I was fat as a kid. Not severely I don’t think, maybe “chubby” is enough to cover it, but I still felt fat and that’s what’s important. I felt weird and out of place because in Europe you’re not supposed to be fat and my whole family wondered what the problem was and how it happened, but I soon learned that in America you’re not supposed to be fat either and people make fun of you for it just the same. I went on my first diet when I was 9.
Eventually I lost the baby weight (child-weight? middle-school-weight?) but I still didn’t feel okay – I was smaller but I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t sinewy. The nurse still had problems finding veins when I got my blood drawn. I dated boys in high school who were Jack Skellington-esque and I felt like a whale next to them, underneath them, and would flatten myself against them when they hugged me and try to take up less space. There was a girl in my Spanish lecture who wore the same pants as me one day and looked better in them and I hated her for it, hated myself for my hips and my genetics and hated my mom for feeding me meat when I was a baby, I was sure that was part of the problem. Above all, though, I hated myself for having no self-control.
So I got some. After my sixteenth birthday I started dieting severely. I was going to Poland that summer and this time I wasn’t going to be the “fat one” next to my cousins, I was going to be normal and no one would say anything. So I starved. I purged. I wrote down everything that went into my mouth, everything from a stick of gum to five peanuts. If I wasn’t feeling lightheaded, if I wasn’t passing out, I figured I could always stand to halve the portion. The number on the scale dropped and my family exclaimed at my weight loss, proud of me for committing to something. I got high off the empty ache in my stomach and digested it like food.
But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy. No matter how much weight I lost, I wasn’t thin enough. My body shrank but there was still too much of it, no matter how much I begged it to cooperate it still stood there squarely like an offensive lump of stubborn mass. I lifted my shirt up in front of the mirror every day and the ribs would jut out but there was no muscle, no strength there, even though I routinely killed my abs with crunches. Just oddly shaped bones poking through the fleshy whiteness like the cut belly of a fish, looking as hopeless as they felt.
Then one time my mom got this bean salsa from the health food store and I was too hungry, too frustrated to care, so I inhaled half the container without thinking and immediately started to cry. I rushed to the bathroom and collapsed on my knees in front of the toilet, apologizing to my body and praying the calories hadn’t be absorbed. My throat was swollen already but I shoved two fingers down it anyway and the beans came up obediently, one by one, coated in a thin layer of bile. They slid off my tongue with a bitter acidity and I felt instantly better. It was going to be okay.
Until suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t cough or swallow. I realized with a rising horror that I was going to fucking die this way. Girl, 16, found dead with face in toilet choked while vomiting beans. I panicked and in one crazy motion rammed my sternum into the toilet as hard as I could. The bean shot out weakly into the trash can and I slumped against the toilet bowl, sweating.
I went to therapy after that.
But when are you really over an eating disorder? Is it when you know better? Is it when you go through therapy, counseling, rehab, all of it? Is it when you fully realize that the difference between what you see in the mirror and the objective reality is vast? Is it when you hear other peoples’ stories and feel kind of a surge of healing, of positive energy, without fucking it up later with a negative thought? Or is it something else?
This was seven years ago and I still don’t think I’m over it.
I know there’s something I’m not doing. There’s a change I’m not grasping. I’m getting older and wiser in some ways but when it comes to my body I still feel sixteen. I still alternate between happily eating whatever I want and juice fasts and extreme gym regimens because I feel guilty. And even though I’m body positive and have a healthy view of bodies in general, I still can’t get my relationship with my own body to be any better than love-hate. And I know the script, I say it to myself all the time: You’re beautiful. Screw external standards of beauty. You’re a size 8. A size 8 is not fat. Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. Or 14. Or whatever.
Sometimes the words stick and sometimes they don’t.
It’s a process I’m still figuring out but I know I’m getting better. Every day is a step, just like any other kind of healing. And while I realize I probably won’t ever ~*love*~ my body – I probably won’t be comfortable in a bikini or wear a curve-hugging dress on a full stomach or post nudes on Tumblr – I can watch what I think as well as what I eat, and maybe it’ll pay off someday.
I’ll know it has when I walk by a shop window without turning my head to check the reflection.