I was six-years-old when I first decided I didn’t like my body. A professional photographer thought I was older and asked my mom if he could hire me as a model for children’s clothing, but when she said that I was too young, he offered to take some shots for us for free. The whole time I was being photographed, I remember someone telling me to suck my stomach in for the pictures. When we got them back, all I could think about was how my stomach stuck out in the cropped blouse I wore and how I could have looked prettier.
It was the first time I recognized what my body looked like to other people. That photo shoot was the last time I wore a cropped shirt without anything underneath.
That was just the first time that seeing my body made me want to get a new one. Since then, I’ve always struggled with accepting my size and seeing the full-body pictures people have taken of me. It wasn’t until I turned eighteen, though, that I finally went to a doctor who gave me some kind of answer—I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). One of the main symptoms? Weight gain.
I finally had a doctor—a licensed, medical professional—telling me that my size wasn’t entirely my fault. Everyone until then (and still, to this day) had told me to exercise more and eat less, and I did. I got more active, or as active as you can get in a suburb with no sidewalks and no gym membership.
I hated every grain of rice I swallowed. I had memorized the prices of liposuction from different cities in the US. I held back tears every time I had to go shopping and always opted for shirts a size too big.
I’ve always been a quick learner, and I taught myself that food was the enemy. I learned so well that, to this day, I have to convince myself to eat my meals and not “forget” them, even though I know how damaging skipping meals is. I have to tell myself it’s okay to eat carbs and that I’m not a bad person for messing up. I had to learn to feel hungry again and know how to respond to those body cues—eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full. I had to stop giving my lunch away at school, claiming that I had a big breakfast or that I had already eaten before lunchtime. I had to resist anytime my well-meaning loved ones offered a restrictive diet, and not tear myself apart for not being “strong enough” to do those diets.
Now, you might be reading this in shock. Who would let a six-year-old think she was so fat she needed to go on a diet?
But how many people have similar stories to mine? I’ll bet the answer is way higher than you’d expect. My friends and I were talking about our favorite muffins from an on-campus bakery this week. Not one of us had escaped the shame of enjoying them once our school decided to post their calorie counts. A lot of my friends know that simple math will trip me up, and it’s because the only way I know how to turn off my mental calorie calculator is by smashing every mathematical function in my mind to smithereens, leaving nothing behind to haunt me when I eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full.
This all-or-nothing relationship I have with food leaves me exhausted and weary.
I gain more weight when I abstain from meals than when I eat normally, and I find myself going to confession and telling the priest that I’ve lied yet again about the last time I ate. Sometimes, and especially after these periods of nutritional abstinence, I find myself swinging too far to the other end of the spectrum. I’ll eat mindlessly and every bite will taste like the bile I’m holding back.
But that’s just when it’s really bad. My disordered eating doesn’t always look like a textbook diagnosis—which, in all honesty, is probably why I haven’t received a formal diagnosis. It’s comparing my plates to those of my friends when we eat out, and leaving as much on my plate as possible without raising suspicion. Sometimes it’s eating slightly less than I should and feeling ashamed at the pride I feel. Sometimes it’s eating slightly more than I should and pleading with myself to not throw it all up.
I’ve never gone more than a day without a meal, and I’ve only ever thrown up once. But why didn’t anyone stop me before then? Yeah, I recognized that my mind was playing tricks on me, but nobody else noticed what the fat girl did to slim down.
What’s worse is what the fat girl does when she thinks she doesn’t deserve help.
My illness has been particularly harsh lately. I post pictures only of my chest and up, or grab a pillow to cover my stomach, or let my friends take the pictures they want of me, then delete them all as soon as they’re sent. My blood pressure every time I see the doctor is through the roof because they always take it after I’ve stepped on the scale. Nothing will make you lose your appetite like seeing your weight fluctuate so wildly, and never in your favor.
Did you know that the wisdom teeth removal diet will make you lose ten pounds in a week? Did you know that my college campus makes that diet virtually impossible, much to the dismay of the taunts in my thoughts that tell me to eat less until I shrink and become beautiful? I’m at my highest weight now, almost 185 pounds, but I’ve wanted to remove my organs from my body to lose weight since I weighed 127 pounds.
I remember special events more by how much I weighed at the closest checkup than by how old I was.
Now, imagine that my dining hall provided us with portion control plates, and tell me how quickly you think I’d end up in a hospital. Sure, it may never get that bad, but to quote Blythe Baird: “If you develop an eating disorder when you’re already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.”
I have been at war with knowing I could end up as anything other than a success story, and knowing that not eating could make me finally look like the girls movie actors fall in love with.
I have been at war with knowing the effects of my chronic illness and thinking it’s still all my fault.
Portion control plates are shame jails I have to pay to be in, and I will pay for if they imprison me, too. Jeans are not just jeans but denim jails for a body too curvy for American beauty standards, and for thighs too thick to not wear the jeans out where my thighs rub when I walk or when I dance. Diets are not the miracles I want them to be, but are instead bear traps waiting to catch me when I am not watching and hold me down until the starvation or the bingeing kills me. Girls in movies wear size 00 and say how they don’t eat bread and always work out two hours a day. Girls in movies wear size 4 and say they’re on their prom diets so they can look their best for the dress they bought two sizes too small.
Girls in this nation are all sizes but never happy, because until we’re everything and nothing, beautiful and big but only in the right areas, we are not good enough.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to love my body for what it does right, when all I see in a mirror is everything that has gone wrong. This body is a temple, but for the longest time, I haven’t been devoted to it.