“Do you have any tips for shopping for a year 12 ball dress in recovery after gaining weight?”
This question was sent to me the other day. Simple enough really, once sentence, one question, a string of words that pulled me back to 17, only to whip-lash back to the present.
I started year 12 four years ago now, and it’s been five years since the first time I was tasked with finding a ball dress. So much has happened since sixteen-year-old Britts was standing in front of a full-length mirror zipping the most ridiculous collections of fabric around her body that maybe I’d forgotten the process.
At sixteen I was already well acquainted with my disordered eating. Though still undiagnosed, I was experimenting with what I could get away with. Which meals I could skip, how many hours I could exercise after school, getting off the bus early to get in a few extra kilometres. I was convinced I needed to be in control of something, have something that was all my own, and my food intake and by extension, my body had to suffer.
I was not recovered by my year twelve ball. I can’t tell anyone how to cope with a situation I ran from. Nearly four years on, I often still don’t know how to inhabit my weight restored body.
I do know that it is hard.
I don’t know the reasons behind your eating disorder. I don’t know all the reasons behind mine, but I do know, at least in general terms, what your body can come to represent.
(How incredibly tragic for the vessel that carries your soul to become a weapon against yourself.)
I was never interested in looking like a model, I didn’t look at magazines or billboards and pray for a thigh gap. Yet somehow, here I am at 21 and painfully familiar with the gaps and crevices left by malnourishment, how they fill and change and grow softer with health.
How—how—how in the world are you expected to live in a new body, now with the added insult of floor to ceiling mirrors, tight bodices, and standing in underwear for the hundredth time while you wait for the next dress.
I don’t mean to be defeatist or negative, but I’m not quite sure.
I don’t know how to look in the mirror at Myer’s and like what my healthy body looks like yet. I don’t know how to be comfortable in clothes that fit when I am not in control of how my body sits when properly nourished.
I do know how immensely crap my year 12 ball experience was.
How many moments I missed because my brain was starved and couldn’t keep up with the world around me.
Pushing food around my plate, on guard, waiting for someone to make an insensitive 17-year-old boy joke.
No energy to dance longer than 15 minutes.
Dry, brittle hair.
Makeup that didn’t want to stick to my flaky, uneven skin.
Sitting alone in the bathroom.
alone alone alone.
My eating disorder promised me control, and in a way, I did get it.
(in the most pathetic, meaningless way. good for you, you managed to eat exactly half of the green vegetables. such control.)
I went home by myself that night while my friends disappeared off to their afterparties. I didn’t want to go, I wanted to hide and be away from everything because my exhausted brain couldn’t keep up.
I felt like I was living in a completely different world to my classmates. I was sick and tired and hurting and lonely, refusing to grab onto the lifeline of recovery because I was too scared of the unknown.
I traded the final moments of my teenage years, my last moments as a school girl, for dry toast and working out until my head span. By not allowing my body to grow into the space it was designed to inhabit I chose isolation and fear and missed opportunity.
Precious girl, I cannot tell you how to see your weight restored body in a ball dress (or any other outfit or situation) and feel okay with that. I cannot tell you how to love your body because that is a journey we have to work out for ourselves. It’s more complicated than flicking a switch in your brain, and true love is complex and wide and exhaustive.
I do know that your recovering—changing—growing body means that you are alive.
You have chosen to take control of your mind and life.
And yes, your body is unfamiliar and scary, but every moment you chose to nourish it you scream in the face of a disorder that promises death.
I don’t have any tips or tricks or instructions other than to remind yourself that you are living and healthy and making your life your own again.
I’m still very very much recovering. I am not recovered, and I don’t really know what my life will look like when I am.
I hope you can enjoy your final year of school in a healthy body, that you learn to love it however that looks, and that you have the strength and courage to scream in the face of your disorder.
All my love,