In 2014, I went to my senior prom. My mother bought my dress and did my hair in loose curls, my dad bought my corsage. I felt like I was beautiful. We took pictures in our front yard, and I took some at my prom date’s parent’s house. Then and now, I hate those pictures.
The dress was gorgeous, my hair was nice. The corsage my dad bought me was something filled with love. The problem was the way every inch of skin that showed didn’t match up with the way I thought it should look. Too much here, too much there. I don’t think many of those pictures ever saw the light of day, at least not on my Facebook.
Looking back now, I still hate those pictures. I don’t think I’ll ever post them outside of this piece, or show them to too many people. The same goes for a lot of pictures I’m in from my high school and early college years. They make me physically ill.
When I was little, I wasn’t like this. I had a lump of baby fat on my stomach that I would call my “jelly doughnut” and joke around with my family that I was going to cut it off and make jelly doughnuts out of it. I would pinch it and laugh, then pride myself on being able to out eat my dad. I was too young to really comprehend that the girls in my class were thinner than me.
I’ve always known my body shape didn’t align with the “ideal”. Yet my brain would always produce an image that I could somewhat stomach. I would weigh my pros against my cons, wear clothes that accented certain parts of my body that I was proud of (tolerant of, more often than not), and I would keep my head down and try not to think about it too much.
That worked during middle school. Granted, I was distracted by the taunting I got about other things (for some reason people loved calling me a dyke) and the constant flow of your standard kinds of middle school crushes and boyfriends (and some not-so-standard kinds, probably why I got called a dyke). I didn’t really start to go down hill until high school.
2010 was when my love-hate relationship with scales picked up. Going to the doctor and stepping on their horribly out in the open scale was always met with silent prayers; “please just let me be under 140 still”. I kept up my constant flow of boyfriends to call me pretty and tell me I was perfect. I did what I had to do to get those compliments, to actually feel perfect. That only works for so long, though.
In 2011, I would have my first dance with anorexia. It lasted a few weeks; every day I would buy a Peace brand green tea from a gas station near my high school (98 cents and only a small amount of calories) and resign myself to sitting at lunch time without getting food. When I did eat, I tried to stay under 300 calories. If I went over, I would jump on the stationary bike around 9pm and ride for an hour or two, until I felt I deserved to get off. I don’t remember how much weight I lost in those weeks, all I remember is the pair of purplish, size 7 skinny jeans I was able to fit into for the first time since middle school.
Soon it became too much and I gave up. Proms came and went, and I started to become painfully aware of the gap between what I thought I looked like and what I actually looked like outside of the comforting and carefully planned angles in the mirror. The usually lighthearted jokes my family would make about getting seconds, or out-eating my dad, became painful reminders of what was going on in my head.
In 2014 I started college. I tried a diet, exercised a little, and dropped about 10 or more pounds. I felt pretty good about myself, and what I saw in the mirror wasn’t too off-putting. But, like in high school, I gave up and gained back everything I had lost and then some.
Sophomore year of college starts up, and my old high school friend came back. I took my brother’s old scale with me to a new apartment and began to work out in the gym near the front of my complex. All I wanted to do was to drop down below 150, but all I seemed to do was stay stationary.
It’s important to note, I wasn’t “large” for my height. According to my doctor and the (problematic and useless) CDC BMI scale, I was (barely) within healthy range. I certainly wasn’t unattractive, despite what the voice in my head told me. I just wasn’t where I wanted to be. As school went on, my depression and anxiety got worse. I didn’t necessarily have the money to bring the kinds of food into my apartment that I wanted to, and resorted to a diet of cheerios. Some nights, my boyfriend would come over and we would make hamburgers or cook up some shrimp, or he would bring me shrimp and grits from the restaurant in his apartment complex. My weight didn’t get better, and my self esteem dropped even more.
Around March of my sophomore year, I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when anorexia came back into my life, and became the constant voice in my head. I dropped around 20lbs in a little over a month. I was depressed and miserable. It started taking a toll on the relationship, but my scale was showing me what I wanted to see; progress. My boyfriend eventually got me to eat a little, then a little more. When I did eat, I worked out in my room until I felt like throwing up.
By the start of my Junior year I was in the 130’s. But a problem that had been plaguing me since high school changed, and suddenly my brain was only showing me what I used to look like, not what I wanted to look like.
Now, nearing the end of my Junior year in college, I’m down at the lower end of the 120’s. My brain, however, is still showing me the body I had during my Sophomore year. Ana is still in my head, sometimes whispering to me and at other times yelling at me. Most days I’m able to ignore her. Still, every morning, I step onto the scale and write down what it tells me. I measure my waist, inspect my stomach (with it’s ever persistent lump of baby fat), check my thighs to see if they touch.
Eating disorders aren’t something that can be fixed over night. The cries of “oh, you need to just exercise” are worthless, and the half hearted comments of “you look healthy” are unhelpful. It’s all mental. It’s constant. And it can be violent.
I fantasize about taking a pair of scissors to my stomach fat, and just cutting it off like the itchy tags on a shirt. I dream of unhealthy numbers of the scale, and of absurdly small waist lines. I imagine how many cubic feet I take up, and always come up with some absurd number. When I eat, I’m usually faced with overwhelming guilt over all the
progress I may have lost, and depression takes hold.
It’s an obsession with numbers. An addiction to progress, no matter how small. I try not to make a big issue out of my anorexia, and often joke about it to those around me. If not for my strong feelings against wasting food and the importance of socially gathering around food/drink, I would probably be in a much worse position.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully accept what the mirror shows me. I’ll keep looking into it, looking into the face of someone 30+ lbs heavier instead of what I actually am. My stomach will never fully go away, but I’m somewhat and sometimes able to deal will it (thanks somewhat in part to Lady Gaga and her halftime performance). I just wish I could just go back to laughing about my jelly doughnut.