There’s not much funny about eating disorders. I’ve known bulimics (men and women) and at least one anorexic. I’ve suspected a few more. A lot more. Once I even wished I had one – bulimia – but I just wasn’t brought up that way. Oops.
The bulimics I knew at university all hung out together – between the cafeteria and the toilets. They seemed to be otherwise quite normal people (well, they were otherwise normal – whatever that is), though most of them smoked and spent a fortune on breath mints. The anorexic hung out in hospital, mainly, or at home when things were better for her. I can remember shaking my head, trying to understand what was going through theirs, then just accepted that I couldn’t. The life moved on, I went to work in the corporate world, and people got much better at hiding their disorders.
Then I entered this strange online universe, where people are either disturbingly honest, deceptively devious, or devastatingly disturbed. I suspect many are all three. And I accept that the real world is just the same. But somehow, when it’s in print, it haunts.
There are some people I have followed on Instagram or Tumblr, because I’ve liked the look of their pics. Ok, I’ve liked the look of the pics of their bums. They are all impossibly thin. Some of them have been born with them, some of them have worked for them, some of them have done both. But some of them have spent their nights on hands and knees, fingers at the back of their throats, purging themselves of whatever they stuffed down there only minutes earlier. When I work out that the slender bottom, in the seductive pose, with the fingers suggestively draped beneath the elastic of some skimpy black lace, belong to someone with an obvious eating disorder, I ‘dislike’ or ‘unfriend’. I just can’t perve at purgers.
Same goes when a cry for help pops up on my screen. A hand-scrawled note craving for someone to ‘like’ them, or they’ll slit their wrists; ‘comment’ or I’ll cry; ‘friend me’ or I’ll flip out. It’s tragic. I don’t know you! I don’t ‘like’ you – I like your pic. I comment on your pic, not you. I’m not your ‘friend’, I’m just browsing… If you need me, or people like me, you’re in trouble. Big trouble. And you should probably get off online and get on with things offline.
But don’t listen to me. Get help. Real help. From a real person.