“Have you ever starved yourself to lose weight?” the nurse asks.
“Sure,” I shrug.
“Have you ever made yourself vomit to lose weight?”
“Not for a long time.”
“Do you think your weight is too much, too little, or just right?”
I can hear my stomach grumbling as I shyly blurt out the obvious answer to her question: “too much.” I binged on some bullshit organic oreos last night, so I skipped breakfast.
She puts down her pen.
“Oh, honey…do you really think you’re overweight?”
I feel proudly uncomfortable—she thinks I’m delusional, and that’s a relief.
“Uhh…well, I don’t think I’m fat, but yeah, I think I’m overweight by own standards.”
I’m 5’4” on a good day, and I weigh 126 pounds. I lied—sometimes, I really do think I’m fat.
I don’t have an eating disorder, and technically, I never have. But have I had something like it? Yeah. I know very few women who haven’t.
* * *
It’s summer of 2008. I just finished eighth grade.
I tearily surf the web to find a bottle of some bogus green tea diet pills my friend Molly recommended. I’m the skinniest I’ve ever been. I’ve shed the remainder of the baby fat that’s haunted me since I was old enough to look in the mirror and hate what I saw—since I was seven or eight, I think. But, just a few hours ago, I cried in a Victoria’s Secret fitting room as I tried on a bikini that exposed my imaginary love handles. So the pills are a must.
I pull at all the “problem spots” on my pre-pubescent body as I scroll through Thinspiration—this blog Molly showed me that boasts pictures of stick-thin girls whose image we can aspire to. I try to make myself throw up the breakfast burrito I half-ate seven hours ago, but nothing comes out. Usually, nothing comes out. I let out a soft cry of frustration before updating my weight loss goals:
- Stomach: 8 pounds
- Thighs: 4 pounds each
- Arms: 2 pounds each
- Face: 1/2 pounds
I want to weigh 80 pounds. I want to be so thin that my mom will ask if I’m OK. Then, I’ll be beautiful.
* * *
Four years later, and it’s spring of 2012. I’m a senior in high school.
I anxiously scroll through Facebook photos of a kind-of friend I saw at a party last night. She just lost 20 pounds in two weeks following her “priet”—prom diet. We’re all prieting too, so she readily divulged how she’d done it:
“Cocaine and coffee, of course.”
I don’t do drugs, but if I did, I wouldn’t *have to* have hard-boiled eggs for dinner after almost passing out in a 90-minute hot yoga class.
* * *
Three years later, and it’s summer again—this time, I’m 21-years-old, and the year’s 2015.
My doctor enters to give me my physical. Concerned by my survey responses, she asks me how I lost almost 20 pounds since last summer. This time, I don’t lie.
“Months of too much exercise, followed by months of no exercise, followed by months of a little exercise, and a lot less food. I don’t make myself throw up or anything…I just have a complicated relationship with my body, I guess.”
It’s true. Our relationship is fucked up. Always has been. And many women—most women—can relate.
I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic. I’ve never been too thin, because I could never pull it off. But me and 9 outta 10 of the women I love? We might not have textbook eating disorders—and, really, I don’t mean to reduce the painful reality of those who do—but we know what it feels like, I think.
We know what it feels like to be incapacitated by body obsession—by food thoughts. Because we’ve long been slaves to that apex of tall, thin, white, blond perfection. That apex we’ve been climbing to since we were old enough to look in the mirror and hate what we saw—since we were old enough to be consumed by our consumption. To jitter with paranoia that people are constantly critiquing our bodies—cheapening them. Fattening them. To fiercely hold the fucked up belief that our weight and our happiness are perfectly, inversely proportional. Even if we’ve never had an eating disorder, we grew up with them.
That’s why a violent surge of panic rushes through me when my boss suggests we order pizza for dinner. I had two slices of bread with my salad at lunch—that’s plenty of carbs for today.
That’s why I wake up feeling so damn disgusting after I have a fat post-midnight snack. I have a hard and fast rule: no eating after 12. Because I want food to be a thing of my before-midnight yesterday—not a thing of my after-midnight tomorrow.
That’s why I still avoid eye contact with my boyfriend while I’m getting undressed. He loves my body—he says so. But I don’t really believe him. It’s soft where it should be hard and bloated where it should be flat. He’s seen better bodies. Mine’s not so good.
And that’s why a small, secret part of me still wishes I weighed 80 pounds. That’s why a small, secret part of me still wishes I was so thin that my mom would ask me If I was OK. Because then, I’d be beautiful.
But I’m wrong. We’re all wrong. And, really, we’re already beautiful.