The Disappearing Act: Fighting Disordered Eating as a Masculine-of-Center Woman

Yesterday I went on a date with my fiancée. We were getting her engagement ring resized (too big the first time around) and there’s a French place just across the street from the jeweler. They serve, hands down, the best crêpes I’ve had since I lived in Paris. So yesterday for lunch I had: one La Fin du Monde beer (made in Quebec, my favorite beer right now); one buckwheat crêpe with scrambled eggs, swiss cheese and caramelized onions; half a sweet crêpe with melted chocolate, toasted coconut and coffee ice cream (Abby and I split one because they’re massive); coffee, just to get myself out of the food coma so I could drive us home from Philadelphia.

And I enjoyed every last fucking bite of it. Every time we treat ourselves to Beau Monde crêpes, it’s an experience and I remember how excited I am that the world has such good food in it. I was delighted by every aspect of our meal: how it looked, how it tasted, how it felt to sit outside on a hot day with a cold beer. I was delighted right down to the cow-shaped creamer that spits half-and-half out of its mouth when you tilt it.

Delight is my end state.

I can’t muster two fucks to rub together when it comes to my gender presentation. I just want to look like a fancy gentleman. I don’t mind getting “sir” from train conductors and baristas, although I use she/her pronouns. I did used to present more femininely — well, like a “dirty hippie.” I had mono-length hair down to the top of my butt. I got all my clothes from a thrift store (ripped jeans were the best find) and I smelled like patchouli. And you know what? I would actually be just as happy looking like this now (although I doubt I’d ever get hired to do anything ever). Whatever, for real. No fucks to give.

I do give a fuck about my ability to eat things, though.

Have I told you that I used to be an actor? Well, as much of an actor as an undergraduate puppy can really be, but hey. I considered myself an actor. Though I wasn’t a part of my university’s conservatory, we had a lot of overlap with their students and their classes. Once I overheard another MFA student talking to my acting teacher. The other MFA student was detailing her juice cleanse. “I’m already down eight pounds!” she said.

“I don’t really think you need to lose weight,” my acting teacher said.

“Ugh,” she said, ignoring him. “You know, even when I drop, like, most of the fat off my body, my dress size is still an eight.”


“Isn’t that sad?”

He didn’t really get it. But he was a he, and free from many of the expectations the industry places on women’s bodies. He was going bald, actually, and I don’t think that mattered when he was cast in things. I got it, though. Deeply. I understood. Because similarly, if I as a person who is five feet ten inches tall drop to 128 pounds, the tiniest I can get my dress size is an eight. My bones, with the minimum amount covering them, are a size eight. My shoulder width is my shoulder width. And even with a “thigh gap,” my thigh bones still exist, as does my pelvis. We are supposed to be tall, waif-like and look permanently Photoshopped — and it’s all supposed to be effortless. You’re supposed to be able to do that and eat half a pizza and say “I love  food! I eat all the time! No, I just look like this.” But I couldn’t do that. I had to eat one slice of pizza for the whole day and say the same thing.

No woman is exempt, either. I heard a faculty acting teacher in my later undergraduate years tell someone a bit older than me what they needed to do for their MFA auditions. Yeah, she talked about talent and practice. But she also said, “and get to the gym. I don’t mean to lose weight, but like, get toned.” This person? The person with the MFA audition coming up in a few months? She was short and tiny and toned already. But she was a she.

And I looked down at my skinny-ass unhealthy body that was still a size eight, and I looked at my track record for playing best friends, quirky side roles and heroin addicts (all of which, I must admit, were amazing fun to play). And maybe that’s when I started to say fuck this bullshit. I dunno, there wasn’t really one single moment. There rarely is when you’re not writing a fictional work with a story arc and everything. When you see a play or a film, the character learns their lesson once and changes their behavior. It’s expedient. The characters in my real life, though; most of them have to learn their lesson over and over and over again.

For the first half of college, I was eating no more than 800 calories a day (by my pseudo-science estimations, of course). And I also went to the gym or to a group fitness class every single day of the week. I even went to the gym on Christmas those years. No breaks.

Except I did eat holiday meals like I would never eat again. That was the one break I allowed myself. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. On those days, I could eat as much as I wanted. And usually I wouldn’t want to eat again for a day or two after, that’s how full I was.

I also, every day, burned a thousand calories (again, estimation pseudo-science style) on a mini step machine I kept in my dorm room. I woke up so early to get my steps in.

I drank a lot of diet soda. There were no calories in it, and it made me feel full. The bubbles, I think.

I was tired all the time — yeah, I was also taking 21 credits the second half of my freshman year, but looking back on that workload, it shouldn’t have been that crazy. It shouldn’t have felt as crazy as it felt. I am the kind of person who relishes in her ability to take 21 credits. But I guess when you don’t put gas in the car, it can’t climb the hill, you know?

So to stay awake, I drank coffee. I cut down on the cream and sugar until I was able to drink it black. I hate black coffee. I have always hated black coffee. I hated the black coffee while I was drinking the black coffee. But it wasn’t about being delighted by the things I consumed any more. It was about staying awake. It was about being able to perform. Literally, it was about being able to perform.

I became a group fitness instructor. I taught kickboxing. Sometimes I taught it without eating breakfast.  Or without eating anything. Miraculously, I never passed out.

There was a woman in one of my classes who was skeletal. And I always thought, poor her. She really has a problem. But when I talked to my boss, there was nothing we could do about it unless she passed out in class. And she was right, it wasn’t our business. Passing out, it seemed, was the threshold.

The confirmation that I was doing a good thing to my body didn’t just come from fellow actors and people in the theatre world. I mean, it also came from there — I got more roles when I wasn’t eating right than when I was — and it certainly wasn’t about talent or focus, I was barely awake. It was coming from other places too: I went back to my home town to vote in my freshman year. I’d dropped a lot of weight really quickly (in just the few months since I’d been away) and I ran into my best friend’s mom at the polling place.

“You look really good,” she said. She had no idea. Not many people did. “Like, really great! Good job!”

“Yeah,” I said back. “I’m working really hard not to gain the freshman fifteen.”

My mother just gave me the side eye. She knew something was up. It was too fast.

The confirmation also came from shopping.

In high school, I had a brief stint where I started wearing men’s pants. I got so tall that the pants at the places where all my friends shopped weren’t long enough. You could almost hear those pants shriek with the effort of reaching toward my ankles. And they didn’t even come close. But I’d try to pair them with feminine tops and I never looked quite right. I hated the way I dressed, but I also hated the feeling of wearing waders. It wasn’t until I discovered women’s jeans with a 34 inch inseam that I could ditch the men’s pants. All I wanted to look like was circa 1969. I tried very hard to find bell bottoms.

It wasn’t long before even those pants didn’t fit. The more I developed, the more I felt like a sausage trying to squeeze into a casing that had already expelled its contents.

If I didn’t eat, I could shop and actually find clothes that fit me in all the places. All I wanted to do was walk into a store, any store at which my peers shopped, and buy a goddamn dress in a size, any size, and have it fit.

And you know the shittiest part? Yeah, I’m tall and larger in my bones and all. But I’m by no means big — I never have been. What must this fucking toxic environment be like for people bigger than I am?

In health class growing up we were always fed the narrative that people with body dysmorphia had no idea what their body looked like. That they would look in a mirror and see themselves at 300 pounds, even if they were at a cool and unhealthy (or even healthily) 128. Hell, even if they dropped lower than that.

That was never my experience. It is not my experience right now.

Instead, when I look in the mirror, I see the possibility of me weighing 300 pounds. And that’s enough. Believe me, that’s enough to do a number on anyone.

Two big things happened. One in 2008, one in 2009.

The first thing that changed was that my grandfather was murdered.

The second thing that changed was that I moved to Paris.

Both of these shook my patterns up, a little. They didn’t erase my now completely fucked up relationship to food, but they went a long way to fixing it. And I don’t think I would have gone as far in so little time if they hadn’t happened together.

My grandfather was murdered a month before I left. And when I got to Paris, I just really wanted to live. Like, as hard as a straight-laced control freak was capable of living. I still didn’t try any drugs, not even on that beach during our vacation in Barcelona when I was offered. But I did make sure to try everything, food-wise. Liquor-wise. Coq au vin, yes please. Escargot, you got it. The fresh-baked baguette from the baker on the corner that I swear to God, even though we were in Bâtiment B and were a way back from the road, I could smell. Yes, hell yes I will eat that. Crêpes of all kinds. Even these little mushrooms — I think mushrooms in the States taste like chlorine, but I liked them in Paris. Un grec — a sandwich made of mystery meat that got shaved off a rotating spit named, politically incorrectly, for their generally Greek purveyors. Absinthe, check. Calvados, check. Salade chèvre chaud, double triple check, that one was my favorite. Anything my roommate cooked (I am the worst cook) check check check. I ate my way through France.

And that’s not even counting the other countries I ate my way through — paella, proscuitto on cantaloupe, gelato, carbonade flammande, fries with mayonnaise all over them (the best way, I’m sorry y’all), spatzel and rouladen, some mystery meat on a bun in the Czech Republic — I said yes to everything that didn’t properly make me gag (sorry frogs legs, you and I were just never destined to get on).

I loved every mouthful because in the back of my mind, yeah, I was saying “Well, what if I never see food again?” But it was contextualized far differently. What if someone decided to end my life, like someone decided for my grandfather, and I really never did see food again? Like really really? Not in the self-manufactured way that I’d been doing, but truly never even laid eyes on it again because I wouldn’t ever have eyes again. The jury is still out for me on an afterlife, really, and though I want to believe in one, how do I know it includes fries with mayonnaise on them?

I got good and chubby in Paris. And then I went shopping for my birthday dress. I was turning 21 and I was having a tea party at Marriage Frères, for which I needed something other than tattered bell bottoms and a thrift store leather jacket. The lady behind the counter said something I will never forget: “Maybe you should go back to the United States, where dresses will fit.” It was smug. It was in French. She might have thought I didn’t speak French. I hung the dress (largest size in the store, still didn’t fit) back up and walked out. Little did she know the dresses in the US wouldn’t fit either.

I started jogging that day. I wish I liked jogging. I have never been a person who likes pointless cardio. I still go jogging. I am still not very good at it. Or very good at enjoying it, at least not all the time. But it’s like swallowing medicine. I know it’s good for me.

Once I got ill in Paris and barfed a lot. I admired the way I looked in the mirror after having purged everything. But I didn’t like vomiting. I didn’t want to ruin my teeth.

I didn’t want to stop eating again either. Food is awesome. Delight is awesome.

It was a time where I learned the same lessons over and over again, banging my head into walls where I thought maybe there could be doors.

In 2012, I got out of an incompatible if not abusive relationship with a masculine of center lady who really liked it when I wore heels and red toenail polish, even though her type had historically been butches. I met the woman who would wind up my fiancée. I learned that I wanted to be a writer, not an actor. And I ran out of fucks to give about trying to squeeze myself into women’s clothing that just wasn’t made for me.

So, with the help of that same maybe-sort-of-abusive person, I went to Express and bought my first outfit comprised entirely of men’s clothes. “I don’t know what happened since we broke up, but you’re cool now.” That might have been the first privilege that presenting masculinely afforded me, the ability to now be cool in a way that my uncomfortable feminine-presenting ass never was.

The second privilege it afforded me was the ability to walk into a store, any store at which my peers shopped, and pick out something that fit me in all the places. And that size was usually a small. Medium, max. As I looked in the mirror on that first day in the too-hot Express dressing room, I said, “Well. At least I’m not trying to get hired as an actor like this.”

I got a taste of something I had never known — shopping in the men’s department afforded my body the opportunity to take up the amount of space it actually takes up. Masculine people are afforded the privilege of space. Feminine people aren’t. Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. That they maybe make themselves disappear in that quest for lightness, for smallness, for compactness. Like flowers being pressed until they’re flat. Not all feminine people do it, but I think most of them feel the pressure.

I’ve never been to a therapist in my life, not a single one. I dunno, with the exception of the three year period where I didn’t eat, I’ve just never felt like anything going on in my head was negatively impacting my life in ways I couldn’t deal with myself. That might be an unhealthy thing, but I’m really happy right now. So if it ain’t broke, you know?

But specifically, with the whole disordered eating thing, I just never felt comfortable claiming an actual eating disorder as my experience. I always figured people with eating disorders, like the people with eating disorders they feature in Lifetime movies or on daytime reruns of Judging Amy, hit rock bottom. They have a heart attack. They become unable to function. And they can’t drag themselves out of it by their fingernails and sheer willpower. Because my effects weren’t so severe, it’s hard for me to claim eating disorder as my deal. It’s probably why I never saw a therapist for it, or told a doctor. Probably because, in the world I was in, this was just a normal, everyday part of being a feminine woman who wanted to put her feet on a stage. So many women ate this way and no one talked about it. My discomfort in claiming eating disorder remains. It’s probably why I’ve typed 3,685 words to this point without once typing the word “anorexia.” It doesn’t feel right, somehow. Like I’m appropriating an identity that I have not earned the rights to. I haven’t paid the dues in ill health and anguish.

The same holds true for butch. There’s such history with that identity. A community. A shared narrative, though not an identical one. And I don’t fit with that. If I were naturally and without an unhealthy-relationship-to-food a skinny tiny pixie person, I’d probably still present very femininely. I’d probably still be striving for a look straight out of ’69 (much to my fiancée’s dismay). I lay claim to masculine of center, it feels better. More open. I’ve also been described as Cotton Candy of Center and Fairy Prince(ss). I’ll take both of those, happily. But butch? It feels like I’m co-opting something. I haven’t paid the dues in dysphoria and oppression.

I also rarely talk about this with anyone not particularly close to me, because I feel like this might be an Upopular Opinion. It certainly isn’t politically expedient, the idea of a disorder impacting gender presentation. It deviates from the idea that innate-ness is more valid somehow. It lends itself to this weird straight-people narrative that masculine women are damaged in some way. Which is also fucking bullshit. Then again, I also don’t feel damaged. I never have. I feel experienced. I feel afraid, sometimes, to share exactly how much my fucked relationship with food and my body has contributed to the dapperness of my current wardrobe, the length of my hair. Dysphoria isn’t a thing I’ve ever felt. Dysmorphia is.

I’d also like to think that my community will understand — that we’ve all arrived at gender in very unique and specific ways, exactly how we were meant to. I guess we’ll find out.

The other day, I was given a tee shirt. It’s cute — it’s an Etsy print, it says “Code as Craft.” I got it at the Lesbians Who Tech conference (which was kickass, as usual). It’s a women’s cut, sure, but the woman behind the table giving away the freebies said “all we have is women’s extra-large.” I thought, great. Extra-large? Yeah, that’ll be fine, it’ll probably even be a little baggy on me the way I like tee shirts to be.

I got home and tried it on. It was tight on me. Not a little bit tight, like. Really tight. Like the Feminist Hulk in their tiny purple shorts tight.
My fiancée said, “No, that can’t be an extra-large. Is it, like, maybe a kid’s extra-large?”

I looked at the tag. “Made in USA. Women’s. American Apparel. XL.”

You know, it hasn’t been very long since I started presenting masculinely.  Somehow it’s felt like a long enough journey that I thought at least something would have changed. But no — apparently the maximum allowable size for feminine female people is basically a child’s extra-large.

We are not children and that’s some bullshit. We deserve to take up space. Our bodies deserve to take up space. Our words and feelings are allowed volume. And I will not once again give up delight in favor of black coffee and sending myself through the flower press.

Feature image via Shutterstock

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. I do not have enough words. So much of this touches the corners of me. Fuck this “learn to drink coffee without sugar” plan I’ve got going right now. Thank you <3

    • No, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for making sure you like the coffee that you put in your mouth. <3

    • whole milk is better than skim.
      cream beats half and half by a mile.
      cream in my coffee, please. cream.

      • It was Passover and I couldn’t find kosher for Passover low- or no-fat dairy out here in the boondocks, so I bought full-fat. Never going back!! And guess what. My weight is down, my blood sugar is down, my cholesterol is down. Double down on that!

  2. “Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. That they maybe make themselves disappear in that quest for lightness, for smallness, for compactness. Like flowers being pressed until they’re flat. Not all feminine people do it, but I think most of them feel the pressure.”

    This. Exactly this. Thank you. While I don’t present as, or identify as masculine of center, I can definitely say that much of this hit home for me. Except I was a dance major, not acting. But those messages were the same. I have recently accepted that I did, in fact, have anorexia, and I continue to struggle with my relationship with food. Thank you for writing this.

    • You know what’s fucked? I almost didn’t write this essay (or rather, almost didn’t share it) because I thought people in the performance fields (dance, theatre, film, etc) would be quick to dismiss and defend — because the performance arts rock A LOT and there’s a lot right with them, it’s just this one thing that affected me this way. When I’ve shared this story in the past, I actually had more than one person say to me that it’s all about talent, the performance fields, and the pressure I felt about my body wasn’t real. And I thought that maybe I wasn’t getting it somehow, that this pressure didn’t actually exist or that I made it up. So thank you so much for commenting and sharing, because it’s nice to hear that someone else feels it too (though certainly not nice to hear that you, as a human, were just as affected as I was). Good luck in your struggle. <3

      • I think, at least in my experience, the people who were somewhat dismissive about the pressures to be thin in performing arts, are those who seem to struggle less with their weight/size. For me, despite dancing for hours a day, every day, it still took work to stay below a size 8-10. It took a lot of a very different type of work for me to accept that I just wasn’t built like they were.

        And I agree, that the performing arts are awesome, for many people. But I think it’s absolutely true that those pressures are there. Just look at the media. If it was ONLY about talent, there would be many more actresses who are of all shapes and sizes. There would be more female musicians who are larger. But there’s not. There’s a few, and their size is always talked about. I wish it was all about talent.

        Thank you again, for writing this. I would actually really recommend Portia de Rossi’s book Unbearable Lightness. It really touched a nerve for me, on a lot of these same issues. I would warn that it can be triggering, so be sure you can manage that before picking it up.

        Good luck! <3

      • “When I’ve shared this story in the past, I actually had more than one person say to me that it’s all about talent, the performance fields, and the pressure I felt about my body wasn’t real. And I thought that maybe I wasn’t getting it somehow, that this pressure didn’t actually exist or that I made it up.”

        I had an intense reaction to this article, so much so, that I don’t know how to unpack everything. It’s just too big a mess of stuff to type out.

        Here’s a little bit of what I managed to unjumble.

        Sadly in the performing arts, it’s not only about talent, speaking from personal experience. I am only 5ft2, but it is still a real problem, no matter what your height or frame.

        I had disordered eating when I was a teen, into my twenties, starting with a restricted diet (I was surviving on just two apples a day, my hips shrank to 31″ and I looked painfully thin ), right through to overeating (at my heaviest I was about 60lbs above my maximum recommended healthy weight).

        When I first started dancing I was still overweight. For the first few years of training, no matter how hard I worked, how intensively I trained, or how well I was performing a step or sequence, I was completely overlooked by my both my teachers and fellow students. Nobody bothered to ask for my input when trying to figure out some tricky choreo, or even basic things like timing, or body angles. I was never offered any kind of encouragement as to my potential or abilities by my teacher.

        About 7 years into my education, I lost almost 50lbs steadily and healthily, over the space of a couple of years. The difference in people’s response to my dancing were marked and ultimately depressing. All of a sudden, I was getting put in the front row (despite my reluctance), asked to demonstrate more and more in class etc.

        I’m currently about 5-8lbs heavier than my lightest weight (I’m not sure of the exact amount, scales are intensely triggering for me) which was frankly too thin. Yet at my skinniest I was getting ALOT of positive reinforcement from my teachers and classmates.

        My teachers recruit students from the school into the professional company. In the last three years alone, I have witnessed dancers in lower level classes, with less experience and technique promoted into the company, discounting those of us that have more to offer from an artistic point of view, but do not fit into their exacting standards for appearance. They favour tall, slender, conventionally attractive people. Anyone else is just suitable for background roles in the student performances.

        Arguably the best dancer in our school (by a long way) has been constantly overlooked for professional opportunities, because despite meeting all their other aesthetic requirements, she has visible tattoos.

        The type of dancing I do requires me to perform/present in more than just one gender (which I adore). When I have to wear the skirts, the frills, the flowers, I feel slightly uncomfortable and out of place. It is very much a costume that I don(not that it can’t be super fun at times). When I get to wear trousers and a shirt, I feel like myself and more able to move in a natural way.

        For the first time ever, the most recent show I did, I got to wear a shirt, tie, waistcoat, trousers. It was awesome. Also something I didn’t expect (because I am not out to many people in real life), I got a lot of compliments, some decidedly flirtatious, on my suit from women that hadn’t looked at me twice when I was wearing skirts.

        I am more than slightly MOC, but tend to be perceived as femme in my day to day life (it’s just the way people read me).

        I have no clue what I am trying to say, except that you’re definitely not making it up, it is very prevalent. It’s awful awful bullshit.

        • Agreed- a great article. Well, written. Very poignant.

          Another reason I think some performance artists were dismissive of the idea of pressure to stay thin has to do with their own insecurities with EXACTLY that issue. I think back to how some of the girls I grew up with in the performing arts bragged about their starving and purging habits, and how others felt they “didn’t want it bad enough” if they weren’t killing themselves to fit the physique. What I’m trying to say, is that the culture is so pernicious that some girls feel so insecure about NOT dieting to the point of disorder that they want to make the girls with eating disorders feel bad about it by saying that the performing arts are all about talent and the pressure to be thin is imagined. There is cruelty in every direction, surely a product of a backwards culture and not personal malice.

      • OMG I can so relate to the performing arts thing. When I got into burlesque, the “yay body positivity!!!” malarkey quickly went into “you are too fat/hairy/brown/ugly/knock-kneed to be naked on stage”. And this wasn’t really from the audience – this was from other burlesque professionals. People who already hated me because I did a lot of politically charged work and called them out on their racism. I probably would have gotten more opportunities and not be so horrendously blackballed if I was Dita von Teese Political Edition, but who knows.

        Now I’m dealing with this new-to-me dysphoria/dysmorphia about my face. because I want to get more into presenting & YouTube and such and people tend to ignore anything I say just to pick on how I look. It used to be that because I already knew I was a lost cause lookswise, I could just do whatever the hell I want, because nothing sort of skin bleach & plastic surgery & calling myself Rita Hayworth would make any damn difference. But now I’m struggling with my body image, and I hate that I’m struggling because it feels like such a betrayal of my feminist ideals, and…urgh.


  3. Thank you so much for writing this! I really relate to a lot of it, although my change was less about delight and more about wanting to be legitimately healthy – physically as well as mentally. It’s also nice to know of someone else who has dealt with disordered eating but in such a way that they are hesitant to use the phrase “eating disorder” to describe it. I *have* been in therapy, but never talked about my food issues. I don’t know, it’s just something that I think I’m pretty much in control of now, and I’d rather talk about more immediate things. I too have found men’s clothing much easier to shop in – I can even order things online without a sizing chart if I want! It is crazy though how in men’s clothes I range from an XS to a M while those American Apparel XL shirts are too tight for comfort. Women’s sizing is just gross.

    • American Apparel sizing is super gross. I usually try on both mens and womens’ styles in a brand, and remember double checking the tags in the fitting room because I couldn’t believe the mens/unisex S was bigger than the womens XL. -_-; It’s like the womens’ were kids sizes, if you were too small for the unisex.

    • I too don’t feel comfortable laying claim to the term “eating disorder,” even though my eating was (and to a much lesser extent, still is) disordered. I didn’t even really think about it until I saw my therapist during an episode of depression and mentioned that I hadn’t eaten in 2 days – she just looked at me and said “We need to work on this. NOW.” But since I was and still am overweight and don’t fit into the traditional ED narative, I don’t feel like I can claim that label.

      I definitely agree that men’s clothing helps with my self-image – amazingly, even though I’m an H-cup I wear a men’s M and it fits me WAY better than most XL women’s tops. Knowing that there are clothes out there that fit my body really helps fight the “you’re a freak” mentality. And I’ve noticed that I carry myself more masculinely when I’m wearing men’s clothes, which means I actually occupy space instead of trying to become invisible. It’s awesome and a great confidence booster.

  4. This. All of this is so close to my experience. Even the hippie clothes. I have said before that one of the most important points of my life was the moment I realized I was entitled to the space I take up. It was validating to see someone else have the same experience. I am nearly six feet tall and at my thinnest was a size ten. Women’s shirts are never long enough. Pants are never long enough. In order to find things that fit I had to go to special stores. It’s refreshing to walk into the men’s department (after I finally got over feeling like everyone was staring and wanting me to leave) and pick up a medium, and know it would fit. I know exactly what you mean. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for writing this. This touches really close to home for me. I used to be an actor too, and also a ballet/ tap dancer. And as much as I’ve always been a feminist, and felt like a bad feminist for not feeling the radical self-love, it took me a long ass time to feel comfortable in my body and with eating whatever the fuck I want when I want. There are still days that I feel guilty about food and like I should deprive myself of something, but they are fewer instances than they used to be. It’s a life long fight.

  6. I relate to so much in this. Years of crash dieting, going to the gym, feeling hungry all the time, because I felt like my female body was too big and that anything from the women’s department wants to squeeze me smaller. Nothing accommodates my boobs, or my 28″ waist (really, that’s too big for a lot of clothing); everything is for thinner and flatter and taller women. (I have the opposite problem; my legs never got beyond a 27″ inseam.)

    I feel so free in masculine clothing. I’ve stopped starving myself or pressuring myself to be a certain size. I’ve stopped hating every inch of my body that’s not bone or muscle. By not putting my body on display i’m learning to save it for someone who will appreciate it.

    There are days when I wish for a more androgynous stickthin body to pull off certain masculine clothing; it’s the trendy body type right now, it would seem. But I think squeezing myself into men’s clothing is easier than squeezing myself into women’s clothing and I don’t fool myself that I can look like those models.

    Ali, thanks for talking about the connection between the two, gender expression and body issues. I’ve thought about it before, but never so articulately.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. I just clicked on the link on fb the way I do with AS articles sometimes that I think sound interesting but that probably aren’t meant for me.

    But this was.

    I had to read it to the end and feel it, and take it in and weave it into my stitched together heart forever.

  8. Part of the reason it took me so long to try men’s clothes was that I let myself believe that there was no way those clothes would fit me right. After all, I am busty enough that finding women’s clothes that fit me properly was always a real challenge. As it turns out, I generally have an easier time fitting into clothes from the men’s dept (despite boobs – probably helps that I’m tall-ish and broad-ish too) because there seems to be far more wiggle room in terms of what bodies can fit into a men’s XS/S than what bodies can fit into any given women’s size. It’s easier finding trousers to fit my legs, too – and the fact that they come with usable pockets is a bonus! Women’s sizes continue to baffle me and I’ve more or less given up in shopping in those departments – too much inconsistency in the sizing, not enough likelihood that a given item will fit me in more than one place, plus the probability that trying on those ridiculously-sized things will make me feel crap about myself. It shouldn’t be that way.

  9. Autostraddle always finds a way of posting the exact article I needed to read at the exact time I needed to read it.

    This article is spot on. Disordered eating is just a necessary, almost automatic part of a lot of women’s lives. You either starve all day or you eat well past the point of being full (brought on by this world you create in your mind where food is scarce because you’ll be on a diet tomorrow). I’ve been trapped in this back and forth since I was 14, and I decided that this was the year I would break out of it and just eat normal all the time.

    But there’s something about eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. It just seems off, maybe because in eating this way I’m not striving toward anything except not being hungry anymore. And it horrifies me to think that eating this way, the way we are supposed to eat, makes me feel so uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I’ll probably go back to eating until juuuust before I’m full, and not eating again until I’m REALLY hungry, tomorrow.

    There’s just something about having a full, bloated, satisfied tummy that makes me feel like I’ve failed as a woman. I literally feel like I take up too much space, and I need to be more compact and my clothes need to flow onto me instead of pull tight around me because that is what femininity is about. It’s pretty fucked up, and I don’t know how to fix that mindset, and I also don’t know how to stop myself from thinking that if I ever became healthier about my eating it would mean that I would be comfortable “letting myself go”.

    I think the fact that most feminine women eat in a disordered way is becoming more and more apparent, but because of the way we learn about what it means to have an eating disorder in school, most women think they’re fine, that they just need more control. Or alot of women think they’re not thin enough to have an eating disorder. I think we need to educate young girls (and re-educate society at large) about what disordered eating can look like. How UNglamorous and miserable it is, and how being trapped in a cycle of under-eating and over-eating can do just as much psychological damage as being trapped in a cycle of never eating, or eating and then vomiting. Because right now I honestly don’t know if I’m sick or just like everybody else, and I’d like to find out.

  10. I’ve experienced something eerily similar to this, but with the gender presentations reversed.

    I remember watching the L Word in high school and seeing how Shane’s hipbones protruded out of her skinny jeans, the way her marcels clung effortlessly to her tight, slender frame. I looked down at my own body and saw nothing but soft hips and jiggly thighs and a white, round belly. Like I could squeeze those things into a pair of tight leather pants.

    Dresses became my salvation. When I pulled them over my head, the skirt would flutter down and rest delicately on top my lower body, concealing it. Suddenly my thick thighs were hidden underneath a floral shroud. They weren’t exposed like they were when I wore jeans, with my round parts on display for the whole world to see. Dresses made me safe and hidden. The world was safe too. Safe from seeing my “gross” body and “obscene” jiggling fat.

    One day I looked in my closet and noticed I owned two pairs of jeans (the same pair, actually, because it’s damn near impossible to find jeans that fit me, because apparently Corporate America is still not ready for this jelly). The rest of my closet was composed entirely of dresses meant to conceal the “shameful” parts of my body. Colorful, flowy, happy dresses whose appearance told a very different story than their function.

    The first time I tried to buy myself a pair of chinos I visited 6 stores and cried in almost every dressing room. I remembered why I stopped buying pants. Because they make me feel like a freak. Like my body is too freakishly shaped for them to even make pants to fit it.

    In the queer community, I’m automatically assumed femme. I mean, I wear dresses, right? Recently, however, I’ve begun to realize my gender presentation is a lot more nuanced. But dressing MOC feels off limits to me because of my curves. ESPECIALLY because I don’t want to hide them. I too feel like I cannot lay full claim to MOC because I don’t identify with a particular brand of dysphoria. I love my softness and my roundness. I used to loathe my body, but now I’ve finally grown to love it. I don’t want to hide my curves anymore because they are a part of me. But also my gender expression isn’t going to be exclusively Raphaelite just because my body looks like way. I want to be able to embrace my body and my gender presentation at the same time, but the two seem so wildly at odds with each other.

    I am tired of my body determining my presentation. But goddamn it, I am also tired of trying on pants.

    • “I am tired of my body determining my presentation. But goddamn it, I am also tired of trying on pants.”


      • YES THIS.

        I’m a hobbit and I’m shaped like the girls on the prow of a ship so buying just about everything but stretchy t-shirts and jersey skirts is a pain.

        I’ve since discovered spandex-heavy black skinny jeans and now want to wear nothing but, because they make me feel less delicate and vulnerable and cutesy and more like a power femme, which I am embracing in my old age. My road towards body insouciance (not so much acceptance–more like a relationship with a fussy great aunt, “that old thing? what of her? I don’t let her keep me from doing what I want.”) is very hard won, and if 30$ skinny jeans can make me feel more like a grown up, so be it.

        • Well, amen to all of it, but my comment was directed specifically to this:

          “I am tired of my body determining my presentation. But goddamn it, I am also tired of trying on pants.”

    • …my head… How did you get inside it?
      I’ve been wanting to dress more MOC but I am kind of terrified of pants. That and I honestly don’t know the first thing about how to do it. I’m great at shopping for feminine clothes, having 5 sisters made that easy, but I don’t know the first thing about sizing or anything. Anyone have go to resource for figuring that out?

    • I’ve also been feeling the urge to dress more MOC (but probably only sometimes?Because I really like dresses?) and have no idea how to get started or like whether that’s a thing I have a right to. Baby steps at thrift stores and working up the courage to be totally honest with my tailor about what I want. Very cool to read everyone’s comments and remember that I’m not alone in existing in in-between places of gender and fashion and bodyness.

    • Yeah, the first thing I thought of was Shane’s extremely thin frame. I remember looking at her and thinking that androgyny/butchness required a lack of hips. Hatred of body fat seems to transcend gendered experience -normative femininity demands thinness, normative masculinity, a hard body…

    • this exactly this. i love love love all button-ups, but they’ll never fit without an “unprofessional” gap in the buttons over my chest
      and pants are a nightmare in every single way
      all i want are pockets large enough to fit a phone, and pants that i can actually pull over my ass without feeling like i’m faking something

  11. Ali, it’s strange how many of these things are similar to my own past. I had a period of disordered eating (not even as much as yours but it was going there; not eating was on my mind constantly) but felt free to eat in France when I went. I’m not especially masculine, but I’d really like to shop in the mens section. I went shopping by myself for the first time yesterday and mustered the courage to try things on (damn boys pants don’t fit my hips!) and almost buy some cute boxers. I bought some stretchy womens pants and for the first time, got them in large. I’m not obsessing over that, though, because they fit and stretch like they’re supposed to. But also! I’m a coder and can’t WAIT to go to Lesbians Who Tech! Maybe in a year or two! And hopefully I’ll run into you and shyly be like “hey I liked that thing you wrote :)”


        I might be able to find a way into GHC this year, too!

    • Also: I really relate to that feeling of not having suffered enough to lay claim to a label. I feel that way about calling myself a person of color, or talking about PTSD. Also sometimes “queer.”

      • I am glad to hear this because it is validating but also not glad that this is a thing that we both feel because, if you’re anything like me, that feeling has caused some mental turmoil. Thank you so so much <3 <3 <3

      • I really related to that, too. Not for the same reasons as you, but that part definitely hit home with me.

        • This article, combined with all of the wonderful and insightful comments, has inspired to try shopping in the men’s section! Thank you, all.

        • I don’t know why this comment is appearing here instead of on the main thread…oops!

      • YES.

        I was just reading an article arguing that labels matter and left an epic long comment about how it seems like a privilege to have your labels be respected because that’s never been the case with me. Glad to know I’m not alone. <3

  12. Thank you for writing this! It spoke to so many things I’ve felt and experienced. In middle and some of high school I felt I had to lose lots of weight and be girlier. At that time I was 5’11 and growing and most of my friends were 5’6ish and skinny. I felt like I had to be their size and it was just impossible. I also tried to be feminine like them and it made me feel worse. I finally realized that I was trans and learned to ignore the pressure to be uncomfortably feminine. But the pressure to be thinner is still there, its been taught to me for so long and it is hard to put aside. Unlearning is the hardest part.

  13. I’m going to bookmark this and make everyone I’ve ever met read it, I think.

    Ali – thank you so much. I relate so much to this. I want to write much more than these few sentences but I don’t know how, so thank you for capturing so much of my story in the most beautiful way.

  14. It seems like I’m part of a trend – I also signed up for an account to comment on this piece.

    As someone who has also struggled with disordered eating for the past ~10 years, who now is beginning to dress in a more masculine way, I have also felt a sense of freedom accompanying my switch in clothing. I’m also wrestling with a relatively new identity as someone who dates men and women. I feel like I struggle with identifying myself as part of a single community because I haven’t “fully committed” to dating one gender and have never technically had full-blown anorexia. But I’m working on validating my feelings in both areas. I don’t know if this applies to other people, but it’s easy to see these terms in black and white in regard to myself, even though I think I’d never question the authenticity of someone else’s identical experience. Does that make sense?

    Thank you for writing such a powerful and honest article!

  15. Ali, thank you for writing this. As a feminine presenting woman I have struggled with my own body image, but I’m also in a field where I’m up close and personal with other peoples’ struggles all the time. I’m in a theatre MFA program for costume design, and I work with actors all the time. The body is primary in my line of work and because fittings are so intimate, I am always privy to actors’ thoughts and anxieties about their bodies. I have to agree that this is something not openly acknowledged enough in the theatre community — actors feel an extreme amount of pressure to look perfect especially during showcase season and I’ve watched them encourage each other. It actually affects the male actors too in a different way, and I think it’s probably acknowledged even less among them.

    I’ve had to have conversations with both female and male actors to reassure them that their bodies are perfect the way they are, and they shouldn’t feel like they have to drop weight for a role. We’re always the first to notice because costumes that fit perfectly two weeks ago start slipping off in a fitting. I work hard to be sensitive to them and make them feel comfortable, but it is so true that the culture they find themselves immersed in is hard to bear, and I don’t think most directors are nearly sensitive enough about this. I don’t think I’d been made so aware of it until I started my MFA program in California. Previously I’d worked in Chicago and while the body image issue was always there, it was never quite so pronounced and there was a fair amount of diversity. In California, people definitely feel this ‘cult of beauty’ thing so acutely. The fact is, once you become an actor it can really feel like you’ve given up all control over your own body to other people (the director, the designer) and it’s so, so hard.

  16. For me, trying on clothes has always been an incredibly difficult situation but from a somewhat opposite side of things. When i was still presenting as male (read: Most of my life) the minute I was too tall (and I’m not tall by male standards at 5′ 8″) for children’s clothes, Pants stopped fitting. I’m very skinny, probably unhealthily skinny at 115 pounds, but not for a lack of trying, but every time I even attempt to gain weight It freaks me out and i under eat to compensate so for me its extremes where I eat like 2600 calories a day for a week but then I’m back down to 800 out of an irrational fear of getting fat “in all the wrong places”. Even with all this yo-yo dieting Mens pants never fit because I have a 28 inch waist regardless and like a 30-32 inch inseam, which means aside from wranglers (which come on) there are no pants out there that fit me at all (mens anyway). since I’ve started to present on the more femme side of things its still been difficult, because of a delayed female puberty there were months and months were i couldn’t even wear size 0 jeans without a belt. Thanks to estrogen my hips have widened a bit and I can now wear a size 2 from jc penny (probably still too skinny for the gap/old navy and too tall for most other stores although i did recently find out i could wear pants from aeropostal as long as there like painted on). On top of all that I have a pectoral deformity of my chest cartilage to bow out in odd places, this makes buying tops Impossible unless they are “womens cut” because otherwise they fit about as well as a trash bag poncho and really make me look masculine (which is why my A-camp shirt has become my defacto “i don’t care how you perceive me so fuck off” shirt because otherwise i am ALWAYS clocked as male when i wear it). I guess what I’m saying is that clothes suck, and it sucks even more that we feel like we have to try and fit into them instead of the other way around.

    • ”I guess what I’m saying is that clothes suck, and it sucks even more that we feel like we have to try and fit into them instead of the other way around.” Yeah, really!

      For so long people have just had clothes sewn for them in a approximation of the fashions of the day, and standard sizing or cut were never an issue. It would be so wonderful if we could have family (or queer family!) seamsters and seamstresses back.

  17. I feel this so hard, though I never had the self control not to eat and so I was just fat and unhappy about it for my whole life up until a year or so ago. Now I’m fat and happy and fuck anyone who tries to make me feel anything less than unconditional love for myself. I was just thinking about this the other day though, I got a mens hoodie as part of a team logo thing and ordered XL and its miles too big on me, despite my being a fairly large person, and yet XL women’s clothes are so damn tiny.

    People should not fit clothes, clothes should fit people.

  18. Ali- I’m glad you chose to become a writer (even though I’m sure you’re an amazing actor, too). Your words are important and empowering. The world needs more writers like you who are willing to be so genuine and transparent about matters like these. Your story resonates in me particularly because I can rarely share mine. It’s not a subject I’ll ever feel comfortable putting into words. Thank you so much for writing this.

  19. So many feels. You touched upon so many struggles I’ve dealt with (as I’m sure many others have as well), so eloquently. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  20. Ali, this is an absolutely fantastic piece. Articles like this are why I read AS. Thank you.

  21. Before I get distracted talking about myself I just need to tell you that this is a beautiful, relatable, piece. I loved it. Thanks.

    For me there is always a mixture of being amused, amazed, and humiliated in the women’s dept. Like when I grab a “flowy” outfit that looks like it should fit, and offer extra space, only to find it’s too tight and strange and I’m pretty sure I’m Godzilla bodied, not actually a human body.
    I inevitably end up walking through the plus dept looking at tops that I’m pretty sure are my grandma’s repurposed table cloths to completely “drape” over and cover me. Fuck that! I want cute clothes like my slim friends….but I don’t want those cute clothes at the expense of delicious food. Not again.

  22. thank you so much, Ali, i love you. i mean, i could sign my name under everything you said.

  23. Thank you for sharing this. The concept of being allowed to take up space really hits home as do your discussions of Butch/MOC identity.

  24. Oh god, I have had about the OPPOSITE experience.
    Even I were just a skeleton, I think my body would be a pant size 6 (at my very thinnest at my current height, when I was skin and bones, I could *squeeze* into a four, but it wasn’t comfortable). No matter how thin I am, I’d still be a medium in shirts. I have hips. I have boobs. You know, childbearing everything. My weight has been fluctuating from under 100 to 200 and back like a wild roller coaster since I was thirteen.
    I think the current fashion situation is pretty into the idea of women looking like prepubescent boys, or, just really really skin guys. No hips, no boobs, androgyny. Task lesbian fashion onto that, and everybody’s into “boyfriend jeans” and men’s shirts and boxer briefs.
    Men’s clothes actually make me feel fatter than women’s clothes, because it’s so damn hard to get them to fit right, and I automatically have to go up a few sizes to account for my hips and thighs and boobs. Ordinary women’s clothes at least kind of account for those things.
    My person is very masculine of center, and she has the body for it. No hips, no boobs. So even though she only weighs a bit less than me, and she’s two inches shorter, men’s clothes in size small fit her beautifully. And I cannot fit into them. Even if I wore a binder.
    So, I wear women’s clothes, mostly. To get men’s clothes to fit, they’d have to be tailored or expensive or both, and even then, I think the size on the tag would trigger a whole bunch of gross feelings about my body that I’d rather not deal with. Men’s clothes don’t liberate me at all. They just sort of remind me that I got the short end of the stick of genes/sex/life-wise and that I’m pretty much stuck here.

  25. I echo everyone else who thanks you for posting.

    Everything about this article is incredible. The comments are incredible. The knowledge that so many people know that feeling separately, and now know that there are others who know that feeling, is radical and amazing. There’s a magic to putting a name to an experience that so many people share but don’t know that they share because there aren’t really the words available to describe it.

    There was a huge click for me in a few different areas too, as I think through partners’ experiences with clothing vis-a-vis gender [and vice versa], and my own relative breeze with it…until perhaps the past few months, where I’ve been feeling crushing guilt and anguish over my body in certain clothes that always used to fit well, but now don’t because it is in flux. I’m thinking that I want to let it be, but maybe be a bit more cardio-minded, instead of obsessing over it and trying to pull it back to an impossible shape that I once had to do no maintenance for.

    This paragraph especially hit me: “I got a taste of something I had never known — shopping in the men’s department afforded my body the opportunity to take up the amount of space it actually takes up. Masculine people are afforded the privilege of space. Feminine people aren’t. Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. That they maybe make themselves disappear in that quest for lightness, for smallness, for compactness. Like flowers being pressed until they’re flat. Not all feminine people do it, but I think most of them feel the pressure.”

    I’ve lived all but maybe an arguable year or two of my quarter-century life in that insane pocket of thin privilege that so many people starve and hurt themselves to attain. I could’ve runway modeled from highschool without needing to lose weight. Naked, I resembled many marble statues of sleek, toned warriors. I had no curves, I was a stick, through and through. I could [and DID] eat everything, usually in excess, without seeing a change in my body. I fought for years to weigh more than 128lbs at 5’10. If I did a bit of a workout, I could see results almost immediately [this isn’t super untrue now, I guess].

    Those self-defeating messages, even though they didn’t apply to me then, still sunk in. I’ve always sucked my stomach in, even when I didn’t have one; now, especially, that I do. I was accused of having EDs in highschool. I didn’t wear anything that showed off my body because I didn’t want to be sexualized, but also I knew that there were a lot of people who hated me because I was a reminder of how they ‘weren’t trying hard enough.’ Most of the time, I don’t want to wear a bikini now because there’s a part of me that still tells me that *I’m* not trying hard enough. There are not many places where I feel I can share this; even in body-pos threads on this board, I felt the space was more important for people not in my position. But from this article, I feel like I can say something. [edit: um, obviously. wow]

    I’m not used to taking up space. I’m used to asserting myself, sure, but not by naturally taking up space by having form, and curves, and shape, or by using it, or letting it be seen. I’m not used to this body at maybe 25lbs more than 6 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that I should dismiss it outright, which I have been doing, and I’m trying to correct myself until that new language replaces the mess that I’ve ingrained. I deserve to exist. It’s okay if I need to buy new pants. And I’m definitely not the only one who enjoys my double Ds.


    • The knowledge that so many people know that feeling separately, and now know that there are others who know that feeling, is radical and amazing.

      This has been eye-opening and wonderful for me too! I mean, not wonderful in the sense that there’s a lot of turmoil in these feelings and its unfortunate we have to feel them. But wonderful in the “I’m not alone over here” way.

  26. THANK YOU FOR THIS. This article is one of those that at the end I just relate to all these words I couldn’t formulate before. If that even makes sense.

    “That might have been the first privilege that presenting masculinely afforded me, the ability to now be cool in a way that my uncomfortable feminine-presenting ass never was.” I can’t even begin to say how this struck me.

    Growing up I never had a sense of body image or weight issues or anything. Then something terrible happened, and I began to trash my body. I wish I could say that more nicely, but I think I set out to destroy it. I couldn’t get enough of food. It was like the next day all of my favorite foods would disappear and I couldn’t have them anymore. And it just kept going for years. I ignored mirrors, laughed at the idea of clothes shopping (don’t ask me where I ever bought clothes because I don’t think I could say), and lived in cotton t-shirts. I know that I have a food addiction still to this day, and I know it all started at a significant point. I didn’t really notice it until the end of directing Eve Ensler’s “The Good Body” and telling everyone else that they shouldn’t be hating on their bodies. I all of a sudden was a giant hypocrite because I didn’t hate my body, I just felt like my body was a stranger.

    It’s interesting to me how unrecognizable I am now compared to my free spirited self pre-15. I also am still struggling with this, but am discovering more and more the issues behind why I felt I shouldn’t treat my body right and why I let myself gain 100 pounds.

    I’ll stop now before I just keep rambling, but again, thank you so so much.

  27. Although all of these words are beautiful and courageous, I especially appreciate your challenge to the “born this way” narrative/apology for being a certain way. Like your difficulty labeling your gender presentation due to how your experiences shaped how you choose to present, I sometimes have trouble feeling authentically queer because I came out as bi at a liberal women’s college, and I probably could have gone my whole life happily thinking I was straight were circumstances different. Who the fuck cares what led any of us to the identities that work for us now? Stories that break from the expected narrative are everywhere, and we shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or less-than because of it.

  28. I loved aaaalmost all of this.


    If you have ruined mushrooms for me…!

    (That’s the only thing. Carry on.)

    • lolololol. I’m so sorry. I am sure mushrooms are great and I’m sure they like you as much as you like them.

  29. I feel like this post was written just for me (as I’m sure most of us who have grown up as girls and felt this pressure and the impossible desire to fit in to both an image and a size). I’ve had disordered eating practices for as long as I can remember, but have in the past 2 years just been trying to eat whatever I want whenever I want it (as outlined by a plan for recovering anorexics I read about online) which has actually been really helpful. I started high school as a tiny freshman wearing a size 3 and just graduated as a size 14/15, still exactly the same height (I don’t measure my weight). I also feel the “otherness” of these communities; I am still too “skinny” to be considered “plus-sized”, so I have to try to squeeze into the largest size available in “normal” stores since the stores for larger sizes think I’m too skinny, and that clothes designed for size-0 models will look good on me, too, so I always feel left out of discussions/stores/safe spaces for larger women because of that (and often struggle with finding clothes that fit regardless of brand or price). I also don’t feel comfortable labeling myself as a recovering anorexic for the reasons you said above.
    My journey, on the other hand, has kind of been the opposite. When I first started realizing I had a problem with eating, I started wearing men’s clothing, presenting as masculine-of-center, buzzed my hair to practically shaved, and rejoiced when I was called “sir”. I thought that presenting in a MOC way made me more comfortable, but in reality I still felt like to pull it off I had to be skinny and my eating patterns really didn’t change, although I thought they had. Once i started to come to that realization, and did some soul-searching (and admitted to myself that I am bisexual, a whole other story) I found inspiration in femme articles and blogs and fashion. As I gained weight, I also gained curves, and I now love to “play dress-up” as my sister calls it. My journey to self-love has brought me to being a very femme-presenting bisexual, and making clothes fit and love me instead of making my body fit clothes not made for it. Wearing that true self in public and everyday is something I am still working towards-I still wear baggy jeans, sweatshirts, and too-large t-shirts to work everyday, but I am building a wardrobe full of things that make me comfortable and show off who I am.
    Tl;dr, this article was amazing and made me cry and realize how far I’ve come and how far I can and will go and I love you so much for posting this, especially knowing how hard it is to feel left out of the communities because you’re not enough whatever.

    • I am still too “skinny” to be considered “plus-sized”, so I have to try to squeeze into the largest size available in “normal” stores since the stores for larger sizes think I’m too skinny, and that clothes designed for size-0 models will look good on me, too, so I always feel left out of discussions/stores/safe spaces for larger women because of that (and often struggle with finding clothes that fit regardless of brand or price).

      THISSSSSSSSSS. In Malaysia I am automatically XXXXXXXXLLLLLL, and so get all the “zomg you are obese” talk (mostly because I actually have CURVES), but in US and elsewhere I’m on the heavy end of normal but how dare I claim I am plus-size etc etc etc blaaaaahhhh

  30. This was a beautifully written piece. I’m so happy to see something written about MOC people and eating disorders.

    For me, I kind of come from the opposite end of the spectrum. I identify as male, however I’m maybe 5’0 on a good day and my proportions are pretty tiny – I’m roughly 90lb. My body and face are incredibly feminine. For me my eating disorder was fuelled less by a fear of gaining weight than as a desire to punish my body for being so feminine – to see how skinny I could get and if that would make me look more androgynous. It didn’t. Igot down to about 77lb. Between that and binding, I was struggling to walk or climb stairs.

    After I was raped, I hated my body even more for being small and weak. It took a very long time to stop seeing it as my enemy – as something that got me stuck in a horrible situation and didn’t fight to get me back out and I worked out so much but I never got in any measurable way stronger. Coming to terms with the fact that I’d probably never really be able to fight back was and is very hard.

    I think for MOC people there can sometimes be a pressure to meet more masculine body standards – be bigger,stronger, take up more space etc and for most people thats great! But for me its always been this standard I keep failing while also failing the feminine test.

  31. Thank you so much for this. Your writing is stunning and your story is everything I needed. Thank you.

  32. I totally relate to this. Like, so much. For my whole life, I’ve been bigger. Shopping for women’s clothes has always been a struggle—I just couldn’t find things that fit. I started hating my body when I was about 10 or 11.

    I started dressing in men’s clothing, and cut my hair short, about a year ago. And I don’t identify as a butch, and don’t even really like the term masculine-of-center for myself, because in a lot of ways, I still feel very feminine. I often wonder if I would dress more feminine if I were thinner or smaller. Sometimes, I guilty about this—like it’s somehow misleading to dress like this when I haven’t struggled with body dysphoria, and don’t feel like I’m innately inclined to dress in more masculine ways. But at the same time, over the past year, I’ve started to develop a much healthier body image. I’m learning to feel okay in my own skin, which something I’d never known how to do. So, maybe I should let myself dress however I want, and not worry so much about the reasons why.

    Anyway Ali, I just feel like this piece put into words all these things I was feeling, and all these thoughts that have been swimming around in my head that I didn’t quite know how to express. I never could have imagined that anyone else had similar thoughts and experiences. So, thank you. This showed me I’m not alone.

    • Great, great article. Intense – woah – many feelings. Def. had to make a cup of herbal tea and put on hippie woo music to get through the comments, which are also pretty amazing here guys. Ali, I love what you write.

      “Delight is my end state.” just, yes.

      • Huh – did not mean for my comment to be a reply to this one, rather to the main thread – but while I’m here :) Clara, especially liked your comment. That bit about feelings of guilt about earned and unearned genders and gender identities (if I read that part of your comment correctly) really struck me, and I think was very well put. I don’t i.d. as MOC at all but from the age of 10 I’ve gravitated to the men’s and boy’s departments, and I’ll probably always adore menswear precisely because it’s so kind to my body. I’m playing around with dressing more femininely these days, or at least it’s been a couple of years since I was actively confused for a dude, but menswear still just makes me really happy, and I find I feel better about my body when I wear it, or at least regularly incorporate it into what I wear. It feels….weird in conversations with truly MOC friends when we’re comparing notes on masculine tailoring and such – knowing that we’ve intersected on the same point from such different trajectories and with such different goals in presentation. But, I figure, there’s not actually a right answer in anything in terms of clothing oneself, so I just dance with it as best I can.

  33. This piece really resonated and reading the above comments has been so affirming. Particularly how inescapable disordered eating can be when the flower-pressed look is expected on female-bodied people.

    I inherited some disordered eating habits from my mom: from the behavior she modeled, the eating decisions she’d make for me in high school, or the comments she’d say to me in the years afterwards.

    And I think she was trying to protect me from the criticism I would receive if I gained “too much” weight… reflecting on her own experience no doubt. But getting this feedback from her was 1000x worse than it would be from strangers.

    It’s terrible that this unrealistic expectation put a very real strain on the relationship with my otherwise wonderful mom.

    • I had the same situation and know exactly what you mean,unfortunately.Hope things have improved.

      • Thanks so much for your comment! It’s definitely gotten better as we’ve both gotten older and I think more comfortable in our skin. I hope the same for you and your mom.

    • me too, my mom was a dancer. it is heartbreaking to see her still have remnants of guilt about eating

  34. This article is wonderful.

    I am very feminine, and I like presenting that way. But for a couple of years (back when I first came out and a group of lesbians told me that I didn’t look gay enough and I was probably just experimenting) I had what I would call a butch phase. I wore men’s polo shirts and men’s jeans. I bought men’s button downs. The small that I wore in men’s shirts was still larger than the extra large I had in women’s shirts.

    I am now comfortable being my feminine presenting self. But shopping is an exercise in patience and disappointment. I am not small. I wear a size ten/twelve above the waist and a fourteen/sixteen in the hips/butt area. Clothes are absolutely not made to fit me.

    My options are to buy extremely poor quality clothing from big box stores like Walmart, or to shop at expensive stores for business women that carry quality clothing for women in sizes higher than a ten. Those stores are hard to find. And when I do find them, I pay more than a hundred bucks for a good pair of pants.

    Even then, it is extremely difficult to shop and it frequently makes me wish I were smaller just so I could buy some cute clothes.

    This is besides the fact that the world just does not like big women. Hell, the world does not like averagely sized women.

    Sometimes I worry that even other gay women are looking at me with judgment and thinking: she is too big for me to date.

    I will say that autostraddle is one of the few internet places that increases my confidence in myself. I love it when there are sexy big girl pictures. So yep, the situation is sometimes bleak out in the world, but knowing there are women who get it and celebrate individual unique non conforming beauty makes me feel a million times better.

    • It was Passover and I couldn’t find kosher for Passover low- or no-fat dairy out here in the boondocks, so I bought full-fat. Never going back!! And guess what. My weight is down, my blood sugar is down, my cholesterol is down. Double down on that!

    • I’ve decided that most manufacturers hate big women and set out to punish us by only offering horizontal rugby stripes in sleazy polyester or giant blue cabbage roses on baby shit brown, also sleazy polyester. Good thing I can draft a pattern and sew. Or shop the men’s department, where clothing actually fits my body (well, I have to shorten sleeves, as mine are T-Rex short).

  35. Thank you for this, Ali. It takes an incredible amount of courage to write about this stuff.

    It’s true, the line between eating disorder and disordered eating is real blurry – especially given society’s fucked-up mentality on it – but just because disordered eating isn’t necessarily an anxiety coping mechanism does not mean that it’s frivolous and not worth dealing with. (I say this as someone who has dealt with both ends – the early-onset childhood e.d. and the college-aged society-induced career-pressure bullshit. both e.d. and disordered eating were serious.)

    Your writing is awesome and you are awesome too. And I’m sure you are smoking as both 1969 lady and 2014 MOC woman.

  36. Wow I’m so glad that I read this. I know exactly what you mean when it comes to having such an unhealthy relationship with food but not wanting to label it an eating disorder. That just seems to extreme of a label for whats going on even though it’s what it is. I still have struggles with this all the time. It’s also a hard thing to overcome when it’s considered normal to equate skinny to healthy and to looking good. Thank you so much for sharing.

  37. I don’t have enough space for all of the praise I want to give you and this article. I’ve struggled with disordered eating all of my life (my circle of friends in high school and college enabled/encouraged me in ways I still can’t grasp fully). I still haven’t broken the cycle, but it gives me hope when I hear from people who have.

  38. This is so important, thank you so much. You put things into words I was struggling to find.

  39. Thank you. Thank you. I also made an account to comment on this article – I have read this site for almost 4 years, and in the past yearish as my disordered eating escalated, I hoped and hoped that someone here would talk about it. I guess because even as a lurker (until now), this website feels a little like home; I’ve read it pretty much every day when I have internet, and I trust you guys. For a long time I thought I was the ‘only one’ with these issues with food that aren’t anorexia, aren’t bulimia, and yet are obsessive and unhealthy – and as I’ve slowly started opening up to people, I’ve found that I’m not. And reading this article and then the comments, I see again that we are not alone.

    Please, can we keep talking about this? I am so behind the idea of “body positivity” for other people, but when it comes to myself I don’t know how to get there. Especially in queer and/or feminist spaces, it often feels like not loving yourself is this unspoken taboo, and then it seems like everyone else is doing fine, and then I read this article and see all the “me toos” and think, again, that I can’t be the only one.

    Hopefully that rambly tangent made sense. If it didn’t, the takeaway is: thank you so much, Ali, for writing and sharing this.

    • “Please, can we keep talking about this? I am so behind the idea of “body positivity” for other people, but when it comes to myself I don’t know how to get there.”

      This is my headspace exactly. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Thankfully, my eating is not disordered, but my emotions are. I gained a lot of weight in a one-year period thanks to a variety of factors, and even though I’ve started losing some of it (I’m trying to get back to a healthy weight and feel healthy and strong, even if that doesn’t mean skinny), I hate my body most of the time.

      In fact, I want to want to punish it. I get angry at myself for not punishing my body for what its become. It’s like, opposite of what so many people seem to experience – punishing themselves but wishing they didn’t feel the need to. I’m weak and disgusting and less-than because I can’t hurt my body for existing.

      And yet other people should love their bodies and meet themselves where they are now and learn to be comfortable with changes and love their bodies in their current state as they move toward (if they’re doing that) their goals.

  40. this was incredible, and just what i needed to hear. the amount of hours a day i have spent lately in front of a mirror, disgusted with my reflection, hating every single clothing item i own, writing down my meals, obsessing over what i’m eating….i’ve just felt miserable and ugly and sad and something about feeling bad about your body but not being able to feel like you have claim to a disorder or a label or anything…i don’t know. i just really needed to read the words you wrote, feel less alone about my thoughts. thank you.

  41. Thank you so much for sharing this. I relate to so much of this, especially the part about being small,but extremely unhealthy and being told how good you look. I’ve always been really overweight. About 2 years ago I became obsessed with my size and depressed. I ate 600 calories a day often including half a bottle of wine, exercised excessively, and lost 70 pounds. I was tired all the time and really unhealthy but all I heard from everyone was how good I looked. I absolutely love food and I’ve since gained the weight back but miss how I used to look and catch myself wishing for that time again in a really messed up way.

  42. I guess because I have never tried to put my feelings about my wardrobe choices into words, I didn’t know how strongly I felt about this exact same issue. Thank you so much for bringing it to light.

  43. So much of this is a reflection of my own life. Being a diabetic I’ve spent most of my life with restrictions on what I ate. When I was a teen I found out how to starve my body without starving myself by omitting insulin. Being 6’1 and broad shouldered I tried for years to squeeze into the fashions I saw in magazines. Gradually I started wearing mens clothing and with that came an acceptance of my tall and wide stature. Except now I find that I present MOC I am coveting the musculature of many male celebrities.

  44. Thank you Autostraddle for always validating my feelings. As someone who feels like I’m MOC I have a lot of feels about clothes. Why should we limited to the women’s clothes that dont even make us comfortable? I’ve only SO RECENTLY began to look into some clothes from the women’s section that make me feel like I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been on somewhat the heavy side and when I started going to the gym I felt like I fit better in my clothes.

    Thanks for your beautifully written piece, Ali. More proof that youre one of my fave contributors.

    I also hate the fact that clothes and shoes in the mens section are more versatile. Who the hell said everything in womens should be purple or pink or bright?

  45. Not sure if you feel the same way, but I don’t like to call what I went through “anorexia” or “eating disorder” because honestly in this culture those terms are BRAGGY. Those are things that many women aspire to. And that’s sick and awful. Also the diagnostic criteria for anorexia involve a certain amount of weight loss, but now, in my state of remission, I feel like I’m done defining myself by my weight (or my past weight, or my weight loss), so I don’t like to refer to myself in a way that refers to weight loss.

  46. Thank you so, so much for this. I hate shopping for clothes, especially with my mother and my sister, because even though my mother is super uncomfortable with traditional femininity she always agrees with my sister (who is dresses in a very traditionally feminine style and identifies that style with “being a proper grown-up” yeeech) on the things I should wear. I hate everything they give me, and because I’m built differently and am very petite I’ve never spoken up about feeling weird and self-conscious about my body. I know that they both have deep body-image struggles, and my own gender-presentation-y confused feelings have always felt dumb compared to them. But, I really really feel this. I feel the need to shrink and to not have a tummy or have skinnier tighets, and to be able to be that “perfect” kind of feminine, and I hate it all. It really is all of us! Thank you for this.

  47. This is a great piece that I really needed. Thanks Ali; I’m super glad you decided to be a writer.

  48. Thank you so much for this article, and like so many here I can relate to it as if there were boxes to tick off (that, too? Yeah, check. Me too, damn it.)

    Especially the paragraph about not calling an eating disored by it’s name is something that resonates with me. I’ve gone through phases of restricted eating to eleminate as much fat from my 5”9 frame as I could, but I never called it aneroxia or anything, precisely for the reasons you stated. Looking back I can diagnose myself with the wish to shrink, to just vanish and form my body in a way I want it to be – angular, stick thin, please no curves. I never wanted that kind of female body, but I’m stuck in it and it took me a long time (and ironically lots of ballet classes) to figure out that this thing could indeed do something beyond being “transport”. Well. I still know the “rules of the game” of not eating, but I try my best to not fall down that rabbit hole again.

    And now I’ll go and bookmark this article in the folder for black days, to re-read like a medical thing that can pull one back from the brink. Thanks again.

  49. Beautifully written! There’s so much that resonates with me but ‘We are not children and that’s some bullshit. We deserve to take up space’ is particularly class. The ‘tiny-pushing’ on feminine presenters is all part, in my view, of a weird infantilizing of feminine bodies. Thank you so much for this full, rich article. Love it.

  50. If I had any money or assets at all I would totally be setting up a queer clothing business right now. There’s so many of us!

    I would just like to wear a masculine style shirt that fit my shoulders and my hips at the same time.

  51. Thank you so much for writing this. It takes a lot of courage to speak about disordered eating, I find, but you really summed up (as far as I can see) many people’s feelings regarding femininity/gender expression and weight/size disordered eating. You’re a great writer!

  52. This sort of made a light bulb go on in my head. Thank you for illuminating so much about this whole mess of size and gender and clothing and societal expectations!

    A couple of years ago I went through a weird stressful/depressing time, and I accidentally got very skinny. It wasn’t consciously about weight, but I wasn’t eating very much and I ended up comfortably wearing size 0 jeans from Gap. Then a traumatic relationship ended, I moved, I started playing soccer again, and all of a sudden I’d gained 15 pounds and gone up 2 pants sizes. While I’ve always been on the femme-presenting side of the spectrum, suddenly I was fascinated by men’s clothes. I had never tied the two things together in my head before, but this article makes me wonder if I went more androgynous partly because I couldn’t reconcile my new size with the feminine clothing I had worn before.

    I really struggled with the weight gain for a while, even though I was objectively not at all fat and I felt worlds better health-wise. Now, two years later, I think I’m finally settling into my own skin, despite gaining even more weight, as a person who happily wears skirts in the summer (it’s hot outside and shorts aren’t work-appropriate!) but also really likes to wear vests and ties instead of fancy dresses. It’s so hard to learn to take up our own space.

  53. Thank you for writing this. I’ve had an eating disorder for ten years that went untreated until very recently because I felt like it was taboo to talk about. There needs to be more discussion around this from people who aren’t the disordered eating stereotype.

  54. I learned how to sign into autostraddle on my phone just to tell you how amazing this is and you are and how very very much this speaks to me.

  55. the cultural infrastructure that YIELDS disordered eating and eating disorders needs to be ATTACKED! Too often I see peoples’ attitudes that disordered eating/eating disorders are simply a failing within the people that they affect (most often women).

    • Noooo, I did not want you or anyone to crryyyyy! Come eat crêpes with meeeeeee!

  56. “My discomfort in claiming eating disorder remains. It’s probably why I’ve typed 3,685 words to this point without once typing the word “anorexia.” It doesn’t feel right, somehow. Like I’m appropriating an identity that I have not earned the rights to. I haven’t paid the dues in ill health and anguish.”

    Honestly? Thank you. Eating disorders are somewhat of a different beast from disordered eating (There’s a lot of really fascinating research suggesting that anorexia is a very biologically-based illness and even happens in cultures that don’t value thinness. A lot of symptoms of anorexia also happen to anyone starving, not just people with EDs). Being diagnosed and going through hospitalization and treatment centers and having near death scares is a different experience from disordered eating that, to some extent, one can reason one’s way out of. 1 in 5 people diagnosed with anorexia end up dying from their illness. It is a serious disease.

    Having this conversation about disordered eating too is so, so important and I’m glad you wrote this. It’s far more common than it should be and it might not be an actual eating disorder but it’s still serious and still really matters. This is where cultural issues are especially relevant, too.

    It absolutely does happen to masculine-of-center people too. I’m not sure I would quite put myself in that category, but for me losing anything feminine about my body was a major bonus in weight loss. I got a chest flat enough that I could stop wearing bras, lost the roundness to my hips (though I couldn’t change the shape of my skeleton) and anywhere else, and lost my period. With all the “really sexy women have curves” rhetoric, I felt more and more disconnected from the experience of having a feminine body. I’m using past tense, but I’ll be honest, I’m still that way, 60 lbs under what doctors say my ideal weight is, and it is really, really hard to think of getting breasts and hips and a period again.

    Anyway, thanks again for this piece. I think there are a lot of important conversations to be had here.

  57. I am amazed at how much this made things click into place for me. Thank you for sharing <3. Your comments about femme people feeling the pressure of being small really resonated with me. This is also making me realize why I am so afraid to experiment with androgyny/masculinity: because I am afraid of trying on mens' clothing, looking in the mirror, and still seeing only my curves, and no androgyny. I did not expect to come across something so important today so thank you, thank you, thank you.

  58. This article, combined with all of the wonderful and insightful comments, has inspired to try shopping in the men’s section! Thank you, all.

  59. I don’t want to take away from this discussion, but hey, just a small reminder, my fellow beautiful humans, because I’ve seen in so many comments the laments of curves that ‘ruin’ androgyny: androgyny doesn’t mean no curves. Androgyny can have curves, androgyny doesn’t have to look like a young boy, and neutral isn’t the same as masculine, whatever ‘neutral’ even means. Androgyny is you do you!

  60. Thank you, Ali! Thank you, commenters! Thank you for the simultaneous ferocity and vulnerability it takes to share these stories. Thank you for the subtlety, the nuance, the intricacy with which you navigate the many ways we can describe ourselves, and how those can shift and change as we grow.

  61. Thank you so much for writing this. Thank you for talking about how gender can change for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it’s all valid. Thank you for talking about how hard it is to name our issues with food as eating disorders because we’re not sure if they’re bad enough to qualify. Thank you to all the commenters who shared their experiences.

    Personally, I found becoming femme, naming myself as such even if it didn’t really involve much visible change, really helpful in recovering from my ED. I learned a lot from other femmes about being ok with taking up space and reclaiming femininity separate from the male gaze (or as separate as we can be). (basically femmes <3333)

    As much as I loved it, I wish this piece didn't include numbers (of dress sizes, weights etc), because I know when I was still in the midst of my ED that stuff was super triggering for me (and I know numbers can be really triggering for a lot of people). Generally I have a policy of not reading anything about ED's that includes numbers but this was so good and I'm in such a good place at the moment it was worth it :)

    • Hi! Thank you so much for saying this. I was afraid to bring it up for fear of folks assuming I was being shallowly critical and nit picky of the article. I am grateful the article was written and I know how hard it must of been. <3

      Gender and my eating disorder held hands for a long time. I experienced dysmorphia and dysphoria. As a genderqueer, masculine presenting person who is so so feminine in affect (add a hefty dose of family systems dysfunction and likely a medical pre-disposition to developing an eating disorder), gender played as big a role in my illness as it does in my recovery.

      When it comes to any personal reflection or narrative about someone's eating disorder story, I generally will not read it. This is a common thing/need/demand for recovering/recovered folks. This is for a lot of complicated reasons. The easiest reason to explain, though, is the numbers thing. Any article with mention of weight, size, exercise amount and calorie intake is usually something that recovered and recovering folks can't read. I would be so happy and grateful if y'all added a warning at the top. My recovered ED heart would sing.

  62. Thank you for posting this. I thought it was very powerful, and it got me thinking both about my own disordered eating and my reasons for wanting more masculine clothing. I’m happy being female, and I’m usually content to wear women’s clothing. When the time comes for me to put together outfits for work, though, I gravitate toward more masculine styles for no other reason than because menswear is automatically perceived by our culture as more professional. I’m used to reading “how to dress for work” lists where there are four times as many rules for women as there are for men. The message is clear that as a woman, my style choices will always be wrong.

    Then I go shopping for business formal or casual clothes, and even in the departments that are supposed to sell what I’m looking for, it seems like they’re intentionally selling clothes that break the rules. Or maybe my body is breaking the rules. The skirts might as well be miniskirts. There’s a gap between my blouse and my pants when I bend over or raise my arms above my head. Pantyhose that fits? That’s funny. It’ll never happen.

    So I browse the men’s departments online and think about buying the clothes. I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. There’s nothing about the clothing that’s gendered; it won’t chew me up and spit me out if I put it on while being a woman. If I wear it, I’ll automatically look more “professional.” But I still feel like I would be taking on a label that doesn’t belong to me.

    Later, there will inevitably be another article about how I won’t be respected if I wear a pantsuit instead of a skirt suit.

  63. I also really enjoyed this article, but I have to echo the comment above that expressed reservations about specific weights and sizes being included. Maybe I should have expected that kind of content from the title, but it would still be nice to have some kind of warning.

    THAT SAID, thank you for sharing your experience. While I can’t identify with a lot of it, the parts about being affected enough to hurt but not enough to be diagnosable really resonated with me. I know it’s messed up, but sometimes I feel like if I actually had an eating disorder I wouldn’t have to feel as guilty or responsible for what I do. It’s like I’m in a Catch-22: whether I eat or don’t eat, I still feel like I’ve failed.

  64. Ali, I read this yesterday on the bus with my smartphone, motion sickness be damned. It was so intense that I wound up talking to people offline about it, and then I realized that I hadn’t commented. This was a really brave piece, and I’m so happy you shared it. I feel like it goes a long way in showing just how complex identity and survivorship are.

  65. I am so glad this conversation is happening, and so glad to be able to read it– so many feels. For me, I think being physically small causes me to dress more femininely and also for other people to see me as more feminine than I see myself. It also impacts how I see myself when it comes to adulthood and professionalism. While I am lucky to not have too hard a time buying jeans, shopping for dress pants tends to make me feel too small to be “professional,” and in moments when I feel more masculine, I can see my skinny body as boyish, but never manly.

    Regarding the discussion of disordered eating not called an eating disorder, I can relate to that too. The most I have ever weighed was around what many people would consider an ideal healthy weight for my height, and at the time I was happy with that. I then experienced significant weight loss due to messed up eating habits and probably related to other health issues. At the time some comments about my weight did make me question whether I had an eating disorder, but the main reason that seemed inaccurate is that despite my minimal meals and feelings of guilt about food, I never had a desire to weigh less. Since loosing weight made me less comfortable with my body, I suppose I had food issues which led to body size issues rather than the other way around, which people tend to assume.

  66. So much of this hit me like a punch in the gut. I struggle with eating, have done for many years (I struggle with calling it an eating disorder, even if I’m finally in therapy and really purging multiple times a day is kind of a red flag despite never being skinny), and the world is just so toxic. Especially if you are femme or feminine presenting, the amount of “oh you shouldn’t eat that, do you know how many calories it has in it? You’ll get fat.” I get from others (male colleagues in particular for some reason) is just, ugh.

    So much love for you, for this article and for the other commenters.

  67. Yup, I knew there would be an article one day that would compel me to create an account here for the sake of being able to comment. Unbelievably gorgeous, honest, tender writing. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been talking about it all day.

  68. Potentially stupid question:

    what’s the difference between dysphoria and dysmorphia?

    • As I understand it, dysmorphia is where the way you perceive your body is different from the way it actually appears (e.g. thinking your nose is extremely ugly when in fact it looks perfectly ordinary), whereas dysphoria is a feeling of discontent not necessarily involving any false perceptions. For example, a trans woman with gender dysphoria might have a realistic view of what her body looks like, but feel very uncomfortable with those aspects of it associated with her sex assigned at birth. Some people also have feelings of body dysphoria that are not tied to gender identity.

      That said, I’ve seen the terms “body dysphoria” and “body dysmorphia” used somewhat interchangeably – I’m not certain whether that is a mistake or whether there are simply multiple accepted understandings of these words.

  69. This was really insightful … admittedly, my experience was almost the complete opposite, but reading about your experience helped me make sense of my own.

    Also, re: disordered eating vs. “eating disorder,” I think there’s a question of where the line is drawn between simple dieting/calorie counting/etc and having “a problem” (and I use the term problem in quotes because I don’t want to stigmatize it but obviously it’s a topic worth discussing)

  70. Tears before bedtime, reading this. So recognition and not many words to add. Society and its passive-aggressive checks and permissions. Such an abuse. And yes, the whole small size / large size thing… just so many things in this to relate to.

    I still crush my feet up. I don’t know why. I wear ‘mens’ clothes as much as ‘womens’ clothes, I usually find (eventually) good sizes… not shoes though, never shoes. Shoes have to crush my feet. I’ve gone down 4 sizes already (UK sizes but similar to US sizes). Old shoes I loved wearing are loose on me now. My toes are bent and crossed. I keep asking myself “why must I retain this thinking… for ANY part of me?!”

    I’m 6′ 2″ and I weigh about 250lbs right now. I’ll never be thin. Like you say, bones are bones. I don’t know why I’m screwing up my feet. I love my feet. Does the double standard simply eventually get to us all? Is it really inevitable like that? Are we really that helpless? I’ve survived so much… how is this even registering, never mind controlling me? I just don’t get it.

    I never thought I could call myself anything either. How fubar does a situation have to be before even the disorder labels carry with them a sense of ‘special prize’ guilt that you have to ‘earn’ to be able to ‘boast of’. How very everything the wrong way around. :(

    If I’m honest, rather than modest, I’m a fat anorexic. That felt good to finally say. So many tears.

  71. Wow, what a beautiful piece of writing that really gets to the heart of the complexity of being a woman in the 21st century. Now I need to find everything else you’ve written, and devour it.

  72. Wow. So much of this really hit home. I mean I certainly wouldn’t say I’m masculine-of-centre (I’m much too short to fit men’s jeans anyway…) but all of the stuff about acting in relation to disordered eating was just… yeah. Thanks for writing this!

  73. Wow, yeah, all of this.

    The only times I’ve come close to disordered eating are during depressive episodes (especially when I’m on antidepressants) because I just have no appetite and cannot force myself to eat without feeling ill. Of course, those are the times that I get a ton of compliments (“you look so good!”) because I’m 20-30 pounds lighter than I usually am and I cannot get over the irony of that most of the time.

    And my issues with clothes! As a kid, I shopped almost exclusively in the boys’ section, until puberty hit and almost overnight all of my pants and shorts no longer fit because I gained some sizable hips. And also in puberty I lost the rail-thin look I had previously had my whole life (because I was an incredibly active kid that grew super fast) at the time when being thin was highly prized. It was a perfect storm to make me feel terrible about my body: not only was I dealing with a ton of dysphoria, my clothes no longer fit, and I now felt obscenely round and ridiculous for having to buy size 12-14 pants. And shirts? Forget about finding shirts that fit me with my broad shoulders and solid chest. XL was too small, and if it were a button-up, I’d be lucky if I could fit my arms to be pinched uncomfortably in XXL.

    And then also only receiving positive reinforcement for dressing femininely to top all that off. I spent all of high school dressing in poorly fitting clothes that made me feel acutely uncomfortable but hey, everyone else thought I looked “good” (read: feminine enough).

    And then I started going back to the men’s section (with quite a bit of trepidation because I’d had all the memories of my hips never fitting into the boys’ pants that I used to wear). And I found that I fit quite well into mens’ clothes. I wear a small or medium shirt (occasionally an XS if sizing is weird) which just fucks me up when I think of the XL and XXL womens’ shirts that used to go in my closet and still be slightly too tight in the arms and shoulders and chest (like, I get the arms and shoulders but I don’t understand the chest. Generally, womens’ clothes should be made with boobs in mind. How on earth do mens’ shirts that are not made with boobs in mind fit me better in the chest?). And pants. Holy crap, do mens’ pants fit me so much better and cleaner with no weird bunching and uncomfortable sagging in all the wrong places, despite my hips.

    And then also, when I’m wearing mens’ clothes I look like every skinny dude that I’ve ever had a crush on–I look small in a way that I never did in womens’ clothes. And my body issues haven’t gone away because jesus christ, I do look small. I look too small to pass as a man some of the time and I hate that. And then I can go put on a dress and look to large to pass as a woman some of the time. And just that fucks me up how I can have both ends of the spectrum of unhappiness with my body in the same day. Most days, I get neither, thankfully.

  74. It took me two weeks to finish this,
    but i’m glad i did.
    Thank you for writing this. I think it is the most powerful your writing has ever been. Certainly the most it has ever hit home for me.
    I now feel, at least most of the time, like whatever size it says on the label is ok. I don’t really understand why sometimes women’s cut tshirts only fit me if they are size large, or why i wear pants size 4-10 or 26-30 depending on the store and the cut. But i know now that if it sits right on my body, i’m happier and more confident. So i feel ok now with wearing the size that fits, whatever size that is.
    Thank you for making the space for this conversation on autostraddle.

  75. Ah, there is so much of this that speaks to parts of me I’m just beginning to discover/uncover. Thank you for your openness and honesty.

  76. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything on AS that resonated with me so much and that is saying a lot!!! Maybe that’s why I took a pass on this article when it was first published months ago.

    Thanks for writing this and sharing it. I read it at a time that I really needed it. And I feel the need to share a bit too in this safe space because I don’t talk about it, ever, and just want to get it out.

    I don’t know how many calories I eat a day but I do know that I don’t want to eat. When I do (especially in the evening) all I can think about is the weight I won’t be losing by eating. The weight that I’ll be gaining. There’s more to it than that though. I have an abusive past from a young age and when I was a teenager a was brutally attacked and almost murderded. Not eating is like continuing the abuse, neglect, and withholding of any love at all which I learned when I was a kid that I must deserve. I have anxiety and depression and somehow not eating is a coping mechanism. I want to feel my bones protruding from my hips. I run my hands over the top part of my hip bones from my sides to my lower back. I want to feel the bones. Doing this is like checking the scale, to see how well I’m doing.

    I want my body to be androgynous. I don’t want to have curvy hips and thighs. I want to look like an emaciated male model. For me there is most definitely a link between my gender presentation (maybe even identity, I don’t know) and my eating issues. And yes, I also have trouble with labeling my eating issues. The truth is that it’s a rather slow death. Ultimately, I want to shrivel up and disappear. I want to just not feel the pain anymore. I want to feel the hunger. Maybe that replaces the focus on the pain.

    Probably fortunately I seem to have reached a plateau of sorts where I am eating a certain amount to keep myself going but not fainting. I know the fainting as keystone thing very well, it’s something I think about daily. I write all this and still I’m also going to say that even though this is my experience I’m not skinny. Of course I don’t think I’m skinny. Although it did feel good a few days ago when two people in the same day asked me if I was a dancer. I thought that must mean I’m skinny, right?! So, I do have trouble labeling my own unhealthy (I have problems even using that word) relationship to food.

    I do have a therapist and I have mentioned my weight loss to her but she didn’t seem concerned. She’s been great in many ways and she’s probably the best therapist in my area based on what I’ve heard but there’s a lot that she just can’t help me with.

  77. Hello fellow masculine-of-centre woman who likes crepes and used to live in Paris!

    Also, for anyone reading this who is interested: Katie Green wrote a really fantastic book called Lighter Than My Shadow A really very big book for a story with such infrequent dialogue. Big, beautiful, sad book in which everything is hand drawn (the handwriting is her own, not a font e.g.) and the colours are muted. Big grey and beige shadowy drawings, simple words, and Really Very Good at visualising how it feels to have any kind of MH problem (in this instance ED but extends to other obsessive and damaging perfectionist feels). I cried lots, and there’s a page with Older Her and Younger Her with a Teddy Bear and pyjamas which reminded me of a story I once wrote about nightmares. Anyway, do recommend.

  78. Perhaps there’s a link between my fondness for clothing designed and/or made for men and my eating disorder/disordered eating habits.

    Or maybe there’s not.

    Either way, THIS. It spoke to me.

  79. I have no idea how I missed this article when it was published 8 months ago but I’m so incredibly glad that I’ve read it now. You are a fascinating person, Ali, as well as a brave and talented writer. Thank you for publishing this.

  80. What’s up to all, since I am in fact eager of reading this webpage’s post to be updated regularly.

    It consists of pleasant information.

  81. I’m posting this many months after you first wrote this, but I think about this article and your words all the time. I never super-consciously made the connection that the way I dress – that is most flattering to my body, that allows me to be perceived as the most put-together or “professional” – doesn’t necessarily match how I’d ideally like to present, and doesn’t reflect all aspects of my gender identity. The struggle between wanting to feel comfortable in the clothes you’re in and wanting to express your identities outwardly with clothing and fashion isn’t easy, and there aren’t perfect solutions for me when I open up my dresser drawers each morning.

    This article has really impacted me, and encourages me to think more intentionally about how I can express myself more authentically and also feel comfortable with what I’m wearing. This exploration is good for me, even if I largely end up presenting how I present now in the future.

    Thanks for writing this, Ali. This article has been game-changing for me <3

  82. Hi, this is a good article that raises a bunch of important and great things but I also just want to mention that it’s maybe a bit triggering in its detailed discussion of calories, weight and specific disordered eating and exercise behaviors. Here’s some eating disorder reporting guideline (from Australia, but I think they can apply across the board).
    I feel bad being negative, because these are really important discussions to have, and ones that don’t often occur. Coming to terms with my sexuality has been a big part of my eating disorder/mental health issues, and I’m so glad to see content relating them. But it’s just that I felt pretty massively triggered by parts of this article, and just thought might be useful to raise that, just in case it’s something other people feel.

  83. There is so much about this that I empathize with, and am also still learning and unlearning.

    I’ve never thought about this before: “shopping in the men’s department afforded my body the opportunity to take up the amount of space it actually takes up. Masculine people are afforded the privilege of space. Feminine people aren’t. Feminine people are supposed to be so small that they disappear. ” I didn’t make the conscious connection to how most days since I started presenting as more masculine,I’m happier, exactly as I am, and how days when I want to wear a dress, makes me feel like I’m wearing a second skin unless I’m feeling toned and fit.

    And this too: ” It doesn’t feel right, somehow. Like I’m appropriating an identity that I have not earned the rights to. I haven’t paid the dues in ill health and anguish.” With the help of my therapist, the words are rising to the tip of my tongue, even though I squirm, can’t make eye contact or apologize my way through them: I have body dysmorphia.

    This article is old, but it’s still very relevant to me today. So thanks, Ali, for sharing your story, your experience, lessons and continued learning.

  84. The first two parts are excellent and then I had to stop reading because I used to read things like this

    Things with numbers and This Is What I Ate When I Was Sick Out Of My Mind info

    Without missing the sensation of starving

    Even though when I starved it was all I did, all I thought about, my entire personality a torturous calorie counting machine

    I can eat now and it’s so wonderful

    I’m glad you too found the delight in food

    Maybe one day I will be able to read this the whole way through

    • I mean I used to read things like this for Tips, and now when I read them my head goes back to that place

      And it’s such a slippery slope into such a miserably deep pit

      I went crazy pulling myself out of it, like literally insane, and now have a lot of scars on my arms and legs and an intimate knowledge of the snack situation at the local psych ward

  85. Feeling very seen by this. Although bizarrely in the opposite direction, where I’m not even aided by finding clothes in my size.

  86. As a size 8 lesbian who has struggled with every form of disordered eating you can count (inspired by my longtime dream of being a professional ballerina), this was both heartbreaking and so healing. I sat here, reading this, in my first ever pair of men’s pants. I’m wearing a size 32 – which you can’t even find in every store. I feel confident and good about the way my thighs fill out the material. I feel like I’m safe and able to take up space. I was always somewhat feminine until the last few years, but men’s clothes have allowed me to pull out of a recent hardcore relapse into anorexia and your experience resonates so clearly to me. Much love!

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