ON: Eating Disorders

A collaboration with The Exposure Project

My name is Eirinie, I am a 31 year old mother of one (if you don’t count the dog) and wife to one. One man. His name is Adam, but that’s neither here nor there. I am a writer all of the time but a model some of the time, and that is how I actually make money. It is also tied closely to my personal struggle with mental illness, my little eating disorder that was once not so little. 

I’ve been trying to write about anorexia for years but I never quite felt I was hitting the mark, or being fully honest, or being kind to myself, so when The Exposure Project asked me to contribute, I saw it as a goal renewed.

 I have struggled with Anorexia Nervosa for maybe 15 years, sure I dabbled in bulimia but anorexia was my jam, occasionally still is my jam. Weirdly, I’ve also been modelling for a little over 15 years, but I cannot see a correlation. Nope, nothing linking those two things at all. 

 Nah not really, if I were an amateur detective creating a DIY crime map in my living room fueled by coffee and adderall and a deep desire to know the truth, there would be but one red thread leading from one issue to another. Because in fact my eating disorder can be traced directly back to age 17 when I went on the pill and gained weight and my booker at the time (the person at my modelling agency in charge of getting me jobs) told me I needed to drop 15lbs. I had put on, at MAX, 10. When I say I had never considered my body in this way, as needing to be fixed or altered like a garment, I am not exaggerating. Sure, I had coveted other girls’ bodies on set, had even convinced myself I wanted to be blonde, but nothing concrete, no changes that I had to actively work on and monitor. I have always stayed on the slender side, and before 17 not one thing I ate affected my external body. 

It was such a formative age, and perhaps I would have eventually come to hate my thighs or stomach or legs or face on my own, and I’m sure my upbringing and the way we talked about food contributed, but I truly consider that booker (Sasha, her name was Sasha) to be the crux, and wonder if she knew the path she set my brain on that day.

Anorexia for me is deeply linked to my anxiety, my body dysmorphia and my feelings of loss of control. I began to wonder what people thought of my body and of me, and as I could not control these things I stopped eating and exercised in the solitude of my dorm. I logged on to chat rooms (remember those?) to share tips and tricks for both stimulating and hiding your weight loss. I did one particular famous “cleanse” for 14 days with a model friend, I ate no solid food and abused laxatives. I was so thin and ill, I felt like nothing, like no one. And the worst thing was my career flourished. My bookers suddenly loved how I looked. No more grabbing my thigh to indicate where I needed to work on, no more hints about the gym partnership the agency had just fostered. But in my head, instead of gaining control, I spun out, I felt as if I was floating from the nothingness of it all. 

 I tried a therapist a friend made me see, but I hated him. I didn’t realise then what I know now- finding the right fit of therapist is as much a journey as finding a babysitter you trust, or a masseuse you love; it takes patience and tenacity. I was in no place for that back then so I just gave up on the idea completely. 

Help finally came from an unexpected place, from a boyfriend who I had been friends with in university who was kind and nurturing and good to me in a way I had not experienced before. He respected my weird food rules (don’t watch me when I eat, don’t ask me when I last ate), and treated me like a skittish deer. Later, when my eating habits had evened out, I recall being bold enough to say to him, “back in uni I had anorexia”. This was big for me, I had never said it out loud to anyone, I stayed away from that word as using it would be to admit something about myself I was not ready to confront. He quietly said, “Yes. I remember.” It really shook me; I had always assumed that my stealth exercising and disgust of eating and food in general had gone completely unnoticed. He had seen. He had known. And other people had too. I wasn’t nothing, I was here with everyone else. Shoutout to you, Jake.

I have achieved a lot, despite what my brain may tell me in the still of the night. I have sustained a modest modelling career for nearly 20 years (!!!! Don’t start a career when you’re 14, you guys), I have worked with some wonders and some disasters. I have walked for Jean Paul Gaultier and Tsubi. I even modelled in a Rimmel commercial with Kate Moss, in fact they had to bring in an apple box for her because I am so tall. I have a roster of wonderful companies (shoutout Grove, shoutout Baggu) that I work with regularly. Modelling took me to LA, where I met my angel of a husband. Modelling funded every dumb idea I have ever had. But what could I have done without that physical manifestation of anxiety in my life? What could I have done, unhindered, untethered by the male gaze? We’ll never know, but perhaps there is hope for my kid.

I now see a therapist. I now talk about my issues frequently with my husband, I try to be frank about my idiosyncrasies despite the fact that they make me sound mad as a box of frogs. I still get angry if I have had a particular meal in mind, Mexican say, and don’t get to eat it and so then do not eat anything as if in protest to the Universe. 

Do I consider myself recovered? Not really, but then how can I be in a world that harbours the deep lying subtext that women are their external beauty only? With the modelling industry I myself am a cog in being as fucked as it is? Every woman I know struggles with weight concerns and body dysmorphia, is my story any more or less valuable than theirs?
These are questions I grapple with constantly and now, as a mother to a beautiful two year old who may (but I pray to the fucking ether she does not) hate her body one day, I also wonder how these acts of self hatred can be perserved by her evergrowing brain.

I want her to know she is worthy not for her innate and profound beauty, but for her mind and her deeds and her words. That a casual observation of our bodies is necessary for our health but that there is a limit to how much we need to police ourselves or change ourselves or try to force ourselves to fit into this world. And that is my ultimate judge and jury: not the mirror and not my fucking agency, but my kid.

I Don’t Want to Remember Without You, or, The Fallibility of Memory

It’s almost been a year.

A whole year without you. I should call your mum, or write to her. I have a draft in my docs that I started and never finished marked “Dear Felicity” but I didn’t know what to say to someone who’s grief and pain and trauma is unfathomable to all, even me.

I miss you terribly. Not all the time as I was expecting, but often, apropos of nothing, I am devastated again. Trying to remember the details of a story only you and I were privy to and thinking to call you and realising suddenly that I can’t. These stories are now mine to remember, the burden of our history, long but simple as it was, falls on my shoulders. I don’t want it. I don’t want to remember our trips to New York on my own. I don’t want to think about that bar, Clems, that probably still exists but is definitely different, out in Brooklyn where we drank underage and marvelled at the shot size. I don’t want to remember that man, that old black man in his designated seat at the bar who, when you walked into the room said, “damn girl, you look like a Tutankhamun exhibit” and we laughed so hard he turned away from us. I don’t want to think about these things alone. They are ours, not just mine. What if I forget? Or misremember? Now I come to think of it, was he even that old? Did he turn away or is that a fabrication of a storyteller’s mind? 

Where are you?

I need verification.

There was a day in LA. That awful day when Natalia called me and I knew before she finished her sentence what she was trying to tell me, through tears. Prostate and breathless on the bed as Adam tried to understand, tried to make me tell him what was wrong before he too could not bear to hear it uttered. That day, I stood outside on the front step, my grief facing the street and all the passing cars. A butterfly came out of nowhere and would not leave my side. Was that you? I like to think it was you but also, if you were to return to me as anything I dont think a white butterfly would be the one. I think you would choose something funny- a persistent wasp, the low hum of an amp forever in my ears, the taste of your favourite wine in everything I drank. Poetic that way. Definitely not a cat, despite your feline face. You hated them and they loved you. Like most people who met you.

I wonder what I should tell Felicity. That woman who looks so much like you that at your funeral I could not so much as steal a glance at her. The woman who, as I watched her break down from the sorrow, made my heart empty out as I realised my sadness was nothing to hers.

What can I tell her? What can I give her?

I now know, now that you’re gone, how much you compartmentalised your friends and family. Very few of us were witness to your whole truth, and I still am not sure if that was by means of self preservation, or to keep us safe. And your mum got to see so little of the fullness of you, like all our mums, I suppose. We don’t let them see all of the truths, ugly as they may be, don’t want them to be disappointed, or angry, or even just surprised. Most of us still just want to make our mums proud and if my mum knew half the things we had done, Larissa, I doubt she would feel that.

Perhaps what I can give Felicity is a little of your truth. Not too much, don’t worry. Just enough to show her some of that fullness, to let her know how much we all loved you, how rich you made my life and so many others, how you are missed.

I will tell her about all of the cool, a/ced bars we went to in New York when the humidity was too much for us. What a stir we caused, all those long brown limbs, those estuary accents, improbable and delightful. The times we went to clubs where I would dance and you would watch from the sidelines, drinking and laughing at me, refusing to join. The times in London when I would be working late at a bar and you would call and ask me to come home, and when I did you would have a bottle of something and we would talk into the night, and then not talk at all the next morning having said all we had to say.

 I will tell her how comfortable I was in your trademark silences, the ones that made so many people nervous. How I knew what they meant and how to treat them. How you told me that I might be one of the few people who really knew you, even though I’m sure I was not the only person you said that to.
I will tell her about the meals we had, the times when you were broke and I paid, or I was broke and you paid, never tallying scores up to hold over the others head at a later date. I will tell her about the fluidness of our relationship, the ease with which we could be around each other, things unspoken but known.
About our DJ night, the one we made flyers for that was going to be called something Noir, Noir something (see? If you were still here I could text you and ask you). The one we abandoned when we realised we didn’t know how to use any of the dj programmes and didn’t care enough to learn. 

About all those nights we snuck out to White Heat or After School (or was it Skool? Answer me that, Larissa) or Trash and took countless night buses back to Enfield, to creep up those stairs to your room without waking your mum.

About how you would sometimes come back with a dress you found in a vintage shop that you thought would look good on me and you were always right. 

I will tell her that I like to imagine you at the sidelines watching me, as if I am dancing alone, only confident because I know you are there.

I will tell your mum these things because she should know what her daughter meant to a girl who never felt cool, still doesn’t feel cool, unless she is stood next to you. 

I will say: Felicity, your daughter was the best friend I could have asked for at a period of life where I needed her most, and I hope that means something to you because it means absolutely everything to me.

Hair care.

Every morning I wake up and wash my hair.

Correction. Not wash- I condition it every, single, goddamn, day. I shampoo once every week, or sometimes two, depending on my sweat levels. I comb it through in the shower with an Olivia Garden brush (is this a joke? Is this her real name? I think about this every day). I know I shouldn’t comb it in the shower coz it stretches the follicles like taffy or something but it’s the only way it doesn’t hurt like hell or take 45 mins to do.

I don’t have a specific brand I’m loyal to, but anything that says “for dry damaged hair” is usually my jam, but i do try to keep away from the sulfates and parabens and all that.

I condition my hair to comb, then I rinse, then I condition and leave that in whilst I do everything else I do in the shower: scrub my bod with a shower mitt, massage my muscles, shave my legs (LOL no, sorry Adam).

I rinse the conditioner out at the very end of my shower when it’s been in my hair for about 5 mins (LOL no, sorry California). I comb it through again, with my fingers this time, and hop out the shower, dripping water everywhere much to the chagrin of my husband. Even now he is teaching our daughter to dry off INSIDE THE SHOWER god who has the time or patience? Why not just quietly drip all over the house?

THEN. I use Shea Moisture curl cream (the pink tub). I’ve used many many curl creams but this one is my fave, it’s cost efficient and you can find it in CVS and wholefoods, even though it says for thick hair and mine is thin. I have thin hairs but a fuck ton of them, they can’t handle too much heavy product. I run it through with my fingers, gently scrunch all over, and I never ever do the finger twist with my curls because I am very lazy and don’t have the time.

Right after that I use Ouai rose hair oil on it even though I’m pretty sure it would work better on dry hair. I never blow dry my hair coz I’m very lazy and I don’t have the time, plus my sis in law hair stylist (Amy Carson @ Luxe. salon in Burlingame, go see her and tip her big) tells me curly hair breaks easier and whatever I can do to save it from too much heat I should do. Which is fine by me because, again, I AM VERY LAZY AND I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.

If you don’t want to go to work with wet hair you CAN blow dry at this point, but may I suggest doing it upwards so as not to pull down the curl (like I used to do when I wanted 80s hair metal hair, god what a time), OR tilt your whole head upside down and do it like that, spine permitting.

On shoots they sometimes tong the top part of my hair which can become a frizzy halo, and I like that look but honestly a little mess and frizz feels more like me.

Ok that’s it the whole shebang you’ve seen behind the curtain now NEVER ASK ABOUT MY HAIR AGAIN.

On: Grief

My best friend, Larissa Antoinette Attisso, died two months ago. A sudden death, improbable and unexpected. She died a week after my 31st birthday, two weeks after her 32nd.

 A vibrant human, also improbable and unexpected: a cool rock and roll type with a deep love of poetry. An enigma, hard to gain a grip on, a mythical woman, indulgent, reverent. Loved by us all.

Far Rockaway, New York, 2008

 But this is not a eulogy. This is not a piece to describe to you her love of Charlie Parker and Rimbaud and also, ridiculously, Gilmore Girls. Her deep love of Korn and wrestling but also of Baudelaire and good wine. Not a piece to try to show you, dear stranger, the true person you have lost without even knowing you had her. But, how do we discuss grief without eulogising the people we lost?

 According to the CDC 2016 census, roughly 2.7 million people died in 2016 in the US alone. Think of that. Think of the mothers and fathers, friends, sponsors, colleagues affected by those deaths. Think of the ripple effect from each one. We are all in mourning, all of us, but ironically, the grief feels so personal, so lonely.

 If you have lost someone to death you know the echoing sentiments of it all too well. You know the platitudes your friends and family and therapists (if you are lucky) tell you- grief comes in waves, the only way out is through, you have to be strong for your family/their family/yourself, time heals, you must keep busy. All impossible to soak in and even more impossible to imagine implementing.

 You know the obsessiveness- days spent poring over the minutiae of the days and hours prior to death, as if somewhere hidden in plain sight is the answer. Something you missed that could have prevented it all. For me, cross examining our texts, looking for an arrow that would say, “look, here is her death. Here it is.” Dissecting past conversations with mutual friends, searching for anything that would make us understand that it was inevitable. It is a funny instinct. Why would we want proof that we could not save our loves? Why would we want to feel powerless? Perhaps only to quieten the thoughts that we could have done something, that this was inevitable, that they could not be helped.

 Larissa died in the bath. Accidentally, we are told. The week she died (although at the time we did not know she was dead, only thought her missing), my toddler had put my husbands phone in her bath in a split second whilst i went to fetch her towels. That week was also the one in which I experienced terrible vertigo for the first time, in which i said to my husband “I’m not exaggerating when i say i might be dying”. I also suddenly desired to listen to 40s jazz, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, some of Larry’s favourites. All of these things are, now, in hindsight, signs. Signs she was dead.

 I am aware of how this sounds, and am reminded of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. In this, suffering in the wake of her husband’s death,she begins to think in strange, almost childlike ways, despite her own rational mind, “I was thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome. In my case this disordered thinking had been covert, noticed I think by no one else, hidden even from me, but it had been, in retrospect, both urgent and constant.”

The pain of grief is staggering. The sheer depths of it, unfathomable. A tightening in the chest, an inescapable flood of sadness, the sudden need to sit up and cry. All consuming, this pain. Impossible to outrun. True, there are instances in which people claim to be fine, to be processing it all well. You yourself, dear reader, may be thinking, “I haven’t cried once since X died and I went back to work the following day”. Well let me be your harbinger. Let me stand over you and tell you it is coming. It is un-outrun-able, we cannot be strong against it. It is a tsunami, ready to plow through your life with impunity. Maybe not for months and maybe not for years but it will be here.

Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?

I am also here to tell you that to allow yourself to feel it, to stand in its dark waters, to feel the wet and cold seeping through your clothes is to weather the storm. Because when it passes (which it will, it comes in waves, remember?), clarity will come in its place. A calmness, an acceptance. The ability to recall details of your person. The way she laughed perhaps, or stood close and asked, “are we best friends?” even though she knew the answer.

The Standard on Sunset, LA. Forcing staff to take our picture as was our way.

Nothing has been permanent in these short (but somehow long, how does that work?) months. No feeling, no sentiment. Only her absence, I suppose.

I am reminded of a quote penned by musician and songwriter Nick Cave when responding to a question about how he dealt with the death of his son, “Grief is a terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non negotiable.” We cannot sidestep this pain, only weather it, like love, like life, like it all.

I continue to grieve, and will forever, for as long as I can remember her. Time won’t heal it completely but it will dull the edges of my grief, sharp and jagged and lethal as they are now. For that is what remembrance is- grieving but with the added caveat of acceptance.

Hold Death close. Feel the pain and the nuances of your sadness. Remember those you loved. Say their names and tell their stories.

Her name was Larissa Antoinette Attisso.

The only way out is through.

Pierre and Larry at our wedding, Somerset 2013.

Some thoughts, some words

I’ve been meaning to share my writing in public for a long time. I am often struck, like all creative people, by the thought that my work is not good enough, not interesting enough. Perhaps that is the case but perhaps I should let someone else in to form their own opinion, instead of filling in the blanks for myself.

This blog will be a gathering of my work, focusing on things that affect me (and probably you) everyday- dealing with loss, finding my feet as a new parent, struggling as an ex anorexic.

I hope that by sharing my thoughts on some of the things that matter most to me I can be frank, honest and open and encourage you to do the same.

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver