Street Harrassment

Now, in case anyone’s in any doubt, it is not a compliment when a stranger comments or catcalls.  Even if it’s meant as one, it’s not: it’s insulting, rude and downright intimidating and women do not need the approval of strange men to walk down a public highway.

Thank god it’s not as bad over here in the U.K. as it is for our sisters over the pond, but it ain’t perfect here neither.

Of course, i’m sure anyone actually reading this already knows better and in a way i’m preaching to the choir.  But maybe you could challenge a mate’s behaviour if he acts in such a disrespectful, degrading, stupid manner or tells you about a time when he did.

Yeah, all right, some women get drunk and lairy and shout at men too.  It’s far less common and, frankly, not the same sort of threatening; but nonetheless, that doesn’t make it all right.  I’m sure it’s pretty horrible for the men concerned when that happens.  From/towards any gender, harrassment is harrassment (or however you spell it), so i say “shut the fuck up” because frankly, who asked you and what makes you think your opinion is so very important that you’re entitled to shout it across the street?  And really, what response do you expect??

“But some women do find it flattering!”

Do they really?  Or are they just smiling and acting like they do, in order to avoid confrontation?  Or do they think they ought to enjoy the attention, because that’s what society expects of men and women?  Are they of a basically insecure disposition whereby they feel they do need the approval of complete strangers with little sense of what is and isn’t socially acceptable to validate them?  Or have they been brought up to believe that men’s approval is all that really matters?  And  Isn’t that perhaps the sign of a fucking sick society?

What do you think about this?

One of the (very few) advantages of being anorexic and very underweight was that i became invisible to men – if you can call these childish little arseholes men – and  all the bloody comments stopped.  Maybe i looked like a boy myself.  Who knows.  Who cares.  It shouldn’t happen to anyone, regardless of shape, attire, location, time of day or night, anything.

And now the old anger i used to feel about this topic is seeping back into me.  It’s something i’m not used to feeling and i know that going off and doing that thing i do with food will follow shortly.  I’m still not sure i “do” bulimia as a reaction to things on a day-to-day basis – but maybe it is to pre-empt them, because i used to get so angry about so many things i could barely cope.  I often forget how angry and how intensely i used to feel things.  I’ve lost relationships and huge swathes of my life to anger.  This is an interesting and relatively (sort of) new concept to me: that maybe my ‘triggers’ occur, not daily, but stretch far back and act almost (but not quite) like PTSD – without flashbacks because they’re blocked out with these all-consuming ‘behaviours’.  Does that make sense?  Am i wrong to compare it with PTSD?

One of the ladies (from that telly programme) and i, had a few chats about this sort of thing whilst waiting around on filming days.  She certainly hated the fact that boys had gone after her because of her figure, the way she looked.  I wonder how many people do become anorexic, bulimic, turn to bingeing or compulsive eating, in part as a way to disappear (become “too” thin or fat to attract unwanted attention) and lose their strong emotions, like anger, which you just don’t feel when you’re so ill.

In my case, it was (and is), of course, a lot more than purely getting a bit of unwanted attention and disrespectful comments – and i’m sure it is just one of many factors for anyone affected.  But i have often said, half-jokingly, “well, i’m a very angry person”, with this big grin on my face, making out like it’s all a big joke, or “oh, i don’t have feelings – i’m British”.  Hahahahaha, eh what?  And yeah, i used to be a very angry person, both outwardly (vocally) and inwardly (self harm), but then i retreated into the dubious ‘comfort’ of first anorexia then bulimia and, well, it all went away, sort of, y’know?

But you know what?  It’s no better.  Every time i’m there, crouching over the lavvy with my stomach so full i worry i might rupture the bastard, forcing that crap that passes for food back up again, i tell myself: “remember this.  Remember how much it hurts, physically and mentally.”  And yet it seems i forget every time and go right back to it, hours, even minutes later, like an abusive relationship.

And it’s the longest relationship i’ve ever been in.

Time flies when you’re… oh. Yeah.

At the moment i’m out of work again.  I’ve been temping whilst studying for my MA but the last one finished about a month ago.  I still miss my old (permanent) job in the library.  I worked there for six years.  But i was in a rut and i wanted to go back to university, to become A Proper Librarian, so i know it was for the best that i left.  But i do miss it.  And now’s not a good time to be looking for work, is it?  Then again, is it ever?

At home, with no structure to my day, only my rather vague resolve to work on my research proposal, and with no-one else around, my eating’s worse than ever.  No surprise there, eh?  So i’ve been looking for work, half-arsedly, in this strange state between life and death.

But i know that having a job won’t magically change my life.  Now, having a real job, a proper one where my skills are fully utilised, where i’m interested and engaged and busy with both my mind and my hands – that, i think, will make a big difference.  It’d be knackering at first, but that’s what i need.

Of course, the sort of work i can get, with a sickness record like mine and constraints on my time for studying and endless doctor’s appointments, well… i know from experience that it’s not great.  It’s mindless drudgery.  I can just work with one hand and binge with the other, sloping off every so often to the toilets.  And that’s just what i do.  Perhaps it’s a way of getting through the day, in order to ‘survive’ doing a job for which i can barely drag myself out of bed.

When the “trolley dolly”, at my last temp. job, came around to our floor one morning with her usual array of slightly battered fruit, unpleasant snacks and sugary drinks, as ever she spotted me stuffing my face with my usual bags of confectionery.

The previous time she’d been in, she’d joked, “Hide it under the desk, eh?” as i performed an unimpressive attempt at subtlety, chowing down on yet another bargain box of chocolates in a strategically-placed carrier bag.

This time, she said, loudly enough for the whole office to hear, “What are you munching?  You’re always munching something, aren’t you?”

I smiled, nodded mock-ruefully.  I did my little polite laugh and turned back to my computer, pretending to work.

Undeterred, she continued, “I seen you on the telly,” still too loudly.  “I know.”

“Ah, busted,” i said, feeling maybe the tiniest bit of shame, 99.9% indifference.

“No, is OK.  You keep munching,” she said.  Magnanimous.

And i did.  No-one around me said a thing.  Used to it, i suppose.  Like me.

“Ah,” i kind of felt like saying, but didn’t, “what can i do?  I’ve been doing this for over twenty years.  Maybe it’s all i know.  It gets me through, these days.”

I don’t fight it, like i used to.  Maybe i don’t even hate it like i used to.  I used to scream at myself, inwardly, stop, stop!  Put the food down!  I can just stop now!  Fucking stop it!  Walk away!  But something went on auto-pilot and my body carried on, despite my mind.

But now?  Resigned, accustomed.  This is what i do.  We all have vices.  We’ll all die one day.  Happiness is fleeting; who needs it anyway?


I don’t really believe that.  About not needing happiness.  Everyone needs – and deserves – a happy, decent life.

I’ve had a few messages since going on the telly.  Some are sad and desperate, wanting to recover but not knowing if they ever will.  Some of them are from partners of eating disorder sufferers, worried sick, wondering how they can cope.  A few of them are so young.  If i had a normally-functioning heart, i think it would break a little, each time.

A few are from well-wishers, telling me, oh, you’re so brave; or oh, you’re doing so well.

Thanks.  I’m not, you know.  Neither brave, nor doing well.  I’m as ill as ever – maybe slightly worse at the moment.  Binge-purge wise, i’m approximately as bad now as i was a few years ago, at my worst.  Then, of course, i was frighteningly under-weight, whereas now i’m at a normal, healthy weight.  Which doesn’t make me healthy, by any stretch of the imagination; but of course, that’s what people see.

So perhaps going on the telly hasn’t made the difference i’d hoped for, as regards raising awareness of “the invisible disorder”.  And although it’s helped the other two as regards further  medical treatment, i’ve stayed the same as i ever was – just as i expected.  Nothing really changes much, for me, so my old optimism that used to astonish people with its unceasing buoyancy, has dipped and waned into the reflection of a new moon.

Was it all a big fat waste of time, then?  Well, i don’t know.  I don’t regret doing it, but for my own objectives (which didn’t include my own recovery, because a few meals and shopping trips aren’t going to “fix” anyone), maybe it wasn’t so successful.  So little material was used, so much was over-simplified or simply mis-represented, that i’m left thinking we may as well not have bothered.

I wanted to tell people that, look, i’m an apparently normal person, with a very debilitating disorder.  This is what it’s like.  I don’t do it on purpose, or to piss anyone off.  I’m not a white, middle-class, heterosexual, teenaged girl.  I carry on, stoically most of the time, coping with life as best i can.  I’m not in A&E every week.  I’m not trying to kill myself: i’m trying to survive.  I may well be like this for the rest of my life.  There are loads of other people out there, of all ages and all sorts, who are very ill.  And you can’t tell by looking.

There are dog-knows how many people out there with eating disorders.  Old, young, middle-aged, queer, straight, asexual, transexual, intersex, male, female, neither, tall, short, fat, thin, medium-sized, black, white, brown, blue with yellow spots… there are people who overeat compulsively, people who binge, people who purge, people who binge and purge, people who over-exercise, people who chew and spit, people who only eat certain things and cut out entire food groups… and yes, there are white, middle-class, heterosexual teenage girls with anorexia.  There are as many different kinds of eating disorders as there are eating disorder sufferers.

Say what you like about this illness; but it does not discriminate.

But people do discriminate.  Even if they don’t realise, they have pre-conceived ideas about eating disorders.  Strangers, acquaintances, even healthcare professionals.  “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”  Or, “you’re not thin, so you don’t need help.”

There are so many people with eating disorders who are at a normal weight, or who are overweight, but although there is some (and it’s by no means enough) treatment for anorexia, there is almost nothing for bulimia, binge-eating, or compulsive over-eating.  If you look normal, if you’re (oh god forbid) FAT, if you act normal or put on a brave face and appear to be coping as best you can… you can fuck off.

The squeaky hinge gets the grease.

It’s another thing i’ve accepted.  I may be ill for the rest of my life.  People like me slip through the cracks for decades.  The illness gets so ingrained, it becomes part of us, harder and harder to beat as the years drain away.


Now… i often wonder, as i swing by my usual confectionery stops: do the shopkeepers recognise me?  Do they notice what i’m buying and guess what i’m going to do?

Back in The Old Days, i’d assume they were too busy and disinterested to notice, had so many customers there was no way my face would stand out.  But of course, that was Back Then, before i was on the telly, announcing my madness for the nation to gawp at.  Now it’s far more likely people will recognise my face.

And when i buy £50 worth of confectionery, eny fule can put two and two together.