By Ruth Sybil May
It’s so peculiar to me that the older I get, the better I understand my childhood self and how my intrinsic traits compounded with my sociocultural environment to shape the unique experiences and struggles that I’ve dealt with throughout my life. One such revelation that I’ve had is that I struggled with a full-fledged eating disorder while I was in high school. But, the root of the problem started taking formation years ago while I was much younger.
Growing up as an undeniably queer and gender non-conforming kid, I struggled to find a solid sense of self and belonging with the people around me. My parents and teachers tried their hardest to socialize me like any other boy, but I could never shake my femininity and conform to traditional gender norms no matter how hard I tried (and believe me, I really did try). I always stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was bullied mercilessly for it. This left me feeling very confused and with a lingering feeling that I must have somehow been born into the wrong body, that I was actually a girl trapped in a boy’s body and that my existence must be some cruel joke. This feeling of gender dysphoria (Read about gender dysphoria here) was quite isolating. Although I have a problem with using terms like gender dysphoria because I feel like it legitimizes the classification of trans identity as psychological disorder, I use it for simplicity’s sake to describe my experience as easily as possible due to a lack of less medical language. I was in desperate search of something to identify with and find solace in; something that could transport me outside of my tough reality and give me some sense of belonging and inspiration. When I was 7 years old, I found what I was looking for in the hit television series, America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).
I remember watching America’s Next Top Model for the first time in the living room of my childhood house. I was in complete awe of the sheer beauty, confidence, and talent exuded by the queer people who served as judges, creative directors, photographers, make-up artists, runway coaches, and contestants on the show. It was my very first introduction to the existence of queer identities, and they were involved in every aspect of the show! I strongly identified with these people immediately and they became my primary role models. Not surprisingly, I became obsessed with ANTM from its very inception, and I watched the episodes religiously every week. I tried to hide my hyper-interest since I knew that boys weren’t supposed to be interested in that sort of stuff, and I tried to play it off like I was only interested in the show because my sister watched it (though I never hid my enthusiasm very well, and it was probably obvious that I loved the show more than anyone else in my house). The tradition of watching ANTM every week went on for years, and continued to serve as my primary escape from reality.
“Two body image issues only fueled each other’s fire, and my self-esteem plummeted, but I hid it well.” Tweet this quote!
Though immersing myself in the surreal world of this television show gave me hope and happiness, my obsession became unhealthy and went unnoticed. I not only looked up to the people on this show as my role models, but I truly idolized them, especially their appearance. Being a series about gaining modeling experience in hopes of breaking into the fashion industry, great emphasis and scrutiny were placed upon the presentation of the models’ bodies. And I, being an impressionable young queer wanting nothing more than to grow up to be like these beautiful people, internalized those toxic body shaming messages. I swiftly descended into developing a very distorted body image of myself.
Having already dealt with gender dysphoria at a young age, due to society telling me that it is impossible to be a feminine person while occupying a male body, body dysmorphia (Read about body dysmorphia here) was now taking its hold over me, but the two were not mutually exclusive. Had I not been so queer, I probably never would have latched on so tightly to a show like America’s Next Top Model or have developed either gender dysphoria or body dysmorphia. But unfortunately, the two body image issues only fueled each other’s fire, and my self-esteem plummeted, but I hid it well. I would generally wear baggy, or at the very least, non-revealing clothing to hide my body shame. This negative trend continued to manifest throughout the duration of my adolescence until I eventually developed an eating disorder when I was 16.
Stay tuned for part two of Andy’s story, coming October 29th.
If you know or suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing an eating disorder, seek help. Counseling and Psychological Services (http://www.stcloudstate.edu/counseling) and Health Services(http://www.stcloudstate.edu/healthservices) are both confidential support services free to St. Cloud State University Students.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
Ruth is a third year undergraduate student at St. Cloud state, studying Women’s Studies and Human Relations. Andy is a transgender non-binary femme person from a working class background with a passion for social justice, fashion, and their dearest cat.
Photo courtesy of: TomBarwick.blogspot.com