Me wearing my dress in my scrappy crappy Southeast London bedroom.
Monday morning, 10:08 AM. 4 April/2016.
I am putting this entire piece of writing behind a jump-cut because it is predominantly about eating disordered behaviour & I understand that that might be difficult for some people to read.
I don’t remember which of the two times I went through eating disorder recovery was the time I had the dream about the red & white polka dot dress. I always used to think of the second time as the time that worked and the first time as the time that didn’t, but now I know it’s not so simple as that. I privately go through a quiet eating disorder recovery in my head on my own every five or six months, and you’d never be able to guess when I was doing it, or why I needed to. Some of the times in my life when I’ve eaten most traditionally-normally were also some of the times I was existing most profoundly in an eating-disordered state.
I had a bad run of it this past winter. I became deeply obsessed with an app I had on my phone. It was called My Fitness Pal, which is a cute name for an app because it has the word pal in it, but My Fitness Pal and I weren’t pals. We were co-conspirators. Together, we were up to no good.
I lived with my ex-boyfriend who I didn’t like and almost hated. I wanted to live somewhere else but he said we needed to be mature adults and do the mature adult thing of honouring the lease we signed. I don’t care too much about leases. I don’t want to ever sign one again.
I worked sixty hours a week at a job that I didn’t love or even really like, but I was too big of a fraidy-cat to quit it. I’d grown so accustomed to feeling passive and powerless in my life that the thought of being in control again intimidated me. I thought thoughts like “I want to disappear.” I thought, “I want to waste away.” I came to know myself as a tiny and fragile person and for some reason thought it was a great thing for me to be. I devoted every spare percent of my mental and emotional energy to counting calories. I devoted every spare second of time I had to wandering around the city in the cold. I do love wandering but this wasn’t because I wanted to wander. I wanted the step counter on my app to register the amount of calories I was burning by walking so I could create a deficit large enough to allow me to drink a glass of wine.
I am fixing myself now: the app has been deleted from my phone. My relationship with food is on the mend. I’m allowed to eat peanut butter & jam again, which makes me happier than anything. I love that food so much.
I don’t eat traditionally-normally and I’m worried about how it comes across but at the same time who cares. I’m confident I’ve got this. These days, I’ve got more of a snacky eating vibe happening, little bits here and there, like how people eat in Spain. Sometimes I get bored in the middle of eating a whole big plate of food. I’d rather just go check my phone or something.
I feel healthy and sane but people still look at me like something must be up when I say no to a bite of whatever or order less than they think I should. They're wrong, though. They weren’t there all those times when I said yes and then let it destroy me. I want to tell them:
“I’ll say yes when I motherfucking want to. I’ll say yes when I want it and I’ll fucking enjoy it.”
I was very thin then, obviously, because I barely ate. I had to start eating again, because I knew that if I didn’t I would die, but I didn’t understand how to feed myself on my own. All the major players in my life banded together to tell me how to eat and what to eat and when, and I had no choice but to take their word for it. It was scary. I didn’t trust them; I often hated them. My thinness was the only thing besides my writing that I liked about myself. I wished I could stay starving so I could stay skinny. I knew it wasn’t what I was supposed to want but I wanted it anyway. I couldn’t help myself.
One night, I went to bed and fell asleep and had a dream. I met myself in the dream. It was my future self, my now self, maybe my one year from now self. A self that I today feel very close to.
We were in a hotel room. My past-self looked at my future-self. Future-self was wearing a red and white polka dot dress. She had my now-hair. She had my today-body. She was me.
Future-self unbuttoned the front of her red and white polka dot dress to show past-self that her breasts looked okay because that is the number one thing about my body I’m usually freaking out about. I don’t remember what she said but I imagine it was something like the time Roger Sterling tells Don Draper “You. Are. Okay.” after they get post-McCann beer-drunk with Joan & Pete & Ted. And past-self knew, in the dream, that it was true.
I woke up that morning and I knew that I would do it. I accepted that I would eat and live and gain weight and hate it but deal with it. I was able to do that because I saw her. The woman in the red & white polka dot dress was the woman I spent the next seven years trying my hardest to become.
I found my dress last Tuesday. I was on a replacement rail bus from Shadwell to Whitechapel and I was worrying about a guy. I was worrying so hard I was shaking. I was trying to think of an action I could take to make things go back to being the way I wanted them to be but instead I listened to Rock and Roll Music by the Beatles, which I decided to temporarily claim as being my Spirit Beatles Song, since it doesn’t have anything to do with loving love. All the person in that song cares about loving is rock and roll. I’ve never really been like that.
There is a part of the dream I didn’t tell you about yet.
There was a man in the dream. He was in the corner of the hotel room, behind the bed. He was packing up a suitcase. He looked up at future-me and laughed at her for being so intense about giving past-self a life pep talk but not in a mean way. I don’t know who he was. I don’t even know if he was somebody. Maybe he was nobody. Maybe he was a pal.
Even before the dream, before anorexia, I always felt like things could only be okay if there was a man. I don’t know why I believed that. Maybe it’s because I was an ugly adolescent and boys didn’t like me in high school. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child or because my parents had a weird marriage. Maybe because validation from a man has been the closest thing I can find to making peace with my own body. Maybe it’s not even worth thinking about. Maybe I just need to ditch it, now, and run away fast. Maybe I need to ditch it but not run away. Maybe I need to be still.
I made a promise to myself that Tuesday: I would never let my hands shake over a man again. I would at that moment begin working toward freeing myself from all those fucked up learned beliefs. It is not the sort of thing that can happen overnight but maybe I can get there by like the end of May or something; life moves pretty quickly when you’re me. I imagined myself writing YOU ARE ENOUGH on a piece of paper and tacking it up to my bedroom wall but then I decided not to. That kind of shit looks ugly on a wall and it’s embarrassing when people walk into your room and see it. I also considered going to a Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous meeting, a lot so I could get to say the killer sentence “My name is Laura Jane & I’m a Love Addict” and then bring down the house with a stylishly-plotted monologue about the time I almost married a dude I’d known for three days. But then I looked up some information about what the 12 steps actually are and realized that like 8 of them are God-related. Not my vibe. I guess I’ll just have to be my own Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous meeting alone in my head.
I walked from Whitechapel to Shoreditch and into the same vintage store I’ve walked into once a week every week since I started working at my old job last May. In my heart I knew I’d find my dress but I’ve known in my heart that I’d find my dress every time I ever walked in there anyway so I didn’t really trust myself.
I probably only found my dress that day because that was the day that it happened to be there. I believe in the Universe a lot less than I make out like I do. I don’t think the Universe gave me my dress as its way of rewarding me for figuring out the extremely obvious fact that I don’t need a man, but I’m happy I found it on that day anyway. It was the perfect day for me to have found it.
I told the cashier at Beyond Retro the entire story of my dress while I was buying it. It cost eleven pounds: a veritable steal. I walked out the front door and the Beatles song that goes “For red is the colour that my baby wore” came on my headphones; I do feel like that was the Universe’s doing. I walked to the eyebrow place in Angel and got my eyebrows and upper lip threaded. I feel like now’s as good of a time as any to admit to the world that I get my upper lip threaded on the regs. I used to be so weirdly embarrassed about it, but I don’t care anymore. I’m a moderately hairy woman. So be it.
Later that night I got off a bus that dropped me off directly in front of Marc Bolan’s childhood home. Again: the Universe. I was bored at a birthday party and said no to banoffee pie because I’d just eaten a chicken sandwich on the bus and it looked kind of runny. When I got home I changed into my dress and made Livia take pictures of me wearing it. I looked at the pictures and thought “That is her.”
I love my dress more than I’ve ever loved any dress. I don’t just love it because of the dream, I also love it for some stupid, easier reasons: because it’s adorable and looks cool on me. I am thirty years old and don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but I kind of do.
I don’t love my body but I like it. I work out every day and it shows. I want my body to look like I work hard on it. I have devoted more time and energy to obsessing over my body than I have to anything else ever and I want to honour what that means about me. Nothing about existing in this body has ever come easy, so I figure I may as well spin that struggle into something positive, something that allows me to run fast and far and lift very heavy boxes and climb trees. Owning this dress represents a commitment I am making to maintaining a body weight and shape that I feel good about in a way that is admittedly pretty hardcore but in no way torturous.
I have decided that, instead of writing down a trite affirmation and sticking it to my wall, I am going to let my dress be my affirmation. Whenever I feel like I am not good enough, I am going to put it on and look at myself in the mirror. I will stare myself down and acknowledge that that is her. I will stare myself down and understand that my body is the home I live inside.