Content Note: Disordered eating, negative self-talk, dieting, restricting
Is there anything I haven’t tried to lose a pound, or an inch, or two? I’ve never had surgery, but I’ve certainly tried scores of diets, dozens of different diet pills, and every exercise video under the sun. I have even tried to talk myself into an eating disorder, more than once. I don’t say that to be funny; I don’t take eating disorders lightly. I really did try. And, when I “failed,” I berated myself for not having enough willpower to starve myself. Talk about disordered thinking…
When I was 12 years old, I moved to a small town in south Georgia. I started my new church before I began my new school and made a friend there that I will call Lisa, who instantly got me pulled into some drama. Lisa was being bullied by a group of girls at our school, so everyone ‘involved’ was called into the school counselor’s office. As a child that moved around a lot and changed schools often, just being a part of something involving a group of girls made me giddy with excitement. The whole experience was confusing, but one thing stands out: It was revealed to me that Lisa was not eating. On purpose. I remember first thinking “why?,” which quickly became “how?”
When I was 14, Lisa lived in the neighborhood adjacent to the subsidized housing where I lived. I loved hanging out at Lisa’s house; it was beautiful and so was she. We enjoyed looking at fashion magazines, chewing lots of gum and taking endless walks around the neighborhood. My memory wants to give her credit as the person who first clued me into fidgeting as a way to burn extra calories throughout the day, but who knows at this point? I’ve been doing it for so long, I can’t even remember when it started.
We talked about negative calorie foods and which parts of our bodies we would liposuction when we were older and wealthier. When Lisa grabbed small bits of skin on her abdomen, hips, and thighs, I’d fold into myself, trying in vain to cover everything from my stomach to my thighs. I began to judge every single piece of my body as imperfect. My thighs were too fat, my stomach had “rolls,” my butt was too big, my jeans and bra made little “bulges” where the fabric indented my skin. Looking back, I now know that those rolls and bulges were nothing more than skin on my completely normally sized body.
Lisa and I lost touch during high school, but I had plenty of other girls to compare myself to by then. It seemed many of the girls I knew spoke the same body-shaming, self-conscious language that I did, yet we all assumed that other “prettier and skinnier” girls must be so confident. Using that same flawed logic, I came to the conclusion that skinnier meant prettier, and prettier meant happier. Knowing thin and pretty girls who were just as unhappy as I was did nothing to interfere with my line of thinking. When I was 16, I bought over the counter diet pills for the first time. I loved how they allowed me to not think about food; it gave me such a sense of control. I continued to take various legal and less-than-legal appetite suppressants for the next 15 years.
I started dieting before my body was even fully developed. There is no way of knowing what body I would have, had I not done so much to interfere with its maturing process. The body I do have is one that has survived losing and gaining 20, then 30, then 50 pounds several times over the last 20 years. Like many dieters, I experienced the “yo-yo” or “diet roller coaster,” each time gaining more than the last, each loss taking more effort. Despite the abuse I have heaped upon it over the years, my body is strong. I’m finally learning to appreciate it for what it can do, instead of what it looks like.
A few years after high school, I heard the saddening news that Lisa had passed away. I never learned exactly what happened, but the rumors involved drugs. My memories of her bright blue eyes, her neatly toothed smile, and her husky laugh are crystal clear. I still have a leather bracelet she gave to me in middle school. I wonder in a hopeful way if Lisa ever learned to appreciate her uniquely striking beauty. I do, even after all these years.