What the People Who Comment 'Goals!' on My Photos Don't Know About My Illness
When I was first diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease, I was extremely ashamed of my diagnosis and did everything in my power to hide it from strangers, acquaintances, and even friends or family members. This is because chronic illness, particularly an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), has a lot of stigma in society. They’re not talked about, and there are few public figures (if any) who are open about their struggles with Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis/other forms of IBD.
It took two full years of struggling with myself to be completely and unapologetically open about what conditions I have. I would now consider myself a chronic illness advocate. I try to be the girl I wish I’d seen when I was first diagnosed: someone who, although is open about her chronic illness(es) also shares her other interests, whatever they may be. Someone who is chronically ill, yes, but also a young woman, an artist/musician/student/doctor/etc. That’s what I’m trying to do for chronically ill young women now.
I have found a lot of young women and girls on the internet who relate to me just as much as I relate to them. I try to create a community for all of us to share problems, jokes, and stories.
I also find people on the internet who have no idea what my illness is — and that’s OK. I want to tell them about it, so that they can be more aware. Crohn’s disease affects as many as 1.6 million Americans, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, but until I was diagnosed with the condition, I had absolutely no idea what Crohn’s disease was. I hadn’t even heard the words. They meant nothing to me. Now, I want to educate those who aren’t affected by the disease themselves, while also making myself a relatable figure for other chronically ill girls who aren’t as comfortable being open with their illnesses (and that’s OK!).
Of course, I still struggle with my own body image issues — what young woman doesn’t, after all? Body image issues are particularly rampant among chronically ill girls and young women, who often gain/lose weight due to various medications or symptoms, may not be able to walk “normally,” or have some sort of aid, such as a chair or cane — and so on. In my case, I struggle to gain and maintain weight. I am at an unsafe weight and an unsafe BMI. I know it, my doctor knows it, my family knows it, my friends know it — and all my social media followers know it. I have as of late been extraordinarily open about my body image issues, my struggle to gain weight, my eternal flip-flopping between getting admitted for TPN or not, and so on and so on. I have gotten amazing support from family, friends, and strangers on the internet who have been through similar situations. I appreciate every single one of them.
However, I get a lot of commentary about my weight on the internet. It doesn’t offend me, per say — but it disturbs me. Sometimes I’ll get anonymous messages like: “You look anorexic.” “You have bulimia, don’t you?” or the classic: “Skinny bitch.” Well, I am neither anorexic nor bulimic. However, those shouldn’t be used as insults. Anorexia and bulimia are serious, life-threatening illnesses that affect the body and the mind and are not to be sneezed at. As for being a skinny bitch — I am skinny, and I never deny that! Messages like that make me laugh. I know I’m skinny! I know I’m underweight! People like that are just being hateful. I think they’re trying to make me hate the body I am in. I refuse to let them do that to me.
I am conscious of my weight (or lack thereof). However, I no longer slouch into big sweatshirts and try to make myself smaller. I will wear a crop top when I want. I post a picture of myself in a bikini. When I feel good about myself, sometimes I let the internet know. Sometimes I don’t. But I refuse to let strangers take away the love that I still have for my body, despite all the hell it has taken me through.
Is this groundbreaking? No, probably not. However, it is the fact that I am chronically ill, and that I am this thin because of my illness(es), that makes it a topic that I believe should be further shared and discussed.
Just the other day, it was 85 degrees out. I found my cute American Apparel bikini from two years ago in the back of my closet. I asked my sister to take a picture of me laying on our driveway, with my sunglasses on, pretending I was on a beach (she kindly obliged). I posted it without a thought.
A few hours later, I got this comment:
It’s a comment I see over and over and over again on any of my photographs that expose my body.
I know it’s meant kindly. That’s why I never lash out. I recognize that my body is a part of society’s screwed up idea of what a woman “should” look like. That is wrong. As you can see in my comment, I am far from healthy — partly because of my Crohn’s disease, but also because of my weight and medications.
However, it makes me uncomfortable when someone comments, “I wish I were you” or “Goals!” on a picture of my body. Again, I know it’s meant to be a compliment, but I’d much rather hear “You look beautiful,” “What a lovely photograph!” or even “Love the swimsuit!”
When you tell me that you wish my body was yours, I immediately think of the countless hospitalizations, the infusions, the chemo pills that make me sick to my stomach, the fact that the inflammation in my body from my Crohn’s disease has led to me developing inflammatory arthritis in my hands, feet and knees, the fact that I am facing a possible surgery in the next month, the fact that I may live a shorter life because of these things.
This, of course, won’t stop me from posting more pictures of my body. When I feel cute, I know it. When I feel sexy, I know it. I have bad body days, too. That’s OK. But I won’t let comments on the internet dictate what or when I post. I’m here to educate people who are not chronically ill, and (hopefully) be someone other chronically ill young women can look up to.
Goal of this?
Next time you see a woman or girl who has a body you’re envious of, try to refrain from saying you wish you looked like her, or that you wish you were her — especially if she is chronically ill (and open about it). You never know what someone is going through, and there are so many ways in which women can support one another! Wishing we were someone else isn’t one of them. Next time, when you’re scrolling through Instagram, stick to the heart eyes emoji when you comment on her bikini picture.
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Thinkstock photo by Rohappy