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Growing Up

Posted May 01 2009 12:00am

If the seasonal showings of Big are anything to go by, there is something fascinating about the idea of a child trapped in an adult’s body. The ‘what happens when a child’s mind finds itself in an adult’s form’ question has clearly occurred to other people. It evidently offers some enduring comic currency.

Unless, of course, you’re the one stuck in the wrong body.

To carry the child into adult life
Is good? I say it is not,
To carry the child into adult life
Is to be handicapped

Stevie Smith

Being out of sync with your biological age may be great in theory (a 49 year old’s wisdom in a 16 year old body and a 14 year old head with the freedom of a 35 year old) but the reality’s somewhat different – and the inner-outer-adult-child dilemma is strangely relevant to anorexia.

After years of denying – scathingly – the therapists’ theories that eating disorders were linked to a fear of growing up, I had a slightly unsettling realisation around my 24th birthday. They were right. I was terrified.

Growing up is not just about growing into a bigger body; it is also about growing into a bigger person with responsibilities and expectations. I could, contrary to popular psychology (anorexia and child bodies and all that), see the appeal of looking like a grown up woman; it was the acting like a grown up woman that really put the frighteners on.

Anorexia and bulimia did a great job in delaying the aging process – both physically (unintentional, albeit effective) and emotionally (no spare head room). Being ill sheltered me from all the responsibilities and expectations of the adult world: it extended the period through which I was looked after and nurtured and protected by a good 14 years.

Until I woke up one day and realised that I couldn’t stop the biological body clock. My mind may not have taken the physical leap to adulthood but the number of years on my birth certificate had. Anorexia was a great mirage in the aging process. But it was only a mirage.

The whole age agenda was interesting in relation to my eating disorder. It provided a key piece of the ‘why-it all-started puzzle’ : my fear of getting older and inability to deal with being an adult. And it also, to keep me busy, provided yet another hurdle on the road to recovery: I’d got my ages out of sync.

You would say a man had the upper hand
Of the child, if a child survive,
I say the child has fingers of strength
To strangle the man alive.

Oh it is not happy, it is never happy,
To carry the child into adulthood,
Let children lie down before full growth
And die in their infanthood
And be guilty of no man’s blood.

But oh the poor child, the poor child, what can he do,
Trapped in a grow-up carapace,
But peer outside of his prison room
With the eye of anarchist?

Stevie Smith

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