Last night, I told Hans about my childhood best friend whose friendship I lost due to her eating disorder. It was the first time I’d spoken about her that way in a long time. Time had dulled the feelings of frustration, betrayal, and loss. The memories had faded — whether or not it was a subconscious decision to protect my prepubescent mind, I’m not sure. Though it was difficult to walk down that particular memory lane, I remembered things that were so deep in the cabinets of my mind, they might have been lost forever. I was thinking of one particular summer. It had to have been either early June or late August, because we were in school then. Logan Elementary had sent us to Camp Storer, a strange YMCA production that was equal parts religious cult and Civil Rights Movement reenactment theater troupe. One afternoon, Jane and I were assigned to separate activities, her to fishing and me to candle-making. As the sun was beginning to set, we left our respective groups and ran to meet each other at the top of the hill, as excited to share our forbidden moment with each other as any pair of star-crossed lovers.
She was and will always be my first love.
This morning, I saw this article by the talented writer (and fellow Wolverine!) Emily Pittinos. Though she spoke of her relationship with her body beautifully and poetically, I felt like something was missing. I wished that, instead of apologizing to her body for abusing it and neglecting it in ways to conform to societal standards, she would have explored those very standards and the motivations behind her actions. I wished that she would have explained how her relationship to her body had changed over time, how she had arrived at this celebratory moment in which she is thankful for all that she is. I wished that she had said more, because poor body image/eating disorders are not just a symptom of adolescent angst and such issues plague women of all ages and shapes.
Jane and Emily both got me thinking about my own history with food and body image. I can confidently say that I’ve never had an eating disorder and I’ve probably spent less time hating my body than the average girl. But I’ve definitely taken part in disordered eating and there are periods of my life marked by how shitty I felt about my body. Right now, I am thankful to be in a place where I do not think twice about anything that I eat and I only eat what makes me feel good. I have no idea how much I weigh, and I don’t give a fuck. For the most part, this has been my college experience, whether due to my metabolism hitting its sweet spot or the several miles of trekking around campus, I don’t know.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since I graduated high school — as recently as last summer, I went through a “fat phase”. I’d put on five to ten pounds, possibly a side effect of hormonal birth control. My clothes were all fitting a tad too tight and it infuriated me every time I sat down and the waistline dug into my stomach. When I visited my family in Florida, I looked at my dad and siblings and their stick-thin limbs, and I felt like my ass cheeks were orbiting moons. My 11-year-old sister, whose legs are half the size of mine, commented matter-of-factly that my thighs were fat. I don’t remember what I said back to her. I wanted to defend myself, to be a good role model to her, to prove to her that I was not overweight, but her words hurt me. The feeling that I was fat consumed me, followed me everywhere like a sticky tar that clung to my skin.
And then, suddenly, I wasn’t “fat” anymore. I’d started horseback riding regularly, running when I was really desperate, and working out. While the exercise was helping, what actually made me skinny was a combination of 1) going off birth control 2) breaking up with my ex and 3) being stressed as hell. For the first time in my life, I lost my appetite completely. I rummaged through my fridge, searching for food that didn’t repulse me so that I could put calories into my system. But the starvation made me nauseous, and so the cycle fed into itself. When I finally finished an entire sandwich, I was incredibly relieved. The process of regaining my appetite was not fast and easy. In the end, I learned an important lesson: to value my appetite, to be grateful every time I craved dessert, to be proud when I’d eaten until I was full. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with the weight loss, I was so much more miserable during those “thin” months than the previous “fat” ones.
Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self to eat a burger for lunch, instead of the cup of soup. I wish I could tell her that she didn’t have to fit into the size 2 jeans, that the 4s were just as good. I wish I could tell her that she was beautiful just the way she was, that everybody saw what she didn’t. But I know that it wouldn’t have made a difference, because being “thin” for her was a state of mind, not a physical trait. So instead, I pity her and empathize with her. Instead, I vow to work on my own body image. To never comment on or judge another woman’s body. To show my sister that “fat” is not the worst insult in the English vocabulary. If I have daughters, to ban the words “diet” and “calories” from the household.
What is your relationship with food and your body? How has media/societal ideals affected your view of yourself?