As a psychotherapist with many years of working with women with eating disorders, this photograph of smoke says it all.
It's beautiful. It's light. It's beyond human grasp. It's transitory. It's graceful. It can take many forms yet always be beyond criticism because the shifting shape and barest presence is always lovely.
But it's not a human being, and it is not what a human being can be.
Ellen says she was stunned by the degree of self hate Portia discloses in her book. Self hate can be thoroughly disguised, even
to the anorexic, by her pursuit of smoke. Her single minded purpose to achieve a gossamer state of lightness, and the wins along the way as she approaches her own bones, removes her awareness. She doesn't know she is hurting herself. She doesn't know she has organs under her skin or a brain that requires nourishment. She sees only her externals and wants them very small.
This pursuit blocks her awareness of the unbearable agony that would be revealed to herself about her own self hatred. This is one of the reasons a person with anorexia can be so adamant about starving herself. The starvation protects her from what she believes would be a worse agony.
Women striving for unbearable lightness often get their goal mixed up with spirituality. At one stage in anorexia or bulimia a woman can achieve an ethereal look. She is light. She feels as graceful as a feather wafting in the breeze. She will speak of spirituality as drifting into other realms, bodiless and free as true spirit.
If she conveys this to someone who does not understand the complexities of eating disorders, she will sound almost holy. She will evoke caring. The other person will want to cherish her and protect her, even be in awe of her. She can sound as if she has wisdom from the spheres beyond most mortal reach.
This way of being in the world doesn't appear to have anything to do with self hatred. It seems more to have everything to do with soul and great appreciation of the meaning of life.
And yet, look at the photograph. Smoke rises when something is burning. The material, like a human body, is consumed. The smoke rises as the body burns away. Then the smoke dissipates until it too is gone. Then only ash remains, the death of the being. The false promise of being one with gossamer, being light and graceful as smoke, being all spirit is shown as the awful lie of the eating disorder.
Love is essential for recovery along with courage, determination and good psychotherapy. Ellen must love Portia very much. And Portia must have learned to receive love and love Ellen in return. That can be a major part of helping a woman turn her eating disorder focus into powerful strides for healing and sturdy substance in this world.