I didn’t feel comfortable with my body until a boy told me it was beautiful.
On our first date, I let it slip that I had an eating disorder in high school. I immediately regretted it. I felt embarrassed both for him and for myself. But he wasn’t scared away. He wasn’t scared away when he saw the scars on my wrists either. He made me feel beautiful.
And I hated that.
I hated that I could feel comfortable with my body only after he’d validated it for me, rather than finding that comfort from within myself.
The first time he took my clothes off, he told me I was tense and he could tell I wasn’t comfortable. As much as I claimed I was fine and as much as I wanted to be fine, I obviously wasn’t. Every physical thing that I had spent years berating myself over, and even occasionally starving myself for were now completely exposed to him. My puffy stomach; pimple polka-dotted back; small, saggy breasts; thunder thighs; cellulite-coated ass. He lay next to me, looked me up and down as I held my breath, trembling, and told me I was beautiful.
Each night we spent together I became increasingly more undressed. I began to love my body for the things it could feel and the way it could give him a hard on just by touching him. My clothes, which had at first clung to me like my armor, now gently melted off like they never belonged there at all.
In time, this boy would come to reject everything I gave him except for my body. Soon enough, he rejected that too.
In that rejection, I began to understand why insecure girls could be so promiscuous, why we only felt beautiful when our bodies were in someone’s bed. But why do we need this sort of reception from other people to define the way we see ourselves? Why do we need validation from other people before we can see ourselves as beautiful? We’re told how our bodies look all throughout our childhood, when we’re especially spongy. When you frequently tell a little girl that she has a beautiful body merely because it is so thin, such compliments become a commonplace thing in her life. When the compliments stop, she is lead to believe that she is no longer beautiful. And because her little-girl beauty was often verified by how little she was, she is lead to believe that she is no longer little, no longer thin, and that this is a very dreadful thing to not be.
When I was ten, I weighed sixty pounds. When I was twelve, I weighed eighty. That made me small enough to ride the smallest pony and fit into the smallest spaces, which apparently was a thing worthy of envy. Food was never a priority for me; it was just something that I occasionally engaged in, but not anything that was constantly on my mind. I ate when I was hungry, the way our bodies are hardwired. Even when I was 12, my mother’s friends would frequently comment on how “beautiful” and “perfect” my body was. I didn’t know it at the time, but I thrived off those compliments.
“You should stop eating so much junk food, you’re not going to be so thin for much longer.”
“Are you sure you want that much desert?”
“Be careful, you’re going to gain weight when you’re older.”
I never believed them at the time, but slowly, their warnings began to creep up on me. Maybe they were noticing something before I did. At some point in middle school, while looking in the mirror, I noticed that I could squeeze a bit of my belly between my fingers. My stomach was no longer flat. Some of my favorite T-shirts were too tight.
When you gain weight, you don’t notice your body accumulating fat. One day you’re thin, and then one day you’re not.
I felt ashamed that I hadn’t listened to the warnings, and vowed to myself that I would have a flat stomach again. I had already become addicted to boredom eating. Binge eating galore. I could not watch TV without snacking on something. I think that’s a habit I developed from my dad. Oreos and milk were my favorite; I had several every night before bed. Each time I binge ate, I felt like I was letting myself down. Like I was lying to myself, and I didn’t deserve the food in which I was so selfishly indulging.
I was in no way “fat,” but for someone who has been told they have a “beautiful body” throughout most of their childhood, simply because they are so thin, losing that thinness caused a great deal of distress. Losing that thinness meant losing the beauty that I had been so admired for as a child. It meant, in a way, losing my childhood. And at the time I thought that was all a girl really wants: beauty and admiration.
I needed that flat stomach back.
High school brought an onslaught of new pressures. By second semester, I had started keeping a food journal and counting my calories. I often refused dinner, claiming that I was not hungry. I stopped eating breakfast, and I stopped eating lunch at school, conveniently forgetting to pack food for myself. I even forced myself to throw up a few times.
I joined the track team because I thought it would help me lose weight. I quit after the first track meet because someone had peed on the bus, but I consistently jogged nearly every day when I got home from school and did one hundred crunches every night before bed, even at two in the morning.
That spring, I lost three pounds.
Since then, I have long given up on the expedition of losing weight. I finally realized that I don’t need to. I have a little bit of chunk, and though I don’t love it, I don’t hate it either. I don’t hate it enough to deny myself food (or to go running). I’d like to think that I’ve learned to appreciate my body a lot more. It can be pretty dependable. It takes me on long hikes, it can climb trees, it can (somewhat) gracefully leap onto and over things, and I can still ride ponies. My body is fully functioning, and isn’t that all you can ask of your body? I guess I’m pretty lucky. I still feel uncomfortable in a bikini, but I have a wonderful body, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. I like to think that I’ve reached a point where I can feel comfortable and beautiful in my own skin, without a boy, or a magazine, or my mother’s friend telling me so.