Thanks to the media and the subsequent lies I let breed in my young teenage mind, I am a woman who has grown to both fear and loathe her body. Succumbing to my own negative thinking, I developed an eating disorder at the age of 13 and bought into the whispered belief that women shouldn't take up space. I favored sharp, boney angles in the female form rather than the soft, nurturing curves that are, by definition, the very essence of womanhood and female sexuality. To be hungry was to be in control and to give in to the temptation of food was an act of unbridled overindulgence. And to say that such ideas were illogical and inevitably damaging was lost on my starving, self-loathing ears.
Even having a mother who worked as a clinical psychologist couldn't save me. I bought into the falsehoods of what it meant to be female and I bought into them early—my fragile sense of self never stood a chance.
And I honestly don't believe I have ever fully recovered.
I only practiced the act of starving myself for a few months before my mom, step-dad and a teacher at school intervened. We had a few perfunctory come-to-Jesus talks, my eating was monitored at both school and at home, and it wasn't long before everything was easy peasy lemon squeezy again. My foray into the world of eating disorders was never serious enough to require outside therapy or hospitalization. I was lucky enough to have a mother whose relentless love refused to let me sink low enough into my own private hell to do any permanent damage to my body. I had simply become too skinny too fast and everyone was concerned.
Going through that experience, I remember mostly feeling immense relief once I was caught and my secret was brought into the light. Having someone else be privy to my self-abuse was a huge weight off of my shoulders and I was grateful to have someone else take the reins. Hating yourself is exhausting work; I was thankful to relinquish the control I had been fighting so passionately to keep.
But there was one other emotion I remember cultivating that year—guilt. I have a vivid memory of watching an episode of Oprah with my mother when I about 11 years old. We were living in a new city, coming fresh off of my parents' divorce, and I was already starting to feel weird and resentful about life. One afternoon after the bus dropped me off from school, I joined my mother on the couch and watched the daytime TV queen preach to her studio audience about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. A sorrowful looking woman sat next to Oprah and tearfully rehashed the painful details of her decades-long struggle with binging and purging. Without turning away from the TV my mom said to me, "I would be so disappointed if you or your sister ever did anything like that to yourselves."
As an adult, I eat like a horse and do everything that a semi-well-mannered woman would do. I am a proud member of the Clean Plate Club at home and thanks to my athletic prowess on both the treadmill and softball fields, I can consume more food in one sitting than my husband. However, one of the unseen punishments of my brief disorded eating lingers heavily in my private thoughts on a continuous, 24/7 basis—I am preoccupied with the size of my body. It can't please me. And the way it changes scares me. I was over the moon when I lost upwards of 20 pounds in the past year, but openly cried only a few days ago when I discovered that my chest size has shrunk yet again and even my tiniest bra sags and bunches.
My body shows the tell-tale evidence of weight loss, and yet it's not good enough for me. Now certain parts are too small. I traded one misery for another and proved to myself that no matter what I do and no matter size I am, nothing will be good enough for me.
And I've been monitoring myself when I'm out in public dining with friends. If any of my girlfriends don't finish their meal, I'll automatically lay down my fork in surrender, too. But the reality is, I can always finish my food ... and probably their plates as well. But for some twisted reason I'm afraid they'll judge me for being a piggy and think that I don't have any self-control. I can't let them think I don't have any self-control! Because if they have self-control, well dammit, then I have to have it, too.
All of that being said, I still continue to read articles and books about women and their bodies, hoping that maybe one day what I know to be true in my head will finally make it my heart. I think I've read every memoir on eating disorders our public library has to offer and I've even armed myself with a copy of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls just in case God finds it funny enough to bless me with a daughter of my own one day.
Is this something that you struggle with, too?