I spotted this video at Straight From the A, where Rocsi reveals her struggles with diet pill abuse and an eating disorder.
It’s amazing what you can reveal to a room full of strangers, but not to people who really know you. Rocsi is right, if people know your struggle it can help others going through the same thing.
I feel bad because I’m guilty of calling Rocsi skinny–just to be negative–not realizing that we share a common ground. The first time I had ever heard a woman in hip-hop admit to having an eating disorder was on the Salt n’ Pepa show, when Salt revealed that part of why she left the group was because she was struggling with bulimia. I couldn’t believe it. I always admired Salt’s body. She had an acceptable frame for hip-hop–thick in the right places–so why would she do that to herself? But she was no different from me.
I appreciate my physique now, but going through puberty was a different story. I started to develop by the time I was 10, and by 12 I was a size nine with D cup breasts. I literally went up three pants sizes, and from an A cup to a D cup in one summer. My body was always brought to my attention because I took dance classes and was always one of the biggest girls in the class. It was frustrating to see the other slim girls never have costume drama. Plus, my mom always had to pay extra money for my costumes, which was duly noted on a class list (if you had an asterisk next to your name it meant you were fat), which made me feel bad. I always had to take extra precaution for shows to make sure I didn’t have an embarrassing mishap–often wearing two, sometimes three bras underneath a black or flesh-colored tank or tube top, because I was terrified of a wardrobe malfunction. In most cases, the costumes always consisted of either tube or spaghetti-strap tank tops, geared toward the smaller girls. It hurt my feelings that most of my dance teachers never considered me when picking costumes, but then again, why should they if I was in the minority?
With fast development came the teasing and misconceptions. I was told that I looked like a duck (because of my small waist, protruding breasts and booty), my breasts were called missiles (funny now, but not then), I was called water jugs and biscuits, people told me that I wasn’t going to look good when I was old (it’s nice to know there are so many psychics among us), people wrongfully assumed that I was sexually active, boys (and grown men) grabbed, groped and jeered, and some girls simply didn’t like me because I had to have thought I was “all that.”
Mentally, I was spiraling out of control. My environment outside of dance class said it was OK to be shapely, especially in hip-hop, and at home, it was never brought up. My body type runs in my family so that was the norm. However, I resented that no one knew or tried to understand how I was feeling with this rapid change that I didn’t know how to handle. It didn’t seem like the thick women in music videos and in my neighborhood were struggling as they flaunted what they had, so I assumed I was the only one.
I was 14 the first time I purged. It was during a time where I was angry because I never got solos in school (it was a performing arts school) so that meant I couldn’t sing, and in my outside dance classes, I just faded to the background, afraid to dance as hard or as good as I wanted to because I didn’t want to bring more attention to my body. My mother and I didn’t talk about feelings. Don’t get me wrong, she was supportive as far as attending my functions and enforcing that the sky was the limit, but she never seemed to sense when I was in pain (or at least didn’t bring it up). I felt alone and out of control and convinced myself that everything I felt and everything happening to me was because I needed to lose weight.
The binging and purging lasted a couple of months during my first phase but I didn’t see the results that I wanted. My waist got smaller, but the other features I hated got more exaggerated. I thought I was doing it wrong and sometimes tried to starve myself, which would typically last for about a day or two but when I couldn’t stand not feeling the sensation of eating, I’d binge again, feel bad and purge. The cycle continued off and on for years until I finally saw a therapist for something unrelated, when I was about 16. She helped me make sense of what was going on.
For me, it was more about control. The primary ways that I dealt with anger and frustration were either to lash out violently or to turn it inward. The latter happened most of the time. Because other things were happening in my life that I couldn’t control, I focused on the one element I could change and that’s how my eating disorder was born. I told myself that everything else was my fault because I was fat and somehow, me losing weight would make everything better. It’s a warped way of thinking that only people who deal with similar issues can truly understand.
Even if you learn how to manage it, the thoughts never go completely away. I’m 27, and have admittedly had episodes within the last couple of years. But I’m still a work in progress. Thinking about how not worth it the side effects are (losing teeth, never having energy, always being sick because your immune system is down, hating yourself because you can’t stop it–just to name a few) and channeling my anger into other avenues help me focus on not hurting myself. I’ve learned about proper diet and nutrition, I work out, I write and I pursue my interests so that I can channel negative energy into something more productive. I’m beginning to appreciate and accept the things that I can’t change, and I’m OK with that. It’s worth it to weigh my options. I can either live long and prosper, or die young, in pain and addicted to misery. I choose life. There’s so much that I want to do, but what’s the point if I’m not happy and healthy?
It angers me when I hear people refer to eating disorders as a “white girl thing” or when people speak negatively about people who have them. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s not real. The best lesson that I’ve learned in all of this is that you are never alone. I wrote a blog on this topic a couple of years ago on my private MySpace page, revealed my secret to friends and got several text messages and emails from girlfriends (primarily Black women) who were relieved that they weren’t alone. It was a surprise for me to see how many more were out there.
For years, I contemplated whether I should reveal that dark part of myself to the public but if Rocsi and Salt can do it, then so can I. I know how bad it feels to feel alone, to not understand why you’re hurting yourself, to be embarrassed, and to feel alienated because people make mean ignorant comments. If I can help at least one person, then sacrificing myself despite the shame and the pain is worth it. A little compassion goes a long way.
Props to Rocsi and Pepa for being brave.
CLICK HERE to read about Salt’s struggle.