Our Bodies vs. Our Selves

mocaAnyone living in contemporary society realizes that our bodies are much more than just vessels that we use to transport our hearts, souls, and minds around the planet. Blame evolution and “survival of the fittest” for the way we humans gussy ourselves up when we’re looking for love, friendship, respect and/or sex. Not to mention the number of selfies people post on social media, despite the fact that many of those selfies show the person in a particularly good light, or in a way that person would like to be seen. 

And—at least for many of us—it can be quite enjoyable to do things that make us feel more attractive. The beauty and fashion industries would crash and burn if people didn’t derive real—if fleeting—satisfaction from getting a new hairstyle, finding a new makeup or face cream, or buying that amazing new outfit or pair of shoes that makes us feel particularly great.

There’s also a good deal of evidence supporting the belief that people who like the way they look are often happier and more successful. Which makes sense: if we feel confident, that will show in our actions, and people are naturally drawn to confident people. Chalk another one up to evolution.

My point is that no matter how spiritual we are and how hard we focus on internal beauty, which—make no mistake—is the beauty that really counts, it’s hard not to want to look good too, or at least OK. I often wish that weren’t the case—as a mother of two middle-schoolers, I’m sometimes infuriated by this element of human nature. But I’m also old enough to feel pretty certain that we humans have a long way to go before we can ignore it.

The trouble happens when we go to extremes, particularly when weight is involved. It’s usually OK for a person to say they want to drop a pound or two because, hey, summer’s coming, and they want to look a little slimmer at the beach. America, as a country, has issues with obesity too, and many doctors advise their patients to lose some weight for the sake of their health.

But for some people, losing weight isn’t about health or a little slimming down. Or maybe it starts out that way, then escalates into an eating disorder. The reasons this happens with certain people and not with others are complex and still not very well understood, even by professionals. Heredity plays a large role in many cases, but there’s usually an environmental or emotional stimulus as well.

I’ve talked quite a bit about my history with eating disorders in other blog posts like this one. In a nutshell, I came to believe, as a teenager, that I’d be happier and more “popular” if I could lose a little weight. So I started dieting and then purging. Little did I know that my behavior would result in years and years of confusion, isolation, poor health, bad teeth, and despair. Thankfully, a boyfriend—who eventually became my husband—convinced me to seek the professional help which changed and saved my life.

In my new novel, Leaving the Beach, the main character, Erin Reardon, decides to try vomiting after arriving at the drunken conclusion that she needs to be thinner in order to attract the attention of David Bowie. As you might imagine, that choice doesn’t get her what she wants. But it does lead to a whole lot more bad choices.

At some point while I was writing Leaving the Beach, I began to wonder if readers would be able to relate to Erin. Was she too strange? Did she live in her own head too much? And at least one person who started reading the manuscript told me they weren’t able to finish it because of those factors. They also said they simply couldn’t believe a woman could be so self-destructive for so long and still manage to function in society. But many other readers have told me that they see a lot of themselves in Erin. Maybe they also had eating disorders, or maybe it was some other mental illness or obsession that kept them from being able to experience life in a “normal” way.

I’d love to hear about other peoples’ experiences with anorexia, bulimia, or other mental/health conditions that stunted your emotional development for a while. Even more importantly, I’d love to hear how you were able to overcome those issues and get your life back on track. Of course, I understand that many people don’t feel comfortable talking openly about such things and may wish to comment anonymously or not at all. But for people still suffering—and there are many in our midst—it can be quite helpful to learn about the struggles others have endured. Back when I was bulimic, I would’ve liked to hear stories like that. Perhaps I would’ve sought help sooner if I hadn’t felt so alone.

Oh, and if you’d like to read more eating disorder success stories, please check out this link on the website of NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association. NEDA is a wonderful place to get help if you feel your eating (or lack thereof) is out of control.

An updated version of my novel, Leaving the Beach, is now available on Amazon.com and many other places where books are sold.

About Mary Rowen

My three published novels, LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner), LIVING BY EAR, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY focus on women figuring out who they are and what they want from life. Music and musicians have a way of finding their way into the stories. I live in the Boston area with my family and pets.
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14 Responses to Our Bodies vs. Our Selves

  1. jan says:

    I had a friend in high school who had anorexia – only back then it didn’t have a name. Changed her whole personality from bubbly and cheerful to withdrawn and quiet. Very scary. Jan


    • Mary Rowen says:

      Sorry about your friend, Jan. And yes, EDs do often change peoples’ personalities. I hope she got some help and recovered. One good thing about most EDs is that they’re usually treatable.


  2. I struggled with an eating disorder beginning my senior year of high school and continuing through freshmen year of college. I’d never been overweight but I was very unhappy. I didn’t have the greatest taste in friends and was constantly comparing myself to them. Controlling what I ate, what time, how much, and even making sure I ate less than everyone around me became my way of controlling my life. Thankfully, I was so happy in college that the obsession eventually went away but not before dropping 20 pounds I never needed to shed, losing my period for over a year and alienating quite a few people in my life. I’m looking forward to reading your book and wish you the best of luck with it!


  3. Mary Rowen says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Meredith. I’m so glad you were happy enough in college to overcome your ED that way. I believe happiness has a great deal to do with beating these illnesses, but in many cases, that’s not enough. Gosh, I remember that though, the competitiveness. Trying to eat less than everyone else, and feeling like I won if I did. It kills me to think about all the people out there right now, struggling with these illnesses, and hope they’ll soon get the help they need to recover. Stay well!


  4. heather says:

    Wow. Hugely brave statement beautifully and clearly written. Brava, Mary!


  5. Thank you for this post, Mary. I appreciate your honesty, courage and I’m happy you married that great guy. I worked with young ladies who suffered from eating disorders and it was gut-wrenching to watch them suffer. Many girls left the program healthy and happier which was a blessing and I hope they remain that way. May I send your post to a young lady who desperately needs help? Thank you and be well!


    • Mary Rowen says:

      Dear Eleanor, first let me say how much I respect you for working with people with EDs. I can only imagine how difficult that work must be. But to see girls leaving the program healthy and happy must’ve been incredibly rewarding. Secondly, of course, please share this with anyone you think it may help. I know a couple of people suffering with EDs right now, and as you say, it’s gut-wrenching to witness the struggle. Thank you!


  6. I really appreciate this post, Mary. It’s something I think needs to be discussed more openly. As a professor who teaches speech classes, so many of my students have spoken about their eating disorders and it’s heartbreaking to me. Just this semester three of my students shared that they almost died of their eating disorders, and they are so young. They all took advantage of recovery programs and seem to be doing well, but wish that more people were willing to talk to them openly about what they were experiencing when they were at their lowest points. They all felt that their families and friends were in some degree of denial. I’m so glad your husband-to-be encouraged you to seek help. I think we all need to do that for the people in our lives who suffer form eating disorders. Thanks for sharing your experience. We all learned from it!


  7. Mary Rowen says:

    Thank you, Patricia. Wow. If three of your students in one semester almost died of EDs, then just imagine how many other people are suffering. It’s so hard to get an accurate number, as denial is such a strong part of these diseases. Back when I was in those really dark places, I never would’ve admitted that I was bulimic. And your students only talked about their issues when they were in recovery. There’s a shame that goes along with EDs–especially binge eating and purging–that I think often keeps people from talking about what’s going on. And yes, I think families and friends may also take part in some denial, because they don’t know what to do, or may even feel that they’re somehow responsible.

    It’s very tricky, but you’re right: we need more open, serious discussion. EDs have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and yet comedians still make jokes about them. On the brighter side, though, a bunch of celebrities have recently come out and talked about their eating disorders and that’s huge. Thank you again for sharing.


  8. erin reardon (really!!) says:

    Can’t wait to read your book, I am an avid reader, I also suffer from eating and mental disorders but recently had a life changing experience, it scared the shit out of me and I’m in the process of getting healthier. I came across this while googling my name, Erin Reardon…she sounds like me, lol!


    • Mary Rowen says:

      Hi Erin! Oh my, that’s pretty amazing! So glad to hear you’re getting better and thank you so much for dropping by and commenting. I hope you enjoy the book and would LOVE to hear your feedback on it. I will keep you in my thoughts and send lots of positive energy for your recovery. It’s hard work but totally possible and I wish you all the best. xo


  9. A very evocative post. It’s good to see more people talking about mental health. I struggled with essential tremours (which eventually lead to depression) ever since I can remember. In a country where such conditions are not spoken of/or are ridiculed, I wasn’t having the best of times. It was only after I moved and received better medical care and being amongst more supportive friends that I got my life back on track.


    • Mary Rowen says:

      Thank you for sharing, Kabir. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve struggled with these issues and am very glad you eventually got the help you needed. It’s encouraging to see societal attitudes changing over time but there are so many people who still lack accurate facts and/or empathy regarding physical and mental illnesses. Speaking up takes courage, but enough people with the courage to speak up will change the world for the better. Thanks for being one of those people.


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