1 – Kill the Boss Inside Your Head

By 1234567

From 2017-2021 I had an Instagram account that I posted to with tweaked-out vigor. At the time, I was living the socially isolating double-life of a functioning addict and had anorexia and bulimia. I had surface-level friends from whom I kept enough distance so no one knew what was really going on with me. When I made an Instagram account I did so in anonymity, with the intention of burrowing out a place in the world where I could form an identity without risking vulnerability. Gradually, often begrudgingly, I allowed people from my “real life” to follow me, experimented with connection and being seen. It felt safe to do so from the buffer zone of Instagram, armed with the capacity to edit, omit, and delete parts of myself, my burgeoning self-image corroborated by metrics of “engagement”.

The sense of validation that I got from “likes”, “comments”, and “views” on Instagram paralleled my reliance on other smartphone-enabled measurement tools: step tracker, calorie counter, sleep tracker, period tracker, etc. These came to override my body’s natural mechanisms for knowing if I was hungry or full, lonely or content, in need of rest or exercise.

Coming to rely on metrics to tell me about my reality, my qualitative awareness and vocabulary withered. So too did my capacity for self-determination. I ceded these to technocratic control as quantitative data handed down to me by apps curtailed engagement with those highly political / personal / ethical questions: What do I sense happening? What do I feel? How am I compelled to respond? 

From 2021 – 2023 I worked as a stripper. Earning money in a strip club concretizes the commodification of the body that most of us experience in some way as consumers and producers under capitalism. And this concretization clarified for me what I already acted upon: if our bodies are commodities, and a more ‘beautiful’ (i.e. thin — according to our cultural beauty standards) body can accrue more capital, then an eating disorder can be a means of value production. 

The idea that we should starve / exhaust / mutilate / deny ourselves to create value is both untrue and totally sick; however, it gains credence from the puritanical work ethic, which teaches us we are inherently bad / shameful and have to work to achieve goodness. We are encouraged to transcend our physicality (our innate ‘badness’), to out-smart and out-maneuver our own bodies en route to maximum productivity. 

We rally and decry abuse when we hear of factory workers who are forced to forgo proper ventilation and bathroom breaks in situations where the denial of physical needs is enforced by a despotic boss. We see how tragically dehumanizing this is. But when the market’s invisible hand is internalized as “willpower” that supports the creation of value according to a puritanical work ethic of self-denial, it’s not so obvious. I wonder if workaholism and eating disorders are often undiagnosed — even celebrated as heroic — because they create value under capitalism; a system which valorizes and rewards those willing to dominate, regulate, control, and seek to mechanize our bodies. 

It would be overly simplistic to say people develop eating disorders because of societal beauty standards. We’ve all heard enough about how media impacts young people and all that. But it’s been meaningful for me to think about my recovery, in part, as a refusal to give in to “the man” by reclaiming and recommitting to my humanity. My eating disorder sapped my energy and made me feel insecure and incompetent. I devoted a lot of time and thought to diet and exercise. I can only imagine this effect multiplied across entire generations of people preoccupied with how we look. Think about all the power that could be re-directed towards emancipatory struggle if everyone surrendered their appetites and weight to nature and considered whatever body sh ape they got as a result to be a good one for existing / loving / playing / dismantling imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In 2022, I got into recovery; got off of social media; deleted the step tracker and calorie counter from my phone. I no longer weigh myself and curb my compulsion to check the weather app on my phone when I can easily step out and see how it feels. Hundreds of times each day, as I try and resist the pull of metrics, what I’m really resisting is my fear of being wrong or uncertain. I’m also fighting coercion by capitalistic tech companies to habitually try and “optimize” and “predict” my life’s circumstances. I’m letting myself be a human who is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes uncertain, sometimes wrong.

Recovery is not easy. I had an eating disorder for over a decade, so I’ve had to re-learn fundamental things like how to eat, walk, and exercise without harming myself; how to sense my feelings and bodily cues and how to honor them. I’ve also had to surrender control of my body’s shape and weight. The process has been scary and totally “nonproductive” in capitalistic terms, but I’m freer for it.

I’ll share some suggestions I have for nourishing a new relationship with body / food if this is something you struggle with:

– Cook with others! If there’s a Food Not Bombs group in your area, try joining and if not, consider starting one. Preparing and eating food in community (especially when it’s been donated / freely given by caring neighbors) can be a beautiful way of re-contextualizing food prep and eating experiences.

– Find others in recovery! While some addicts are becoming better understood and supported through the harm reduction movement, eating disorders can still be a shameful, difficult thing to open up about. People in your life probably won’t understand what you’re experiencing or how to support you. But there are others who will and who have recovered from whatever sort of eating disorder you’re experiencing. Try visiting 4eda.org or neda.org to learn about recovery resources and community.

– Remember, people don’t do what they do because they want to, but because they have to. We usually develop eating disorders and addictions because we want to feel safe, stable, or insulated from reality. We can’t enter recovery a second before we’re ready or a second too late. It’s been helpful for me to acknowledge that at one time I really did need my eating disorder and addiction, while also being encouraged that at this stage of my life I feel ready to practice other ways of being and don’t have to use those behaviors any longer.

When we hold space for an abusive boss inside our own psyches, we split into two selves: the self that senses, yearns, and hungers vs. the self that represses, restricts, edits, and seeks to control. For some of us, the latter shows up as that voice telling us we need to be skinny, that we’d be ruined if we gained weight, that we’re not really hungry, that we haven’t exercised enough this week etc. I’m sending love and power your way. Kill the boss inside your head!