foreign and blasphemous to me. My whole life, starting from age 9ish, I put value in what others thought of my body. I never realized I could nor had a reason to appreciate it for myself.
At the beginning of 2018, I decided to be selfish. I decided to make it a year of focusing on my health, my mental health, and self-care. I got a tattoo across my thigh for a charity event that says “self love” to remind myself that it’s no one’s business what my thighs look like. I started my aerial training and horseback riding solely because I thought it seemed fun and I wanted to learn. I have since had to take a break from horseback riding because of a bum knee and plantar fasciitis. But I have upped my aerial training and started yoga. I recently performed in my first showcase on lyra (aerial hoop) and in the last few months, as I’ve started to learn more difficult skills, started to truly understand what appreciating my body for the functions it can do means. Having Ehlers Danlos (EDS) and an eating disorder (ED) has been like trying to swim upstream. My EDS causes physical limitations and makes being active unbearably painful. Some days, it’s all I can do to shower and make it to the couch. On these days, my ED makes me feel guilty about not being productive or active. Being athletic with an ED can be a slippery slope and I have to be careful not to get obsessive about exercising. I also have to keep the binge eating in check from thinking “I worked out, I can eat everything in fours now”.
Finding a new sport has been crucial for my self-esteem. Keeping my body strong has helped me manage my EDS as well. I initially resisted the idea that I would be able to appreciate my body’s function regardless of what it looked like. Treating my eating disorder and discovering I have a physical disability (and that I’m not crazy) at the same time has been really rough. How do I appreciate the function of a body that betrayed me at my conception? I didn’t get my official diagnosis until this year but I’ve known my body wasn’t like everyone else’s since elementary school because of all the dislocations and party tricks I could do.
Throughout all my therapy, with a prevailing sentiment of appreciating the function, I decided to reprogram my brain. When I see my classmates nail their hoop skills easily as I struggle, I tell myself “I’ve come a long way, don’t compare yourself to people whose bodies function normally”. If I feel down on myself about less toned areas of my body, I remember that I’ve only been able to get back into physical activity in the last 8 months and it’s better to focus on nutrition and the rest will follow. My brain needs to be healthy before I can worry about my body’s appearance. If I land a new skill in lyra, I praise myself and remind myself that this is what doc means about appreciating the function. I have gained new strength and unlocked new potential and the appearance of my body had nothing to do with it.
I still have bad days though. I have had melt downs during training that resulted from dislocated hips and being angry at the universe for being dealt this hand. From being angry that I have 15 year old injuries that will never fully heal because my body doesn’t produce collagen properly. But then I switch my thought process and tell myself that the reward will be sweeter because I’ve had to work harder than the average person. I remind myself to be proud. I remind myself that I can from a long line of hard headed Hart’s and I’ll be damned if I let my body hold my brain back from the things I want to achieve and I’ll be damned if I give someone else the power to tell me what my body should look like again. I decided to let my limitations empower me, appreciate my body for what it can do, and not punish myself for what it can’t. Some days I will slip, but I’ll never let myself fall again.