Aisling Lally - My story
My name is Aisling, I’ve been suffering from anorexia for about two years. I came across Margi’s instagram and honestly it made me so much less frightened of recovery, seeing how beautiful, healthy and happy she looks now! I hope to get to that point at some stage.
As a child in primary school, like most, I hated healthy food and found incredible joy in ‘junk’ food. I loved sour skittles, any sweets, pastries, biscuits, chocolates. Every Saturday or Sunday morning, I remember loving walking to the manor with my dad so he could buy the newspaper and some fresh rolls from the bakery, and I could get some kind of treat. My favourites were jam doughnuts, or sprinkled doughnuts from the bakery, or sour skittles.
Whenever I was eating junk food around the house, my dad would tut. It didn’t affect me though, I loved treats and didn’t feel guilt. I was quite skinny until the age of 9, and then I started becoming chubbier. At 9, I was lying thinking in bed, and I remember being scared that I would become fat. I reassured myself that if I was going to be fat, then I would have become fat by then. I decided that it was my destiny to be naturally skinny, and I was lucky that I wouldn’t ever have to worry about weight. I could eat whatever I liked and I would still be slim.
It dawned on me in year six that I was chubby. At lunch, our table (we were the ‘clever, speedy table’) was talking about fat celebrities. One girl said she’d hate to be fat, and it would be the worst thing ever. I said, ‘well, no body is fat on this table!’, and as I said it I looked down at my arm. For the first time, I saw the flub on it. I quickly shot it beneath the table so that no body could see. Harvey, a sweet ginger kid next to me saw me do this, and laughed. I had no issue eating or anything, but I was aware of feeling not pretty or desirable, like my slim friends were. I wasn’t surprised when no one asked me to dance at the primary school leaver’s disco! We filled out a questionnaire in year six about nutrition, and one of the questions was ‘How many times a week do you eat breakfast?’. I showed it to my mum, obviously the answer was ‘Every day’. I asked her why I had to answer such a silly question, I couldn’t fathom that anyone could ever not eat breakfast. That’s just what everyone does! It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to realise why some people didn’t, myself included.
In year 7, I remember overhearing a girl calling me fat in the locker rooms.
“Aisling is a bit fat”
“Well, a little bit.”
(Laughing) “You’re so mean”
It really broke my 11 year old heart. I was determined to stop eating junk food, and be as slim as my friends. That was the moment that I really started feeling bad about my body, and I remember breaking down in my bedroom squeezing my fat, and staring into the mirror in tears saying out loud, ‘you’re so fat it’s gross’. I told my mum that I wanted to lose weight, she said that it’s good to eat healthily and exercise but that I wasn’t fat. Wise words.
From then on during my time at my first secondary school, my relationship with food was a little rocky. At times, like in year 8, I’d eat as little as possible and skip meals. But this wasn’t consistent for the five years. Most of the time food was not a concern at all, I ate ‘normally’. I genuinely don’t like pizza, but one night my friend Niamh and I had a girly night in, ordering large pizza hut pizzas, BBQ chicken wings, warm cookie dough, and rented some rom coms. I loved that night. I had no guilt whatsoever in what I was eating. Sometimes I think I’d give anything to get that guilt free happiness back. On occasions I’d order Chinese takeaways, just because I really love Chinese, and the idea of doing this guilt free now seems like a Chinese myth. I was still quite uncomfortable in my own skin though, and this led me to becoming quite awkward around most people, although I could be myself around my friends I wasn’t very happy. I cried a lot.
I began sixth form at performing arts school already with the motivation to lose weight. I hoped that I would through the daily exercise that dance lessons and body conditioning would bring, and wanted to eat healthily. I remember my friends saying something about a dance teacher remarking that the acting course members should ‘lay off the cake’. Whilst I wasn’t there, I felt like that comment was aimed directly at me. I thought that no drama schools would want me unless I lost weight and got rid of my chubby, immature baby face.
When we eat, we are essentially opening ourselves up (we are literally opening our mouths/bodies aren’t we? When you really think about it anyway) Opening up and letting in the products of the world around us.
Eating is often a communal event. We share food, we cook for others, or others cook for us, or we eat at the same time as others. So maybe when someone feels like they can’t eat, for whatever reason maybe they feel like they don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve their place in this world, they’re not enough, that sort of thing. They’re not enough to connect with the superior people around them.
Contrary to the stereotype of someone suffering from an eating disorder (a new western phenomenon, a middle class teenage girl influenced too heavily by the media, basically trying to look like the next best celebrity), females have been using food deprivation as means to disconnect or revolt against cultural pressures all throughout History. Well, according to literature anyway. Take ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ by Fletcher and Shakespeare in 1634. The Jailer’s Daughter, realising that it’s inevitable that she won’t gain what she wants most (requited love), gets physically sick and refuses to eat. She’s not doing this to be pretty, she’s desperately unhappy. Her starving body is perhaps an emblem for the unbearable cultural pressures of the patriarchal 16/17th Century, but mainly she’s disconnecting from the dominating males around her. Life isn’t worth living for her without requited love from the prisoner. She refers to herself as ‘base’. Unworthy of life, unworthy of food.
Or, look at ‘The Broken Heart’ by John Ford, published in 1628 (one of my favourite plays, it’s lit, give it a read). In this play, Penthea starves herself to death. Not to gain cosmetic ‘perfection’, (which doesn’t exist btw and the sooner we all establish that the better), she does it to disconnect. To refuse to live with the patriarchal repression that she’s found herself stuck in with an arranged, all consuming and passionless marriage. Maybe to express how belittled and unworthy of life and food she feels. Or to revolt against her maternal expectations, by fucking up any chance of having children. Did Penthea have instagram? Did she want to look like this that and the other? Was she a middle class teenage girl? No. She was a fully grown, desperately unhappy, ill woman. Desperate to disconnect. Eating disorders are not a made up western popular phase for teenage girls, they are crippling mental health issues, and should be treated as such.
If you’re concerned about someone and you think they might have a problem, please, please, SPEAK TO THEM. Not about them to someone else, how is that helpful in any way? There’s a fine line between genuine concern and curiosity, and if you’re worried, just say something to them. Just a warning, they’ll probably want you to fuck off and leave them to it. I wouldn’t try to make them eat, it makes them more determined to eat less. Instead, if you make it clear that you’re there to support them if they ever want to talk about it, and just keep being a normal friend doing normal, fun things with them, they’ll appreciate it a lot a lot a lot. They’ll probably value and love you and do nice things for you. If you speak about them without telling them, and they find out later, it will probably make them feel more insecure, that they’re more alone than they thought. They’ll want to disconnect more, and they’ll take these feelings out on themselves by eating less. Messed up logic, but you know.
I wish that I could go back and give 16 year old Aisling huge ass hug or a slap in the face, or both. I wish she knew that she didn’t need to lose weight.
Her curves were attractive.
Perfection doesn’t exist.
That she was pretty and kind and smart and good at acting and desirable. She was all those things, but she blocked herself so she didn’t show it.
I wish she knew that there was never a moment where her intellect, acting ability or body wasn’t enough for the Acting Course she was on, or any other drama school.
I wish she knew that she was literally the only one who held herself back. She didn’t need to suffer in silence, this didn’t make her stronger, she doesn’t deserve a fucking medal. She was an idiot to keep it all in. Especially when the Acting Course staff around her were probably the most caring and hard working people she’ll ever meet. If she had opened up about any of her pain regarding illnesses of the people she cared about, or just about how insecure she felt in herself, then they would have welcomed her with open arms. They wanted to help, they weren’t just testing you for weakness. They wouldn’t have labeled her as ‘weak’ or ‘troubled’, they were just kind humans who wanted their students to grow and do well. They were on her side. (I know this now because when I finally did open up a little to them, it was the best thing I ever did)
That suffering and sacrifice isn’t a mandatory part of life.
Working hard doesn’t mean punishing yourself.
That no panel will want you unless you want you.
You’re not going to please everyone with your body, and to be frank they don’t really care that much. They’re much too concerned with their own lives/images, because literally no one is 100% in love with themselves all the time with nothing that they would change. And if they say they are then they’re lying. I’ve had boys complain that I’d be sexier if I went to the gym (ie: lost weight) when I was curvier, and when I did lose this weight I’ve had boys say that they would never touch me because they wouldn’t want to break me, that they are not at all sexually attracted to me, that I was sexier when I was curvier. In conclusion, boys are idiots.
Joking, they’re not.
Well, some are, but not all.
If the sight of my body offends you, look away, it won’t change now unless I want it to. It’s for me not for you.
I know it’s hard, but you need food to survive. Not only physically but mentally too. If you don’t eat, you will feel worse I promise you, you won’t function properly, you’ll get more and more depressed, or if you’re like me then you’ll just cry a lot.
I lost hope and energy so quickly when I didn’t eat. Especially in sixth form, the idea of going to a party made me want to crawl into a hole and never come out. I didn’t feel I had the energy to talk to people, to socialise, to get dressed up, etc. I still dragged myself out a bit, but it made me very unhappy. I didn’t even feel like I could reply to my messages, I just didn’t want to think and my brain was going constantly at 100miles per hour. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to TAKE CARE OF THE ONES THAT YOU LOVE, yourself included. Do NOT disconnect with your friends. Keep messaging them, keep replying, keep arranging to meet up, even if you’re stressed about work, any outside activity you’re trying to keep up with (mine was acting) and it all feels like too much. They will help. Stay open. You will need them, you will want to make memories with them and you will want them when you’re no longer able to call them your close friends. Friends are the best part about growing up, the rest can be a bit shit if I’m honest. So don’t lose them. In my sixth form years, I made the mistake of pushing some friends that I really loved away because I was so stressed and I didn’t want to burden them, and I felt like I wasn’t enough for them. This is something I really regret and hate about how I dealt with the stress, since they were (and are) nothing but fun, lovely people that I miss.
Another thing that I think needs to be addressed is the incorrect stereotype of someone who is anorexic. Up until very recently, I thought that I ‘wasn’t skinny enough’ to have a problem. This is also something that I’ve had other people who struggle with eating say to me, and I think it’s so, so wrong for a number of reasons. It’s probably because the only images shown in the media of anorexic women or men are of skeletal, often hospitalised people. It’s only shown when it’s got to the very worst of the illness. Not accurate at all, eating disorders come in all strengths and variations, all shapes and sizes. No one really talks about their experiences with eating disorders, it’s sort of brushed over. I totally understand why, it’s really hard to talk about, it’s exposing and embarrassing. But I think if we all were more open about our experiences with mental health issues, they’d be more easily targeted and stopped. That’s why I’m writing this. This isn’t for attention by the way, I don’t particularly want to do this, it’s quite hard to type and it’s not exactly a fun pass time activity, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t care about sharing my experiences and making myself a bit vulnerable if it might help someone else. Cool, now that that’s clarified I’ll keep ranting on.
Firstly, since disordered eating is classed as a mental illness, the danger of the illness lies first and foremost in your mindset. If you restrict your intake and feel like you can’t consume the normal daily amount of calories, then there’s clearly an issue developing. THERE IS NO WEIGHT YOU NEED TO REACH BEFORE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, IF EATING IS MAKING YOU UNHAPPY THEN THAT IS A PROBLEM, BECAUSE YOUR HAPPINESS MATTERS. You could be clinically overweight and still suffer, it just means that your body may not endure the detrimental physical side effects yet. These include growing a lot of bodily hair, poor circulation, being cold all the time (which btw is a fucking irritancy if you live in Britain, especially in winter), your periods stop, loads more. ANYONE STRUGGLING WITH FOOD SHOULD NOT FEEL EMBARRASSED THAT THEY AREN’T SKINNY ENOUGH TO NEED OR SEEK HELP. It’s illogical. If you fracture your leg, you wouldn’t refuse a cast just because your leg hasn’t completely snapped off yet. If it’s broken, you fix it. If you struggle with food, it’s a problem, you fix it.
The big issue is you may not want to fix it, because you want to lose weight. Can I just say from experience that it’s not worth it. Food is there as fuel so you can do the things you want to do in life. Achieve your goals, make memories, go on adventures, get drunk without vomiting, etc. It’s also there as a treat, which you ARE WORTH. Eat the cookies if you want them, you’re not here for long and everyone dies in the end anyway. Taste new flavours, when you travel isn’t the best part trying their food, you experience new cultures through eating it’s so good! Meals are normally communal, and all throughout History, communal meals are an integral part of culture. Can’t get away from them I’m afraid. (Trust me I’ve tried.) From medieval European carnivals and festivals to 21st century birthdays, Christmas lunch, thanksgiving. So enjoy them, there’s more to life than counting calories. It’s boring as fuck. You are SO much more than your calorie intake! What about watching sunsets and sunrises, your favourite movies, your friends, your family, holidays, cocktails, your talents, your ambitions? Exercise and eat a balanced diet, do it for YOU not to please anyone else, and you’ll feel good.