I was very interested to find out about exercise bulimia, not least because I believe that I suffered from it for years. It’s reassuring to have a term for this kind of eating disordered experience. When I stopped showing the more conventional symptoms of bulimia, I thought I was better, but then I started engaging in exactly the kind of behaviours described in the article above. I exercised compulsively in my late twenties and early thirties, and my experience of exercise is still hijacked by my eating disorder. I find it very hard to exercise without making it into a sort of penance for eating. It’s a difficult condition to address because we tend to view exercise as being always beneficial.
This devastating article about boarding school trauma helped me to better understand my father. He was sent to a brutal Catholic boarding school and suffered from a lot of the symptoms described on the survivors website. He was a workaholic and terrified of abandonment. He struggled to maintain friendships outside of the immediate family circle and couldn’t give up the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He was sent to boarding school at eleven, which is older than most of the men featured in the article, but what makes my father’s case so horrible is the fact that he was abandoned by his mother at the age of five. I just can’t imagine the trauma of that second abandonment by his father’s family. On reflection, I’m surprised that my father managed to be as functional as he was in life.
I was fascinated by this interview with William Deresiewicz, The Ivy League, Mental Illness and the Meaning of Life. Deresiewicz has published books critiquing elite educational systems for creating a hoop-jumping mentally that traps young people in life-long cycles of grandiosity and depression. They know they have to do everything perfectly, but they don’t know why they’re doing any of it. Grandiosity is basically a false sense of self-esteem that has to be constantly propped up with praise for achievements, so when these young people fail, they feel utterly worthless. Deresiewicz is uncompromising in his attack on this system:
“So those are the values that the system is transmitting: self-aggrandizement, being in service to yourself, a good life defined exclusively in terms of conventional markers of success (wealth and status), no real commitment to education or learning, to thinking, and no real commitment to making the world a better place. And I think we see that in the last 50 years, the meritocracy has created a world that’s getting better and better for the meritocracy and worse and worse for everyone else.”
He argues that education should enable you to know yourself; it should help you understand what you want to do in the world. Education should be an act of liberation.
If you weren’t raised Catholic, you might find this article about incorruptibility a bit baffling, as well as gruesome: The (Not Really So Very) Incorrupt Corpses. But the people I grew up with believed absolutely in incorruptibility as a sign of sainthood. This article is interesting because it’s neither skeptical nor believing, but is more concerned with what the bodies mean and their relationship to the people who care for them.
This post has been very serious, so I want to end with something celebratory. The Expose Project is a collaboration between Liora K Photography and The Militant Baker which aims to represent the diversity of women’s bodies:
“We all know that what we see in the media isn’t the whole story. It’s not representative of all of us. And because of what we see (or rather DON’T see) we start to believe that we are the only one with our particular stretch marks. Our uneven boobs. Our scarred legs. Our asymmetrical nipples. Our belly shape. Our body hair. Our what-ever-it-is-that-you-don’t-see-on-display-any-where-else… Rarely do we see our beautiful and complex combination of body parts that makes us magnificent.”
I just love this project. I’m captivated by the images and their individuality. Not one body is like any of the others. I’ve returned to the site often when I’ve been feeling unhappy about my own body.