By Janet Conroy-Quirk, MSW
How many times have you been asked, at the conclusion of a conference or webinar: “What will you take away from today?”
Last Sunday, I attended NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association)’s Warrior Experience, an online event to benefit the organization’s incredible work. During Covid, NEDA has been a leader during a time when many ED survivors have been alone, physically and emotionally. NEDA has maintained their support hotline; shared essential resources; and even provided virtual opportunities to share mealtimes with others- understanding that “eating disorders thrive in isolation.”
Amongst all of the wonderful presentations and insight throughout The Warrior Experience, there was a moment that caught me on a personal note, and became my” takeaway” for the day. Iskra Lawrence is a model and NEDA brand ambassador known for speaking up about everything from body positivity to bullying to photo retouching. In her presentation, she addressed the foolishness of comparisons.
“Compare, and despair,” Iskra stated, explaining that there is nothing positive to come from measuring ourselves against our friends, celebrities, strangers, family members. She then provided insight into how we can avoid the trap of feeling that we must fit somebody else’s mold or expectation.
She summed up her message with the advice: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I’ve written about my own eating disorder history and when I do, I try to avoid details. Some details are sad, some are embarrassing, and all of them are dangerous. But I recall how much of a role comparison played in my recovery. I gained weight as I got better. And I was immediately treated differently. What was missing when I “got better” was the celebration. I was doing such hard work, and feeling so much better. But, other than family and a few close friends, there was an absence of the compliments, attention and semi-deification I experienced when I had lost weight through horrific methods. A sad comparison, indeed.
Not many people recognize weight gain as healthy, even when it is. And it’s uncommon to be praised for expanding your body instead of shrinking it. Like other warriors, I had to accept that my value was never going to come from external opinions again- and that I needed to be okay with that if I wanted to live. Not just survive. Live.
It’s been 20 years exactly since I left my eating disorder. And I forget sometimes how hard it is to keep her away from me. I can’t block her number or delete her emails. She shows up in different forms. One week she’s a late night talk show host’s fat joke. The next week, she’s a FB message from a high school acquaintance inviting me to join her online fitness group (which apparently includes mocking specific clothing sizes and endorsement of food deprivation). Or some days, she’s just in the mirror, reminding me how much kinder the world was when I was thin.
My eating disorder is never going to leave. I have to fight her every day. That’s what warriors do. But at least now I have an army to support me. When I began recovery, it was the year 2000. We didn’t have what we have now in terms of online support. I, like many others, had to go it alone. And I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t lose a battle or two. But I can say, honestly, that in the past three years, since jumping into the Fat Acceptance movement, I have found a new way of seeing myself, because I see Diet Culture and Fatphobia for the horrific, bigoted myths that they are.
I work very hard to keep the Bold community an empowering place where comparisons don’t happen, but celebration does.
So what was my takeaway lesson from the Warrior Experience? Well, I’m going to again, quote Iskra:
“I know the definition of myself. I created it!”
Perfect. To all you warriors, get out there and define yourself. Nobody else can.