The Plucky Changemaker
Anastasia Amour has one goal: to help women all over the world love their bodies. While that might sound completely impossible she’s already helped 230k over email with her body-love coaching. From all over the world. You might even think she’s reached her lofty dream but there’s many more women hating their bodies, sadly.
Anastasia knows the subject of body hate, and love, thoroughly. Not only does she have a string of letters after her name including diplomas in counselling, eating disorders, food psychology, mental health and cognitive therapy, she’s also been through the fire. Anastasia battled near-fatal anorexia during her teens, skated close to bulimia in recovery, and she knows all about that false friend, yo yo dieting as well. Now she applies her psychology training to the art of self love.
This line from her site sums up the work she does, “It’s not all fluffy, hippy, ‘wahoo, light a candle and have a bath and look fondly at your stretch marks’, it’s real psychology broken down in life changing ways.” Anastasia’s reality wrapped up in a beautiful grin and witty outlook, and somehow she found time to put it all a book, Inside Out – a 14 day guide to self love, with substance. Like the film with the same name, it’s full of great lines and substance (but no imaginary friends).
Anastasia’s a shame buster. She’s a lover maker. She busts myths about eating disorders and yo yo dieting.
Her Instagram page is full of good inspo, and here she is:
When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your skin – what age?
I don’t remember ever feeling comfortable in my own skin as a child. It wasn’t like I was happy and carefree and then the weight of the world started to get to me… I just always was uncomfortable with my body. It always felt burdensome yet strangely disconnected and I think I just got used to it (similar to the way you learn to live with an injury or pain… after a while, you forget that what you’re experiencing isn’t “normal”). I learned to work around it and find confidence (or false confidence, in hindsight) in other ways.
And when did you start eating to squash feelings/punish yourself – why?
For as long as I can remember, I used food as an emotional crutch to fill the weird voids that I felt. I ate a fair variety of foods but my portion sizes were huge and I had no idea how to stop… or rather, I kind of knew how to stop but felt like I was doing the ‘right thing’ by my body. I always felt like I didn’t deserve to eat so I decided to fix that by eating far more than I needed or even wanted to. I loved/hated it. My feelings around food and weight and body were all round screwed up, let’s just say!
Your diet became Redbull and laxatives (very similar to my diet of V and putting my fingers down my throat) – are you amazed now what punishment the body can survive?
Totally amazed. I’m in awe of my body and eternally apologetic to it. There were multiple times that I woke up coughing in the middle of the night unable to even bring up bile because there was literally nothing in my stomach. The whole sleep thing really amazes me – I ran on so little energy and yet I was awake for ridiculously long periods of time. I was too wired on my own self-hatred to fall asleep and when I did, I crashed hard. I’m quite honestly amazed that I’m still alive.
I’m so glad you are. How did you come back from the edge – what was the turning point?
There was always a little part of me that knew that I was seriously ill and needed to seek help, but it was largely overpowered by the voice of the ED. I always ignored the voice that told me that I deserved to keep living and deserved to get better, but slowly that little voice got a little bit louder and I chose to listen to it. I still don’t know exactly what flicked in my mind and made me tune into that voice out of every other time I’d chosen to dismiss it, but I’m so glad that I did. I think that fear of the unknown played a role in it. I was so afraid of continuing to live, but I was also afraid of what dying would mean. Everything in my life was very much fear driven for a very long time.
What was the best thing you learned from your ED?
It forced me to dig deep into my own feelings, examine what I was capable of and find purpose outside of fitting within the narrative of what it means to be a woman (read: how to be obsessed with your looks to your own detriment).
What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about eating disorders – that they’re not, in the end, about weight but control or something else?
The perception that they’re all about weight is a big one, for sure. But on top of that, one of the most common and heartbreaking misconceptions I hear is that EDs are a “choice” – and that if you can choose to have them, you should be able to choose not to have them and just flick the ‘rational thinking switch’ in your mind back on. Obviously it doesn’t work like that! I hear comments like that a lot from parents of a child with an ED and it absolutely breaks my heart. A lot of the time, the parents don’t mean to be callous or insensitive, but they just don’t understand the power of comments like that. They’re going through a really tough time as well not knowing how to heal their child and for some, boiling the ED down to a choice rather than a mental illness is almost a defence mechanism. Like if they acknowledge how serious the ED is, they’re forced to confront the fact that their child is really sick and not just going through a phase. It’s hard for a lot of parents to feel like they have no control.
If you could go back and change time, would you wish that you didn’t go through all that you did or has it made you in some way?
I’ve thought about this one a lot, actually. And after hours thinking about it, I still don’t have an answer. Would I take away the sheer hell that I went through? Absolutely. Would I take away what I’ve learned and how I can now help people because of that? No freakin’ way.
If I could take away the experience but not the lesson, maybe. But then again, the lesson wouldn’t be the same without the lived experience. I think I could go around in circles all day on this one. I’m content with not having an answer and keeping my eyes on the present and future, instead.
What would you say to 12 year old Anastasia?
“Ask for help.”
If I’d mentioned my totally fucked up way of thinking to my parents (or anyone, for that matter), those around me would’ve had a chance to realise what was going on in my world and help me seek assistance in recovering. But I was afraid and stubborn and totally unwilling to admit that I wasn’t 100% okay. Even in the incredibly supportive environment that my parents fostered, I still felt terrified. That’s something that a lot of people need to understand – the environment can be as wonderful and supportive as possible, but that still doesn’t guarantee the sufferer feeling safe enough to come forward. EDs aren’t rational ways of thinking, and a lot of people expect that ED sufferers can suddenly “switch off” the disease and think clearly. That’s not the case at all.
Do you think EDs are getting better/worse – are we changing the dialogue and understanding around them and therefore the number of people suffering?
I don’t think they’re getting worse necessarily – and I think it’s dangerous to play the better/worse game with mental illnesses because there is no better (unless that ‘better’ is fully recovered). So many individuals operate in the paradigm of “recovered enough” and that’s what keeps a lot of people sick, stuck in cycles and prevents them from seeking help. But I digress – EDs aren’t getting worse, but the game has certainly changed. The internet has changed the way that eating disorders can exist and thrive in unwell individuals and again thanks to the internet, we’re now more aware of their existence. The online community is great because it allows the recovery community to connect, but it also allows very sick people to connect with other very sick people and share tips on staying disordered (pro-ana and pro-mia sites, for instance). So it’s a double edged sword.
In any case, we need to recognise that eating disorders are made up of varying percentages of genetics and environment for each individual. We can’t wholly blame the culture, although it can (and does) contribute. Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.
Agreed, Cynthia Bulik uses that great line too. What question do other men/women ask you the most when they are trying to accept their own bodies?
An awful lot of people ask me “How can I accept my body?” in a very general sense and to me, that’s indicative of the ‘quick fix’ culture that we live in. Particularly when you look at the marketing of diets, everything is heralded as instant and easy. And for those coming out of diet cycles trying to find self-love, they’re accustomed to that instant gratification. Unfortunately, that’s also what makes it hard for many people to embark on that self-love journey… the perception that the tough mental work won’t be worth it and the uncertainty of why they should try if nothing instantly changes. If only it were that easy. It’s a really tough learning curve to confront.
But worth it. If you could change one thing about what we see in the media what would it be?
Representation, all the way! The current media idea of representation is usually, “Let’s just use one token person of colour thrown in for good measure. Bam! That’s diverse enough, right?” and that makes me super sad. Having said that though, I can only imagine how awful that feels for people seeking that representation. I have to acknowledge my privilege in that as a “curvy but not too fat white woman,” seeing representation of my own body type in the media isn’t nearly as difficult as it is for W.O.C or trans individuals or those who exist outside of the “good fatty” archetypes.
If going without food’s no longer your superpower – what is it?
Compassion and curiosity – learning the power of observing first instead of judging!
Sometimes I want to make jokes about EDs (which only those who have been through them can do.) Do you have that urge or am I a weirdo?
You’re so not a weirdo! It’s super common. These days I’m the first to point out that jokes about eating disorders are the farthest thing from funny — but I was once the girl that constantly joked about it. At the time, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. In hindsight, my discomfort around my recovery was thick. I was still so scared, so ashamed, so embarrassed. I wanted to erase anorexia from my life by joking about “those five years where I decided not to eat” or my awesome sense of willpower — because, let’s face it, it’s easier to pretend that something isn’t life-threatening when you can make it into a punchline.In a way, I almost felt like I needed to joke about it. Laughing about those demons was my way of pretending that I was fully recovered and happy (when, really, my ongoing recovery scared the crap out of me, made me feel totally alone and disassociated and secretly, I really really missed being sick). One day, it dawned on me: I was contributing to the problem by perpetuating jokes (no matter how small) that ultimately harmed my recovery, however much I tried to tell myself that they were helping. That lightbulb moment snapped me back to reality: I was trying to make sure that other people liked me, instead of continuing to work on the fact that I needed to like myself. I was creating part of the stigma that had hurt me so badly every time someone else made a joke at my expense or belittled the severity of mental illnesses.On the one hand, I can see a potential benefit to laughter as a coping mechanism during recovery. But: when a joke goes beyond playful banter and starts to contribute negatively to an existing culture of shame and stigma, which ultimately stops people from seeking professional help (which, in turn, costs lives), then we need to examine why we make the jokes that we do and whether there’s a better way to process those emotions. Because for every person who isn’t offended by the joke, there’s another person suffering who is badly impacted by it; another who stays silent, another who doesn’t take their own battle seriously. Whether we’re comedians, actors, singers, mothers, teachers or regular women, we need to be aware that our words have power.
You post a lot of pictures of yourself, does your heart ever beat loudly when you do as that can open you up to trolls/mean comments?
Constantly! It remains a rebellious act for me, and that’s something super empowering for me. It gets easier and sometimes I feel good about it, other times I feel absolutely gut-wrenchingly awful. I’ve received my fair share of awful comments in my time – usually from dudes who are unreasonably pissed off that they’re having trouble masturbating to me. As if that’s the worst possible thing I could do, right? Because we all know that women exist solely as boner fodder *insert gigantic eye roll here*
It bothered me a lot at first but I’m learning to dismiss and remove those comments without a second thought. It’s all part of my overall work in self-acceptance, which is largely tied to knowing that I don’t exist for anyone else’s opinion or gratification. I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s alright with me! I love and accept myself enough without needing external validation.
That being said, if I’m having a particularly awful day, those comments can definitely still get under my skin. I’ve learned (and am still learning) that the solution in those moments is to give myself compassion, rather than self-hate.
Can you finish this sentence, ‘in my body is a good place to be because…’
It’s my home.
Love that answer! Do you feel OK about being called ‘an awesome bulimic’?
I feel more than OK about being called an awesome anything! It feels good these days to be able to accept compliments without talking myself into believing that they’re all lies 🙂
If you enjoyed this please like or comment and show Anastasia how fucking awesome she is too. And if you want more stories then don’t forget to sign up to FABIK.
– It’s a few month’s old now but Caitlin Moran’s letter to teenage girls ‘you were not born scared and self-loathing’ is something every woman and girl should read.