Yesterday, I was swiveling back and forth in the beauty salon chair, paging through the latest issue of Vogue, waiting for the timer to ping! so my stylist could wash out the purple-that-will-turn-black dye from my hair. One of the results of being Black Irish? Silver stands started showing up in my late thirties—and they’re not the cascading Emmylou Harris kind of silver, but the wiry crone variety. So, I do my best to fight time and get to read all the magazines I don’t buy for myself for the forty minutes or so it takes for the magic to work.Except this time what should have been a vapid fashion ad knocked the breath out of me. A model, beautiful, of course, long, almost colorless blonde hair, pinned in a half up-do, wearing a halter top, no doubt made of calf-skin, or some material that cost more than my monthly mortgage payment. She teetered on rickety heels, from what I can remember, not much to them other than strings across her toes and around ankles. Her face was glacially clean, as if she had spent a week scrubbing it so only the clean angles of her bones, which were beautiful and hard, were left. But all of this, really, is ordinary—you can flip to most pages in Vogue or Elle and find this presentation. What stopped me was this:
The gap.Between her pants and her body.
Rather the waist of the pants and her waist.Her pants didn’t fit.
The anorexic gap.I looked at the model and though: Either A.) They put her in pants that were too big or B.) She is too small. I dismissed A.) Because from what I know of the industry, they generally use a fit size of 0 or 00, so that would be just silly for a 0 or 00 to be too big; which means she is B.) Too small? Or maybe C.) WORSE. The ad deliberately makes her look like she is too small for the clothes, that she is underweight, has grown out of/is undersized for the clothes she is wearing.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a diatribe against the modeling industry and their links to eating disorders. Certainly the industry didn’t cause my eating disorder. As most of us know, Eating Disorders are complex, have many “causes,” though I prefer the term “triggers,” and these triggers work in chaotic combinations. Obviously, when it comes to Body Image triggers, seeing images of underweight bodies as represented by women in the modeling industry can be a trigger as they can be used as ideal aspirations. But for me, and for many women who have or are struggling with Eating Disorders, we move past these “ideal aspirations” into Anorexia. You don’t usually see the emaciated, feeding-tubed woman skipping around in her cute, green ballet flats and flouncy champagne pink skirt on the cover of the latest J. Crew catalogue, do you? Not exactly going to sell a lot of cashmere cardigans.So I saw that gap, that space between the pants fitting and the pants not fitting, the pants touching and not touching, and I felt that old, or not so old trigger, rear its ugly head. Because for me, when I was deep in Anorexia, that was my yardstick. First, it was trading pants sizes down. A sense of accomplishment. This is too big, let’s move smaller. This is too big, too. Smaller still. Smaller still. Smaller still. Until I got as small as I could go. As small as the sizes would go. Until there was the gap. And then the gap became me. See? Nothing can touch you. That’s how you know that you are small enough. That’s how you know you haven’t become big again. That’s how you know that you are okay. If the waist touches you, then you are fat, big, wrong, a failure. Just like the Tube announces in London: MIND THE GAP.
But there was this moment, close to the end of it all, close to when I was sent away for my last inpatient Eating Disorders recovery, when I was in a store trying to buy a dress for some party. I grabbed three or four in the smallest size and went into the dressing room which had a three-way mirror. Ages since I’d looked at myself in any real way and suddenly I was face-to-face-limb-to-limb-stomach-to-ass with myself and I was breathless because I didn’t recognize who I was. But…I wasn’t about to find out because I wasn’t ready yet, so I quickly slipped Dress #1 over my head. Enormous. Dress #2. Enormous. Dress #3. Enormous. Nothing fit at all. I had fallen into the gap and disappeared.My clothes fit today, even if there are days when I resent that. Sometimes I catch myself wishing for my jeans to start sliding off my hipbones. Or I start wondering what the point of exercise is if not to lose weight. Or just the need to keep on top of myself to eat consistently if I am exercising because that’s how I maintain a healthy weight and prevent disappearing back into the gap. Which is funny. If anyone is as old as me and remembers back in the early, early ‘80’s, The Gap’s ad campaign had a jingle that went, “Fall into The Gap.” Of course, about luring you into their stores. But for me, is the perfect antithetical complement to the Tube’s “Mind the Gap.” It is so easy for me to fall back into the gap, into the kind of thinking that triggers Eating Disordered thoughts and behaviors—a slippery slope. It is much harder, but payoff means living in recovery, if I am mindful, always, of the gap.