As I say goodbye to my kids at the school gate, I feel a slight change. I can’t explain it, but something feels different. Suddenly I’m conscious of my breathing and aware of every sensation in my body. It’s as though I can feel every air molecule touching my skin. A little pang of anxiety ignites, deep within my belly.
I try to ignore it and get back to my morning routine, but by the afternoon it’s back and I realise what this morning’s episode had been about. I want to scream as I go over everything I’ve done in the last few days.
Did I eat something I shouldn’t have?
Have I been getting eight hours of sleep every night? I
know I’m certainly a tad stressed, what mum with young children isn’t?
I feel myself sinking, my body has failed me again.
My Crohn’s is flaring and each time it comes back I can’t help but wonder if this is the time the medication stops working. Will I end up needing my bowel removed and have to poop through an opening made by a surgeon in my abdomen? I watched my sister go through numerous bowel surgeries and re-sections, along with all the complications that come with it.
Complications that eventually took her life.
Crohn’s disease is an incurable inflammation of the bowel and it feels like you have a bad case of food poisoning constantly. Severity differs from person to person, but I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’ve never been bed-ridden in hospital like others I know. My specialist thinks mine was triggered by pregnancy, another blessing of having children,
as if incontinence and deflated breasts weren’t enough.
Having Crohn’s means I’m on medication to heal the inflammation in my bowel and these medications turn me into a bloated raging mess on a good day. When it’s bad, I could drop 20 kilos in a short amount of time. But instead of people showing concern for my new deathly appearance, I actually get complimented. Shocked expressions and the congratulatory, ‘Wow, you look fantastic!’ Or I’m questioned about what new diet I’m on, ‘Is it paleo? Keto?’
No, it’s called the ‘everything I eat is instantaneously expelled from my digestive system at the speed of lightning and with the force of a freight train diet’.
When I was a teenager, my best friend told me the story of her Serbian grandmother who survived the war by hiding in a chicken coup and stealing cabbages from a local farm. When she was found, she was so frail her rescuers thought she was dead and she still suffers ongoing health issues from that time. If only my friend’s baba knew she could have written a book about her new diet secret and become rich.
When I explain the seriousness on my condition I get, ‘Well, at least you look fantastic!’
Why is it so important to be thin that a chronic illness is seen as a blessing?
Like being skinny is the holy grail of a happy healthy existence. We are inundated with Insta-famous, ex-Bachelor contestants turned health gurus spruiking skinny shake bullshit as legit medicine.
They tell us that thinness is the key to a happy life.
That once we lose 10 kilos our lives will change, we will be more confident and can start living the life we want. As someone who has been all sorts of body types, happiness was never achieved when I reached a certain weight. There’s the age-old argument I hear, ‘it’s unhealthy to be fat’. Because skinny people must be healthy? When I have been at my thinnest I was also at my sickest, both physically and mentally. I think back to when I looked my ‘best’, I have also been my craziest. In 2007, my sister passed away. She had bowel cancer and complications from surgery ended her life abruptly. Something snapped in me, I went to a nutritionist who convinced me I needed to sign up to her health scheme and swallow her herbal pills every day for the rest of my life because I couldn’t possibly get the nutrients my body needed from real food. I would not let a gram of sugar or simple carbohydrates pass my lips. I lived at the gym and I lived in fear of illness. I bargained with an invisible force, if I just ate clean and worked out and said daily affirmations I would be saved from disease. I now realise this is utter nonsense. As a portrait photographer, I try to give back to the community by offering free photo shoots to families with terminally ill children. It’s both absurd and victim blaming to suggest the babies I photograph with terminal cancer should just be saying daily affirmations and eating a plant-based diet and they would be cured. I’m at my fattest now and healthiest both physically and mentally.
The thing is, I have always had a running commentary on my body and the way it looks, but I’ve since realised that people’s reactions were a result of their own insecurities. I have always made someone feel uncomfortable with my presence. In high school I was so anxious about being bullied, my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t eat. I was told I was too skinny. In my twenties, I returned to playing sport, after stopping because ‘girls don’t do that sort of thing’. I was told I was too muscular and looked like a man.
And now, in my steroid-fueled state, I’m too fat.
When I was at my thinnest I was actually anaesthetising myself with the gym. We all have something we are trying to anesthetise ourselves with. There is always an uncomfortable emotion we are trying to make go away. Some people are comforting themselves with the gym, others are shopping or using food, it’s just that certain addictions are more socially acceptable than others.
So many messages in society tell us that being thin will make us complete. It’s almost the key to a happy life. That once we lose 10 kilos our lives will change we will be more confident and can start living the life we want.
And the flip side of that? We’re not worthy of the life we want if we’re not thin.
When Krystle Ricci first picked up a camera in 2013, what started as a project to take better photos of her children turned into a career. She now works with families, capturing unique portraits and in her personal work explores issues around motherhood and parenting. She was a finalist in the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture in 2017 and was recognised as one of Australia’s Top 10 Emerging Documentary Photographers by Capture Magazine in the same year, an honour that was repeated in 2018. She was also the winner of the Contemporary Landscape In Photography Award in 2018. This year Krystle exhibited as a finalist in the portrait category of the Head On Festival in Sydney, as well as exhibiting in Arles, France as part of The Family Of No Man.
Header photo of Krystle and her family by Amanda Alessi.
If you would like information, referrals and brief counselling for eating disorders, disordered eating or body image concerns, please contact The Butterfly Foundation:
1800 33 4673
When Krystle Ricci first picked up a camera in 2013, what started as a project to take better photos of her children turned into a career. She now works with families, capturing unique portraits and in her personal work explores issues around motherhood and parenting.
Why are we doing this thing? Because there’s enough noise in the world telling women what we ‘should’ be doing.
We should parent more consciously, but not be helicopter parents. We should take care of our bodies, but not be vain. We should make boys pay, but demand equal rights. We should dress appropriately, but also be confident in our skin, wear what we want, but not be provocative, oh and please feel comfortable in the world’s skimpiest school bathers but then wear your jeans to the formal because last year the boys looked up the girls’ skirts and so you’ll have to be the ones to modify your behaviour. Yeah. No.
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