Brooklyn Nine-Nine Actress Stephanie Beatriz on Battling Disordered Eating
In three weeks, Brooklyn Nine-Nine will take its season five publicity photos—all the pics that you see online or on billboards of the cast rolling our eyes at our fellow cop/adorable lead of our show Jake Peralta, posed in front of cop cars, or pointing finger guns. Those are all taken at one big photo shoot so the network has a bunch of publicity images to roll out for next season.
Here’s how I used to “get ready” for those shoots: I’d stress. I’d look in the mirror and pick apart my body, my face. I’d zoom in on areas I hated, like my ass or my stomach. And then I’d start the obsessive food restriction and compulsive workouts.
You see, I have an eating disorder. But like a lot of us, mine is a bit hard to define. I don’t purge, so I’m not a bulimic. I do eat, so I’m not anorexic. I’m what I like to call “a disordered eater.”
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Disordered eating is an umbrella label because eating disorders can be hard to categorize—hell, they can be hard to recognize. Maybe you think restrictive eating just “works” for you because it fits within your budget or it keeps you at a certain size—I did.
I used disordered eating to try to keep myself small. I used my job as an actor under constant scrutiny as an excuse, a reason to hurt myself with food. I often used food to self-medicate, if you will, with a cycle of bingeing and restricting. I used the size of my ass and flatness of my stomach as the answer to everything that was wrong with my life and why I couldn’t seem to feel really, truly happy.
Food was both the remedy and the punishment. I thought by controlling what I ate I was controlling my fate, when it was ultimately controlling me.
Disordered eater, I know you. The only way you feel you can keep a grip on your life is to make sure you have three diet cokes before four, one chocolate chip cookie, and a small salad. You only eat certain foods that you’ve deemed “healthy,” and the list of what is okay shrinks every time you read a new book or article on the subject. You eat whatever you want and then spend hours at the gym as a way to counteract it. You eat three meals and two snacks but would rather die than put anything in your mouth that isn’t organic. Maybe today you had green juices and a vegan burrito so now you “deserve” a large pizza and chicken bites. But, f---, that means you screwed up so tomorrow it’s only juice all day long.
Does any of that sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds like the voice that speaks to me over and over in my head. The voice that sounds JUST LIKE ME but DAMN she is mean as hell. She tells me I don’t belong, that I’m not thin enough, that everyone can see how bloated I look after that last meal. She’s loud as can be when I stand in front of mirrors or linger by the snack table at work. She screams at me when I watch television or look at social media, yelling that I’d better watch my step and lose some weight or else everyone is going to figure out that I’m some kind of monster.
And even if I lose the weight, she’s not satisfied.
That’s the thing about disordered eating—that voice will never, ever be satiated. You see, she’s starving. She’s yelling because she’s hungry. But it’s not really food that she's hungry for.
I’ve started to figure out that this voice, so focused on weight and body image, is actually desperate to express her creativity, her fears, her desires, and her dreams. But she simply doesn't have the language. It’s become the biggest job of my life to teach her how to start dreaming and thinking bigger than her body size. I’m encouraging her to worry and feel, to delve into the deepest parts of herself.
And she’s doing better. She started reading again, started seeing other women not as sizes in relation to her own but as beautiful, complex beings. She started talking to friends about her disordered thoughts, and they’re helping her see that she’s a complex, beautiful being, too.
It’s not easy. Every day is f-----g hard with an eating disorder, even when you’re doing better. But it’s worth it to try and get better. Even on the hardest days, when you backslide into old patterns, it’s worth it.
This time around, I’m getting ready for that publicity shoot by eating nourishing, delicious food like green juices and pizza. I’m getting my butt to yoga and barre classes because they make me feel strong and badass. I’m taking care to drink water because it’s great for my skin and it makes me feel good all around. Most importantly, I’m telling myself that I am perfect and lovely just the way I am, even if I start crying as I say it.
I’m going to keep moving in the direction of my most authentic self by reminding myself every day that I’m worthy.
You want in on this? Take some time and talk to your own little voice. What do you think she’s trying to say when she talks about food or your body? What’s underneath all her control and fear? I bet it’s your best self, just waiting to come out. Bring her to tea; ask her what’s up. It might be damn hard to hear her real thoughts under all that nonsense, but I promise you, it’s easier that letting her, and your disordered eating, run your life.
Start teaching her and yourself that you are worthwhile because you are a MARVEL, my dear. You just don’t know it yet.