Eloise Parry was not stupid

I am so sorry for being so stupid.“

Eloise Parry wrote these words in a text to her tutors, hours before she died of an overdose of the diet pill DNP, following an all-night binge-and-purge session.

Eloise Parry wasn’t stupid. She was bulimic and she was frightened. I can imagine doing what she did. I think a lot of women could.

Right now I could provide a very long list of the dangerous things I have done because of an eating disorder. I am, however, too embarrassed to do so. They are not dangerous in a way that lends itself easily to romanticisation. There is nothing poetic and edgy about them. They are, by and large, secretive, disgusting things.

For much of the course of my illness, I haven’t even been particularly thin. An average looking person who spends decades risking their life to get thinner is an unimpressive creature. I remember thinking this once, in the toilets at work, just after I’d accidentally swallowed a plastic dental mirror I’d been using to try to make myself sick. I thought, “if this chokes me, how awful for my sons. They will think I didn’t love them, that I cared more about stuffing down a whole packet of ginger cookies, right there at my desk in an open-plan office, and then vomiting it all back up. Perhaps my partner will lie about the cause of death. I don’t want anything heroic, but something that isn’t quite as ridiculous as this.”

If I were to write about my eating disorder any great detail, I’d be tempted to focus on the most “impressive” bits – how thin I got, what my lowest weight was, how many hospitalisations I racked up. Those were the early days, the first nine years, before I somehow lost momentum without actually gaining health. Since then I have wondered, on a daily basis, why I can’t just make my mind up: do I want to hate my body or my relationship with food? If only I could settle on which way to jump, there would only be one form of unhappiness to deal with. But no, I’ll take both. And generally, it’s a low-level sort of unhappiness. The post-binge panics are the exception, but then it only takes one particularly bad session to have an impact that lasts and lasts.

We live in a culture in which it is shameful for women to be fat, but also shameful for women to want not to be fat. It is Cool Girl syndrome. We’re supposed to be “girls that eat pizza and never gain weight.” The girl who “jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2.” No one actually says this to us, therefore if we raise the issue ourselves there’s always plausible deniability. No, no, you got that wrong. All those images around you mean nothing. Men like a girl with a good appetite. Men like a girl who loves her curves, and yes, of course it’s perfectly acceptable for you to frame all your aspirations around what, supposedly, “men like.”  But what if men like to grope and to mock and touch? What if from an early age you are made to feel that it is best not to take up space – or to take up so much space you might be able to ward off danger? What if every image of female success is linked to the visibility of bones? It will make you want to eat but also not to eat. You are not the illogical one.

The Daily Mail website reports on Parry’s death next to a sidebar which includes headlines on Melanie Sykes “showing off her athletic physique she strips down to a tiny hot pink bikini,” Doutzen Kroes continuing “to showcase her toned and trim fugure,” Denise van Outen “displaying her toned and tanned legs,” Natalie Dormer going “make-up free” while putting on “a leggy display in floaty blue skirt,” “Mother of four Natasha Hamilton” treating herself to “a glass of champagne as she shows off her toned figure in a vibrant bikini,” Myleene Klass continuing “to parade her figure in a sexy swimsuit” … Do we care? Not particularly, but it is very hard not to compare, and to wonder what these women are doing to themselves, too.

Parry died not just feeling scared, but feeling ashamed and stupid. She should have felt neither of these things. Women’s logical responses to a world that wants them to be both less than human and superhuman are nothing to be ashamed of. That we are not yet angry enough should be the only source of shame.

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