Published in Tango #8: Love and Food, 2009 and The Best of Tango, Allen & Unwin, 2010.
There is a popular perception that eating disorders only afflict women and are in response to mass media portrayals of skinny models and actresses as exemplars of modern beauty and femininity. Bullshit.
Perhaps my view is overly subjective, but for me, an eating disorder is a mental illness generated by low self-esteem, not necessarily linked to appearance, wherein one attempts to ameliorate this by controlling the one thing any person normally has total control over: your own body. One of the surest ways to ‘modify’ oneself is through eating, since glibly, you are what you eat, and it is easy to control what goes in.
It is certain that those who suffer anorexia, bulimia or orthorexia nervosa do not see themselves as other people see them. They have a distorted image of themselves in their minds, which never reaches the perfection they think will solve their esteem problem. I was under no illusions about my appearance; I could very well see I looked like I’d been a concentration camp. I did actually eat, but not eat enough, meaning that the calories I took in did not match what I expended through daily living and exercise. Thus, my weight loss occurred over many years, such that the problem went undetected until it was very late, thereby making it much harder to cure. It is true that I have an ectomorphic body type, which means a fast metabolism makes it very difficult for me to put on weight. At my lowest, I was down to about 54kg; consider that I am 188cm tall. My BMI was about 16.5, the level at which my doc said that if I were a girl, he’d have put me into hospital.
What I was doing was attacking myself for my own perceived failings, which were manifold; in fact, there was almost no area in my life that I thought I excelled in, or was worthy, bar my art, which somehow was quarantined from this - all well that it did, for I am certain had I lost faith in my art, I would not be here writing this. Starving myself was punishment for being a worthless excuse for a human being.
I did get out of it with a fair bit of medical help and a realisation of exactly what I was doing to myself psychologically. Make no mistake; eating disorders are a psychological problem with a serious physical side effect. It took me a year and a half to climb out of the hole and I am fine now. I planned to draw a sequel of sorts that shows how I got out of this hole and also to refute the paean to vegetarianism that converted at least one person I know to the diet. Art comes with consequences and therefore, responsibilities, which is not the same as endorsing censorship. Art becomes part of the mesh of messages that can be misconstrued to ill effect. I cannot think of any messages that I looked at which told me I was worthless; my self-loathing was my own creation and this strip was a product of that.