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Exposing my eating disorder on Instagram made me (finally) take it seriously

Words by Jonti Ridley

Huge, massive, colossal trigger warning.

My eating disorder was a punchline for a long time before it became a diagnosis, so you can imagine my surprise when a post on Instagram was the catalyst for me to finally take it seriously. I love a good niche insta – the more overly-specific a meme is the better. One of my very favourite accounts on IG, @shitmodelmgmt, does a fantastic job of fulfilling this specific craving of mine.

Over time, the account’s content has shifted. This, of course, is necessary for an account to remain relevant, but in this instance, it’s catapulted the account from obscure, modelling-specific humour to a very real, very powerful fashion industry watchdog, who can be thanked for the recent exposé of serial predator Alexander Wang. It’s an account I hold dear to my heart. I even have the merch – I’m THAT serious.

One of the account’s many much-needed crusades against the industry was addressing the horribly oppressive size requirements for models, particularly in the US where ‘sample sizes’ are smaller than our size six (cough, tiny). Obviously, forcing grown women to remain the same size as they were as pre-pubescent girls in the name of ‘fashion’ is beyond disgusting, and often results in models developing eating disorders at alarming rates (often fuelled by their own agencies to secure jobs).

Agency treatment and mental health support for models is a cornerstone of @shitmodelmgmt, but despite being such a mega-fan of the account, and a model myself, I felt like a complete imposter when viewing its content.

But in the name of the ‘cause’, I shared a photo on my personal account donning the @shitmodelmgmt ‘Shit Model’ shirt with a short slideshow detailing the brief history of my own eating disorder experience. Real casual – blink and you would’ve missed it. At 23 years old, that was the first time I admitted I had an eating disorder to someone who wasn’t my best friend or partner, which in a word, was pretty fucking huge.

If I really think about it, there hasn’t been a time in my life I wasn’t concerned with how I looked or how other people saw me. This manifested in a whole buffet of neuroses and fears over the years, but the one that really stuck was the anorexia. Is that the perfect word to describe my ‘illness’? No, but I guess it’s the closest (and sums it up quickly rather than a full-on trauma-porn how-to guide on budding body dysmorphia). 

As anyone with an ED will tell you, even as time goes on and you undergo all the treatment in the world, it doesn’t really ever leave you. If that sounds like a burden, you’d be absolutely right. So many dinners missed with friends, favourite foods I denied myself for years, the excuses and lies as to where my food was or when I last ate – eating disorders are nothing short of an insidious oil slick that seeps into every nook and cranny of your life.

And yes, you absolutely can do your best to clean it up (and you totally should), but it’s sticky. And slippery. And sometimes it just flat-out stains parts of you. It SUCKS. And yet I carried on for years like it was, fine????

One of the biggest reasons I never sought treatment is I never thought I was ‘sick enough’. I realise now with some hindsight (and therapy), what that actually translated to was that I never thought I was ‘thin enough’ for treatment. If you come away with anything from this article, it’s that anybody could be suffering from disordered eating, body dysmorphia or an eating disorder.

This stereotype of gaunt-thin white women in oversized grey sweatshirts being the only people to suffer eating disorders is so outdated, toxic and also just incorrect. There’s nothing to prove or to be gained by allowing your eating disorder to become extreme before you ask for help. Obviously, saying that makes me a massive hypocrite but it doesn’t make me any less right.

Before I made the post I contacted my parents to let them know what I’d be posting. If felt like the right thing to do, given it was something I’d never verbalised in plain view before to them. After I sent the text I sat on my phone for two hours, avoiding my phone screen in case I caught a glimpse of their reply. Cause if they replied, then it’s real. And if it’s real, you can’t back out of posting it. Suddenly all these people, some complete strangers, would know my dirty little secret, a secret I spent nearly two decades trying to conceal.

After I made the post, it took me another month (and a bit) before I got my shit together and saw a therapist. But after a 23-year wait, one month of procrastination isn’t so bad (context, context, context!). I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have found a therapist I clicked with on the first go, and that I can afford to see a healthcare professional at all.

At the time, I was an unemployed writer thanks to ‘rona, so having access to a mental health care plan was an absolute gamechanger. I see my therapist every two weeks, give or take, and we chat. We chat about a little bit of everything really, and after not chatting for such a long time I can’t even describe what a weight off my shoulders it is to be open with someone about my struggles. Never underestimate the power of a good chat.

I’m happy to report, since making the original post, things are better. I deleted the calorie counting apps from my phone, and I’m working on reprogramming my brain every single day. How do you do this you ask? There are a million and one ways to be fair, however, a few of my faves include: introducing positive talkback as a rebuttal against your intrusive ED thoughts, removing triggering profiles from your socials (if you’re following someone only to compare your own body to theirs, unfollow that shit asap) and recognising all food is fuel for your body – and that’s a good thing.

Eating disorders are scary. Body dysmorphia is scary. Writing that post was scary and writing this article is scary too. Sometimes things stay scary forever, but often the scariest things are only scary because we give them the power to be. If you’re struggling with self-confidence, body image or any number of ED manifestations – let someone know. A friend, a family member, an online chat room; once you’ve ripped the shame bandaid off, professional help could be only an insta post away.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues, you can call the Butterfly National Helpline at 1800 33 4673 for free and confidential support, or email or chat to them online here

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