“Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity..”
The words above seem more poignant than ever today, as news of the death of one of our generation’s greatest voices spread around the world, via texts, tweets and status updates. My own reaction was not, I imagine, dissimilar to that of many other people who, like me, grew up listening to her music. A sense of sadness and loss, not only of a fine singer, whose life was cut short, but a loss of the era she represented. For all the fanciful make-up and hair spray [not to mention those horrendous shoulder pads], the 1980s were also the time when I discovered the joy of music for real. It was a time when music sounded like it had a life not only through the melodies or the words, but through the very record, with their unique individual kinks and scratches. Back in the day when such imperfections could not easily be remedied in a computer program, and listening to my father’s copy of Whitney Houston’s now iconic 1987 album was a completely different experience to listening to the same record at a friend’s place, since their copy had different scratches and kinks. I was only 11, but I remember the feeling as if it were yesterday..
The picture of Whitney Houston on that album cover trigger other, very different, memories, too. It reminds me of one of my cousins who had a large poster with that picture on the wall in her room. I only ever visited her once in her home, as she and her family would normally travel up north to see us [and the rest of our family] for Christmas and Midsummer, and I didn’t even know her that well, because she was almost ten years older than me, and would usually hang out with my other older cousins. And yet, she left a big impression on me, and I think of her often.
My cousin died young.
For much of her life she vacillated between battling anorexia and bulimia, and in the end, even though she had got to a stage where she was ready to accept the help she so desperately needed and had begun the twisting road to recovery, it was too late; her heart was literally broken and it gave out.
I don’t often talk about her. I may mention her, but I rarely say much more than what I just wrote. That she died young, of an eating disorder. But, she’s often in my thoughts.
I haven’t got the best of relationship to food myself; I tend to comfort eat when I feel down, or to not eat at all – and being a survivor of sexual abuse I am automatically at higher risk of being caught in the claws of an eating disorder.
Physical abuse [sexual or other] has been shown to have a huge effect on the way we view ourselves, not only in terms of our personality traits, but also in terms of body image, and I know that my own need to be in control of things could easily encompass my eating habits. So I have good reason to be extra aware of thoughts of this nature. The memory of my cousin helps with that, helps me to not just brush it off and think of it as not a big deal, but to recognise that anorexia and bulimia are real illnesses, illnesses which people die from.
I remember my cousin and honour her memory by making myself at least try to improve the way I relate to food [and by extension, my body]. It doesn’t often last very long, this improvement, but long enough for me to catch myself before getting stuck in that very unhealthy pattern where you feel you have to be in absolute control over what you eat..
Of course there are no guarantees, I – like anyone else – could slip, could forget; if it was easy to avoid the trap of eating disorders then no one would suffer from them.. But, I really feel that the memory of my cousin, and the way she struggled, gives me that extra kick to keep my alarm bells powered up.
So I guess, in a backwards kind of way my cousin has been a role model to me, and even in death she has left a legacy.
As has Whitney.
”..I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be..
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all ..”
Extracts from The Greatest Love Of All © Michael Masser & Linda Creed