Hello. I came to you because of an online friend. I have struggled with anorexia since I was 12. I’m almost 14 now. I came here because people won’t take me seriously because of my age.
I also struggle with depression and severe anxiety, neither of which help with my case. I am about 5’2 and weigh approx. 113 pounds. I used to weigh only 98, but after treatments and therapy my weight has been increasing.
I find it very hard to reach out to people because of this. When my anxiety kicks in, it’s practically impossible. I just switched schools because I couldn’t face returning to my peers after they knew about my disorder. I need some help, because if I can’t find ways to cope with how my body looks, I’ll most likely drop out of school again.
After gaining weight in therapy, I’ve felt so horrible about how I look. Most of my peers are 3 or 4 inches taller than me and weigh 10 or 20 pounds less. I need some help with overcoming these feelings and not letting my anxiety get the best of me.
Stranger in The Mirror
It’s incredibly brave of you to reach out like this SitM. I understand how hard it can be living with a disorder like this and why it can be so frustrating when people dismiss you for being young, as though youth automatically meant that the way you feel was any less real.
I also want to commend you for getting help; that takes a lot of strength and you should be proud of the progress you’ve made. You’re working with a therapist and that is exactly what you should be doing right now. A therapist is going to be able to help you far more than a loud-mouth with a blog can, so I hope you’re talking about these issues with them too. Remember: Dr. NerdLove is not a real doctor.
What I am, however, is very familiar with anxiety and depression. I’ve been dealing with chronic depression since I was a teenager, and I’m well aware of how sneaky it can be. Depression and anxiety are so damn insidious because they speak to us in our own voices, whispering all the things you dislike about yourself in your ear as though they were sacred truths. It’s your jerk-brain, slapping you around because it’s an asshole and a bully that knows how to hit us where we’re weakest, knows how to suck the life out of us so everything is grey and lifeless and pointless and you can barely feel anything except worthless.
And it’s all bullshit. Depression is a liar, delivering bullshit and telling you it’s steak and you need to eat it all down, yum yum yum. Anxiety plays up all of your fears in vivid 3D, larger than life and three times as terrifying. It’s your jerk brain poking your buttons just because FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY.
But here’s the thing: you’re stronger than you realize and your jerk-brain wants to keep you from ever learning that. You’ve already seen hints of that strength; after all, you’ve been able to push back against your eating disorder, which is incredible and you deserve to be celebrated for it. But it’s not going to be easy; your jerk-brain is going to fight you every step of the way.
So here’s what you do. First of all: keep up with your therapist. As I said, they’re in the best position to help you. It may take time to find things that work for you; people are complex and what works for one person may not work for another, which is why it’s important to keep at it. It may take a combination of therapies to get things under control and that’s fine too. It took going on medication to get my depression under control and to learn how to recognize it and to handle it. You may find that medication works best for your anxiety. Just don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, even to your parents and to your therapist. If something isn’t working for you after giving it a fair shake or if any side-effects are making things worse, then you can and should insist on trying something else. After all, you‘re the one who’s living your life.
Next, I want you to start recognizing that beauty doesn’t come in one shape, size or weight and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something – usually literally. The idea of what a woman is “supposed” to look like is cooked up and quite literally sold to us by people with an agenda. Beauty isn’t about what the scale says or what your measurements are.
And quite frankly, most of the standards that women (and men, too) are pressured to live up to are quite literally impossible. Even models and movie stars don’t look like models and movie stars in real life; they all have folds, wrinkles, lines, bulges, dimples and cellulite that only disappears with dangerous levels of dehydration, obsessive levels of exercise, make-up, carefully chosen lighting and a hell of a lot of Photoshop.
The fact that your peers are taller or thinner than you doesn’t mean that you need to be as tall or as thin. That’s what they look like. You are not them; you are you and that’s amazing. Part of feeling better about yourself is learning to love yourself, to decide that you look damn cute regardless of what you’re “supposed” to look like. As cheesy as it sounds, looking at yourself and saying “I look great!” regularly does affect how you see yourself.
Another thing you need is Team You: the people who love you, who you trust, who have your back and will give you support when you need it. Team You are the people you can turn to when you’re feeling weak, when you’re feeling lonely or when your anxiety is especially loud and you need other people to talk you down. They will be some of the strongest defenses you will have against your jerk-brain and it’s lies. They’ll lend you strength when you need it, encouragement to keep you going and cheer you on as you improve. It’s also to be careful to avoid people who will tear you down for no reason other than because they’re assholes. They’re the hardest to ignore – even when you know they’re full of shit – because we all have what’s called a “negativity bias” that means those negative comments hit us 5 times harder than compliments. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are especially full of these assholes. Be ruthless in blocking them, muting them and deleting their bullshit; you have no time for them and all they do is crap on other people for their own pleasure.
It can also help to try taking control of your own brain. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that yoga and mindfulness meditation are great ways of controlling depression and anxiety. Meditation in particular is like being given the instruction manual to your own brain; you learn how to quiet those anxious thoughts, to calm your self and find peace, even at times when you are at your most stressed and anxious.
But the last thing I want to tell you is that your disorder doesn’t define who you are. It’s something you wrestle with, something you work to control, sure. But it’s not you. You’re more than someone who struggles with their self image or with depression and anxiety. And more than anything else, it’s certainly not something shameful or a sign that you’re a bad or weak or defective person. I mean, let’s look at the evidence here: you’re working with a therapist, you’re taking control of your life and your body and you’re continuing to reach out to find more ways to manage all of these issues. I don’t think you realize just how fucking amazing that is. You’re facing down all of these things that’re in your way, you’re taking the hits and you’re getting back up again. Do you not realize just how brave you are, how much strength that takes?
Yeah, you’ve got your jerk-brain screwing with you. But you’re hitting it back. You’re refusing to let it keep you down. You’re staring it in it’s face and you won’t give up and you won’t give in and I’m starting to run out of synonyms for “amazing”.
You are braver and stronger and more resilient than you realize. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to fight your jerk-brain every step of the way. But you’ve made it so far and that’s incredible.
You’ve got this. I promise.
So, here’s my problem: my girlfriend of a year believes she is a whore. Why does she think this? Well, she’s had a bit of a shady past before meeting me. Now, she’s not a person that slept around before we met. In fact, she lost her virginity to me.
No, she thinks she’s a whore not because of the acts that she’s done, both acts she’s WANTED to do. She used to lead men on because she liked to, but never had sex with them because she liked the positive attention, but not the actual act of sex. She’s openly admitted to liking the idea of a threesome between me and another guy and/or woman. She tells me that she’s had more than one fantasy of having sex with guys she’s seen only once. She was actually so worried about all of this meaning she was a whore, she didn’t believe that at first our relationship was anything other than me just trying to use her for sex.
None of this bothers me actually, because after a year and despite any of what’s listed above, I still know her better than she knows herself sometimes, and she’s always been one to jump to conclusions about a lot of things. But underneath she’s the sweetest soul and she has proven time and time again that she loves me to death and would never hurt me in any way.
Sometimes though I feel like she’s really just trying to poke holes in our relationship, but that’s not fair of me to say that about her when I know she’d never do that. My point being, she has this very negative image of herself and can’t get the idea out of her head because she’s believed it about herself for so long that now it threatens my relationship altogether. Any thoughts?
No Need For Angels
Welcome to the wonderful world of conflicting messages regarding women’s sexuality, where women are expected to be sexy but not sexual at the same time. One of the overwhelming messages regarding women and sex is that female sexuality is performative – that it’s something to be done for the benefit of men; if it’s done for their own gratification, then there’s something horribly wrong with them.
Witness the no-win situation that women are put into when it comes to, say, selfie culture. Dudes will gleefully troll a woman’s Instagram feed or Facebook profile looking for those bikini pictures, the underwear photos, the downward angle “Don’t I look cute?” images that show off their cleavage… and then turn right around and call her an attention-whore and insist that she’s vapid and shallow. Folks will ask for selfies and then mock the women for taking them, concluding that taking these photos is evidence of some sort of moral degeneracy. Because God forbid women should do things for themselves or their friends and not for the pleasure of others.
(Incidentally, when I see people complaining about attention whores, I presume that they lead monastic lives – avoiding all forms of social media for fear of drawing attention to themselves, taking pains to remain in the background and remain unnoticed… after all, it couldn’t possibly be that they’re just looking for another bullshit way to verbally slap women around, oh no.)
Now throw all this together and blend it into a sex-negative culture and we have your girlfriend, caught in the middle of all this bullshit.
Your girlfriend has absorbed the moralistic anti-sex bullshit that says she’s a bad person for actually wanting to enjoy sex. She’s played the game of being the coquettish tease but pulls back because she doesn’t actually want to be the tease. She wants to get fucked, but to admit to doing so is to be the whore. She’s horrified that she has these fantasies about people she’s glimpsed on the street as though 99.999% of humanity hasn’t fantasized about banging some hot rando on an hourly basis. Her jerk-brain is whispering in her ear that she’s dirty and sinful because she has committed the unforgivable sin of being a human in possession of a libido, quelle horreur!
So what’s a good boyfriend to do? Well, you talk to her. You tell her that those fantasies sound like they’re amazing and you’ve had plenty of your own that are just as lurid. You reassure her that she’s not a slut because sluts aren’t a thing; a slut is just a label applied to someone having sex in ways that other people disapprove of. She’s got a sex drive and an active imagination and that’s awesome. That’s part of what makes her uniquely her and you like that side of her. You tell her – daily, if you have to – how incredible she is and what a great person she is.
Everyone has a past and that past is part of what makes us who we are today. So she was a tease before. OK and? Yeah, it’s kind of a dick thing to lead people on but it’s also not like she’s obligated to come across just because she’s flirty. She’s young, she went looking for validation, now she knows better. No harm, no foul and it’s lead to where she is now, with a guy who cherishes her and thinks she’s sublime.
(At some point I’ll find the time to write up my thoughts on men’s fears of dating teases, gold-diggers and users…)
What does it mean that she’s had these fantasies of threesomes? It means that she’s had fantasies of threesomes and it gets her off… that’s it. Same with those fantasies about banging Johnny On-The-Street: it’s a fantasy. Big fat hairy deal. Maybe the taboo nature of it gets her motor humming; awesome, she’s taken sex-negative bullshit and uses it to give her something to rub one out to, spitting in the eye of everyone who’s told her that it’s bad. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why she has those fantasies. Fantasies are just that: something in your imagination. What you fantasize about doesn’t define you or dictate whether you’re a good or bad person. It’s just what’s going on in between your ears.
Tell her how awesome she is, reassure her that not only is she not a whore but that her fantasies are great. She’s heard that she’s a dirty, sinful slut for most of her life; now it’s time for her to hear from someone she loves and trusts to tell her that this is part of what makes her sexy and cool and sweet and wonderful all at the same time and the two of you can be sexy monsters together, giving middle fingers to sex-negative bullshit one orgasm at a time.