‘I was praised for starving myself’
HOW much weight do the terms, skinny and fat, obese and anorexic carry for you?
For a self-described "fat girl", these were the labels she defined herself by from a young age - and these were the labels that resulted in body dysmorphia.
As an overweight child, Blythe Baird always felt that her value was measured by her weight.
When she finally succumbed to the pressure to be thin, she developed an eating disorder. She was 14.
Blythe told news.com.au, "When I was a teenager I started struggling with restrictive disordered eating for the first time.
"It developed, partially from social expectation that fat people need to lose weight in order to be relevant. It was also born from how I was raised and just having an addictive personality with perfectionist tendencies."
However, rather than be concerned with her rapid weight loss, the people around her offered nothing but praise for finally losing weight.
"When I lost weight after being considered the fat girl my whole life, I noticed how people were enamoured with me for the same thing that was killing me," she said.
"When I got sick, nobody ever seemed worried. Nothing led me to believe it would be a good idea to attempt recovery. While I was starving myself, I received constant positive reinforcement in every aspect of my life."
There is a double standard when an overweight person develops an eating disorder, opposed to when someone considered thin struggles with one.
Blythe explained: "When fat people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they have made healthy lifestyle adjustments. When skinny people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they are sick and in need of medical attention," she said.
Frustration at this cruel double standard led her to create a short movie.
When the fat girl gets skinny
"When The Fat Girl Gets Skinny" examines how our actions and words perpetuate and encourage eating disorders.
Within the short film, Blythe explains that she became an inspiration when she lost weight. Girls would stop her in the hallway to ask what her secret was, and the attention made her fall in love with the illness.
It also made her recovery that much harder.
While the comments were delivered with good intention, they turned out to be damaging.
"It made me feel like I would let people down and they'd be disappointed in me if I attempted recovery (or put weight back on). Their comments made 'skinny' become a promise I had to keep. Those reactions made me feel like it was way more important to be thin than it was to recover," she said.
Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, said when someone overweight develops an eating disorder they've been pre-conditioned to believe their size isn't right from the start. This poses a big challenge for recovery.
"When someone is bigger, it's common for people to tell them. They make comments, suggestions on how to change their shape. As an eating disorder is neuropsychiatric, it forces changes in the neurological pathway. If changes have already occurred in their brain, they have to completely rewire their perception of body image, as well as decouple from what people are telling them," she explained.
Blythe is quick to point out she doesn't hold the people who praised her accountable for her illness. In her eyes, the fault lies with our image-obsessed society.
"I don't blame them. I know most of them had the best of intentions. No one was trying to hurt me. It was just a product of society. It is a result of how our culture teaches us to marvel at and celebrate weight loss, despite how it was achieved."
Christine agrees with Blythe's assessment.
"It seems we are all arm chair experts when it comes to a person's weight. We praise weight loss more than we would someone's exam results. We admire someone who can readily lose weight, and are judgmental when someone gains it. Our society is too focused on image and that's damaging, for everybody."
She explained: "We are bombarded with imagery that portrays the ideal shape in Western society, which is thin for woman and ripped, with a six pack, for men. It's almost an obsession. And this pre-conditioned notion of the ideal shape determines admiration and success in our society."
To change this, Christine is adamant we need to stop defining ourselves by our body shape.
"Our bodies are given us to live our lives in. It is critical we separate our perception of body shape and size to a person's inherent value. And people need to be more careful of their commentary when they praise someone for weight loss; you don't know what is happening inside someone's head, and at the end of the day what someone weighs is no one elses business."
Blythe says she's not over her eating disorder.
"It's been a lifelong battle. As a child I struggled with binging as well. I don't know if there is a past tense of recovery," she said.
"I don't consider myself past it. Recovery is a choice I consciously make every day. I still have to put in the effort. We need to remember that skinny is not a compliment, and fat is not an insult."
So, how much weight do the terms, skinny and fat, obese and anorexic, have for you?
If you need help or support for an eating disorder or body image concern, please call Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673 (ED HOPE) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org