The image of Isabelle Caro is still etched in my brain–protruding spine and tailbone, sunken cheeks, skeletal hands, and eyeballs that bulged from the sockets. I was fifteen when I first saw this image. It was meant to horrify me, but instead, it challenged me. I wanted to be the epitome of self-control. I wanted to be thinner than Isabelle Caro.
Like most people, high school health teachers often believe that showing shocking photos and discussing the unattractive and deadly side effects of eating disorders prevents them. Unfortunately, eating disorders are competitive, and anecdotes and images often motivate people with these illnesses to starve or purge more. Of course, most people will be shocked by images of emaciated women, but people with clinical eating disorders are more likely to see them as “thinspo.”
Even when my health teacher told us that Caro passed away a few months earlier from heart failure, I dreamed of being paper thin. That probably sounds absurd to someone without an eating disorder, but that truly attests to how severe these illnesses are–so severe that people would rather die than give in. I knew all the risks of eating disorders, and yet I continued to diet obsessively and over exercise. I abused laxatives and forced myself to vomit. I knew that I could damage my bones, lose my hair and teeth, disrupt my reproductive system, and even die, but I still denied that I had a problem.
For years, every time I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted. The women that we looked at in health class were tiny; even at my smallest, I was barely underweight. I told myself that I did not need help because I did not look “anorexic” or “bulimic.” I told myself that I had no self-control because most days I relented and allowed myself one meal.
Even today, over a year into recovery, I question the validity of my illness. Logically, I understand that my relationship with food and my body was and still is a problem, but my eating disorder tells me that I was never sick. Maybe some people find these images helpful and they seek out help as a result, but for me, they only tightened the grip of the disorder.