“Tati, let me see the dress already!”
I’m 10 years old, and my face is in my hands. I’m sitting in a Bloomingdale’s fitting room with a tiny lavender gown around my ankles. It’s a size 12 for girls, but it doesn’t fit. It never fits.
“No. I hate it.”
I swing the door open and leave the soft purple bundle on my mom’s lap.
“What was wrong with it? It didn’t fit?”
“It fit, ok? But it’s ugly and I hate it. Let’s go.”
I’m not looking at her, but I can feel her sad eyes on my back.
“So let’s find another dress, sweetie. I’m sorry you didn’t like it.”
“Can we just go, please? I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Ok, sweetie. Let’s go.”
My bedroom’s next to the kitchen. I wait till I’m sure no one’s there. Finally, silence. I hurry to the pantry. Usually, we don’t keep sugar in the house. Or any processed snacky shit. But we had a birthday party for my little brother a few days ago, so the cabinet’s brimming with seduction: Oreos, popcorn, pretzels. Even soda in the fridge. I take what I can hold in two arms. Then I lock myself in my room, and I don’t come out till dinner.
A few hours is enough to punish myself for the dress. And I feel foul all the while. But I can’t stop. Because I opened that fitting room door to a world of self torture. To a world where—when a pillowy child can’t fit into the lavender dress the label says should fit her—eating always occasions shame. Guilt. Hurt. Hate. So the child sits with her head in her hands and the dress at her ankles and drowns in the tragedy of her soft little body. And then she sneaks away with enemy and eats. And eats. And eats. Always with the intention of starving herself tomorrow.
I used to look at old photos of my mom and hate her while I did. I didn’t hate her, of course—but rabid jealousy isn’t far off. Because she didn’t look like me—from what I can see, all her life, she was narrow and flat. No tits. No ass. And no fat. She was beautiful. Her body was everything mine wasn’t, and she didn’t have to work for it. She glided through her youth with a perfectly trim figure. She never sat in a fitting room with her head in her hands. Everything fit her. So she ate Oreos and popcorn and pretzels, too, but she never lost herself in them. She never abused food like a heroin addict does dope. She ate when she was hungry, and stopped when she was full. And when she got up from the table, her mind followed. She didn’t think about her stomach till it was time for another meal.
But me? I’m not so lucky. Because still today, when I look at my reflection and scorn what I see, all I want is to feed the shame. The guilt. The hurt. The hate. All I want is to eat. And eat. And eat. Always with the intention of starving myself tomorrow.
Two summers ago, my body enmity was at an epic high. And in my experience, there’s no sensation quite so mean, quite so insidious, as that of feeling fat in New York City in 90 degree weather. The thick, smoky air settles on your skin like a nylon blanket and your thighs scream as they rub together under your skirt and you look around at all those skinny statues that walk the streets beside you and the self-hate thickens with the smog. And then you lock yourself in your room with whatever you can find: cookies you don’t like, dry pasta, days-old rice. And the food’s not feeding your hunger; you’re not hungry, and you haven’t been for an hour. But you can’t stop. You’ll starve yourself tomorrow.
I remember sitting on the plane to Amsterdam at the end of that long, hot summer and swearing: “This is it, Tati. This is the semester you change your body and you learn to love it. This is the semester you look in the mirror with pride and then you push your plate away when you’re finished.” And it was. I lost twenty pounds in four months, and I left Europe feeling fucking incredible. There were still things I wanted to change about my body, of course. There’ll always be things. I could be ten pounds lighter. Ten pounds leaner. Ten pounds harder. But for the first time in a very long time, after that semester, I didn’t turn away from my reflection.
The fear is still there. The fear of binging. It’s cruel and it hides and it waits for the moments I feel most comfortable in my own skin to overtake my body. And then my insides turn as I stuff them with whatever I can find: cookies I don’t like, dry pasta, days-old rice. Always with the intention of starving myself tomorrow. I don’t know that the fear will ever leave. That the pattern will ever break. I think it’s etched into my bones like the memory of that lavender dress. But I’m getting stronger. And I do love myself. And I do think I’m beautiful.
And dammit, I should be fed.