I'm not the kind of person who would let society paint my face - I follow my passion not fashion, see my skin as a canvas, awaiting collaboration not a catastrophe begging to be cloaked by a thick curtain..
When I first came across Kristen Costello's poems I immediately copied one and reposted it on our Instagram page. It was something that I thought really resonated with all women. Her work has always straddled the line between a sense of belonging and alienation, showing strength, weakness and empowerment all at the same time. Upon a quick internet search I learned that Kristen was an overachiever, graduating college a year early and at the head of her class. I also learned that her strive for perfection had help to cultivate an eating disorder. How do women who seemed to have it all come to a place where food controls their lives? Why do some many women succumb to this disease? Eating disorders are more prevalent than we realize. The latest statistics indicate that more than 30 million people in the US will suffer from one.
I don't wish to be someone else anymore, don't want to slip into another girls skin exchange outsides with someone
I am ok.
We talked to Kristen about her journey as a writer and her journey as woman struggling with her eating disorder.
We love your writing. When did you realize you had a talent for poetry?
Thanks! I actually didn’t start off as a poet. I graduated college a year early and decided to take some time off to write a young adult fiction novel. At one point, I got really bad writer’s block, mainly because I had a lot of self-doubt/low self esteem. I would compare myself to other writers and think “I’ll never be that good.” Sometimes, I’d even read my old work and tell myself it was “just luck” that it came out good and that I’d never be able to write anything of that quality again. It got to the point where I was so in my head, I wasn’t able to write anything at all. So I decided I had to do something to get myself writing again, and that’s when I started writing a few little poems just as a way to try to break my writer’s block. Eventually, I ended up sharing some of them on Instagram and Tumblr, and I received a lot of positive feedback from people on those platforms, so I decided I would start writing a full-length poetry collection, which I’ve been working on ever since.
I do hope to be able to write both poetry and young adult fiction in the future.
We have read about your struggle with an eating disorder. Can you tell us about it? When did it begin? Was there a catalyst?
I was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa this past summer, but I’ve struggled with my eating disorder and disordered eating behaviors since middle school and high school. It went undiagnosed for years, both because I hid it from everyone and because I wasn’t extremely underweight.
I think bullying was a major catalyst for my eating disorder. When I was in elementary school and middle school I was bullied a lot for my appearance. Interestingly, I was never bullied about my weight (at the time, I fell into the “normal” weight range for my height and age). It was always other aspects of my appearance that were the target: my frizzy hair, my glasses, my unwaxed upper lip and eyebrows, my overbite (then eventually the braces), my clothes, etc, etc. As a result, I think I began to see my appearance as something that constantly needed to be “fixed,” a never-ending improvement project. I think that part of me thought of it as a way to protect myself: if there were fewer things physically “wrong” with me, then there would be fewer things for people to make fun of. So I began to fixate a lot on changing aspects of my appearance, and eventually losing weight became a part of that.
There were other factors as well, a major one being the fact that I’m a perfectionist (which is a common trait of people with eating disorders).
Do you think what women and girls see on TV and social media has gotten to a place of unattainable beauty standards? Does this play a big role in these disorders? What are other factors?
I definitely think that we’re all exposed to a lot of unattainable beauty standards through television, social media, etc. The thing that makes it even more difficult now is that ANYONE can make major alterations to their photos with apps, so it gets harder and harder to tell what is and isn’t real. I think that media can play a role in the development of these disorders for some people, but in combination with other factors.
Other factors: perfectionism , control issues (it’s a way of feeling like you’re gaining some form of control when you feel like you have no control over other aspects of your life, which is definitely the case for me and my disorder), self punishment
Traumatic events like rape, assault (not for me, but others)
DIET CULTURE (the societal pressure to focus on weight loss over health, the promotion of the “thin ideal” and the false idea that being healthy means being thin. In general, diet culture values a certain weight/body type over actual health/wellness.)
A relevant quote I think you’ll like: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one” – Naomi Wolf
When did you realize you needed help with your disorder?
I realized I needed help with my disorder when I was no longer able to function on a day to day basis. I wasn’t able to work, I wasn’t able to be social, I wasn’t even able to do any of my hobbies. Every waking thought was about food and weight loss, and it was putting my career, happiness, and well being in jeopardy.
Also, at one point I passed out and hit my head, which was really scary. That was like my body giving me a wake up call.
Can you tell us about a typical day when you are struggling the most?
On tough days, I can’t look in the mirror without getting upset. I have to resist the urge to weigh myself as soon as I wake up in the morning and then throughout the entire day. I change my outfit six or seven times because I don’t feel comfortable in any of my clothing, even the clothing that fits.
I have to work really hard to convince myself that I “deserve” to eat all of my meals and snacks. I have to follow a meal plan laid out for me by a nutritionist because my urge to restrict is still too strong for me to eat intuitively yet. When I eat certain foods that my eating disorder brain has labeled, “bad,” I feel guilty. That guilt makes it really hard for me to stick to my meal plan. As I result, sometimes I end up restricting or overexercising.
It’s really hard for me to exercise a safe/healthy amount. Sometimes when my urge to overdo it is really strong, I have to avoid it altogether because once I start I won’t be able to stop for hours.
Sometimes I can’t focus on my work or fall asleep at night because my disordered thoughts are too overwhelming and distracting.
What advice do you have for other young women who are facing eating disorders?
Get professional help! For a while, I closed myself off and tried to fight it alone. I was ashamed and embarrassed and at times still in denial about the dangers associated with my behaviors. Even when I finally did admit to myself that it was an issue, I still didn’t believe I was “sick enough” to deserve help. But that wasn’t true! There’s no such thing as “sick enough;” don’t think that you have to be a certain weight to need help.
Getting help does not mean you are weak.
Having the support from therapists, nutritionists, and other patients who are also in recovery will make a HUGE difference. Having the support of a community who understood what I was going through made me feel a lot less alone and hopeless.
How is your recovery going?
It’s going well so far! I was in an intensive outpatient program for about four months, and I graduated in September. Now, I’m seeing a nutritionist and a therapist on a one-on-one basis regularly. I still have bad days, but I’m trying to not be so hard on myself about that because I know it’s part of the process.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and the progress that’s been made. I am incredibly grateful to all of the wonderful therapists, dietitians, and friends I have me so far on my road to recovery. They have been a huge inspiration to be and have helped me stay motivated even during the most difficult times. This is without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but I’m hoping that I can use these experiences along with my social media platforms and love of writing to increase awareness about this mental health issue as well as advocate for better, more affordable care for EVERYONE who needs help.
Is there something you think others should know about to help us understand what you are going through?
You don’t have to be severely underweight to be struggling with anorexia. In fact, you can be ANY weight and have this disorder. People with anorexia restrict the number of calories and the types of foods they eat. Some also exercise compulsively, purge, and/or binge eat. The disorder varies on a person to person basis; not all people use all of these behaviors. You can’t necessarily look at a person and be able to tell if they are anorexic.
Anorexia is defined by behaviors, not numbers.
Anorexia (and other eating disorders) can affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and socio economic backgrounds.
Not everyone with an eating disorder has “visible” health problems.
Not everyone with an eating disorder is even aware that they have an eating disorder (I didn’t know I had one for a while).
I am not just a shape.
I am more than my angles and edges
curved lines and failed attempts at symmetry
I am multidimensional -
undefined and immeasurable.
- Kristen Costello
Kristen is currently writing and still getting treatment for her eating disorder. You can contribute to her recovery on her GoFundMe page.
Everyone who donates will be mentioned by name in the "acknowledgements" section of the recovery book she will be publishing.
Follow Kristen on Instagram @Kristens_notebook
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