This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
An affinity for beauty, more specifically an intricate skincare and makeup routine, is often viewed as vapid or narcissistic. It's a perspective that is practically ingrained in our culture, scorning women for engaging in "frivolous" activities or "vain" procedures while ignoring those who don't fit the beauty ideal. The reaction to those with eating disorders is quite similar. Balking at the idea of a physicality-based obsession (which doesn't scratch the surface of the many emotional and mental causes behind body-images issues) and yet still judging those who don't look the way society dictates. It's at this crossroads that my fondness for skincare helped me move on from my eating disorder.
Issues with food has permeated my consciousness for most of my life. First, during high school when abstaining from food, or purging when I couldn't, was my reality. Then, in the years after, when I was actively going through treatment. Now, it affects my life as I continue through recovery—learning to love my parts but never forgetting how easily progress can vanish in an instant. It's an omnipresent battle—one that feels lighter than before—but it is never gone entirely.
Eating disorders distort so many different parts of you at once—robbing you of the things you like about yourself to accelerate its grasp.
So much of my insecurity fell in line with a cataclysmic concern for how I appeared to others, my body was just the easiest thing to latch on to. During the hardest times, though, I found reprieve through skincare. It was a way to be free, if only for a few moments—a direct route to feel good about my outsides when I couldn't rely on how my clothes would fit or the way I'd see my body that day. I learned to understand my skin and knew that if I cared for it, I'd have something to take pride in. Having "good skin" was a way to garner compliments on my appearance even if I was anxiety-ridden with regard to my limbs. Perhaps this sounds vain in its own right, the idea that I needed adulation on the way I looked. But eating disorders distort so many different parts of you at once—robbing you of the things you like about yourself to accelerate its grasp. I picture it like a monster sleuthing and sliding all around my brain cells. Skincare seemed to halt its production for at least 10 minutes twice a day when I'd cleanse, tone, and moisturize.
As it turns out, studies show habitual skincare routines can ease anxiety, depressive thoughts, and issues with control—three very common markers in those with eating disorders. "Neurologically, there are processes in the brain that take place leading to anxiety," explains Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist. "These processes are triggered when there's overanalyzing, self-blame, or worry about potential negative outcomes. It's often recommended to do something pleasurable or productive to get the mind focused on positive activity and off of negative thoughts." The positive associations are shown to quiet my anxious mind and provide a daily routine that offers a state of normalcy and control.
I take pleasure in testing out products, seeing how they react with my skin, offering advice, and admiring their packaging as a part of my job now. I learned to reclaim myself through skincare, and my affection for it still helps me every single day. I see it sort of as a chicken and the egg type of thing—did I love beauty before my eating disorder or did beauty save me from it? Either way, I'm grateful.
To increase awareness and perspective, our goal is to break open the conversation by featuring thought-provoking content on body image, diet talk, and the stigma and shame that millions of women deal with on a daily basis. Above all else, know that you're not alone—and if you need help and don't know where to begin, reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at (800) 931-2237.
Lyall LM, Wyse CA, Graham N, et al. Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK Biobank. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(6):507-514.