(Warning: this is an open letter to anyone struggling with ED and self-image. Includes candid remarks a; all names have been removed or changed to protect the owner’s identity)
I used to be addicted to shopping; I wasn’t able to go into a store and leave empty handed. Whether it was a new pair a shoes, a purse, a whole wardrobe change, I was always so excited to show off my new finds. But that all changed last year but not because I ran out of money, because I fell out of love with myself.
Over the years, I have struggled with body image and self-love, battling runs with bulimia, crippling anxiety, and relapse. It’s so easy to fall victim to the unattainable standards of beauty the media portrays and I sure did–am. From the time I was a kid, I was always the heaviest of my friends. I could never play the trust fall game and be the person “trusting” because even if the other person tried to catch me, we’d both still fall down. Growing up, my sister and best friend were always rail thin and encouraged to eat more sweets and fatting foods while I was offered vegetables or a glass of water. When I would indulge, I found myself sluggish and wearing the pounds I was ingesting instead of burning it off with high metabolism like the others. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a distorted image of what my body actually looked like. I would poke the skin on my belly in disgust and wave my arms at the mirror to see how they jiggled when in fact I was wearing a size small/medium top and size 5 pants. This sort of experience weighs heavily on a child, and especially on a young girl entering puberty. That’s when my first bout with my eating disorder began. After lunch at school every day, I would sneak off to the bathroom after all the cliques of girls had left and make myself throw up in the stall. Then I would rinse out my mouth, pop in a piece of gum, and head back to class. I thought in order to be desirable to the cute boys on the football team, I needed to look like the cheerleaders, even if I couldn’t tumble to save my life. This went on for longer than I’d like to admit, but I finally kicked it by graduation… only for it to return three short years later.
College was full of new experiences and possibilities… and vices. There was a Chick Fil A on campus and as a commuter, my sole expense at college was food. I met new friends for lunch at the buffet in the dining hall and made sure to load up my plates so I was sure to get my $11 worth meanwhile they would use a meal swipe just for a salad or soup because if they didn’t use it, the meals wouldn’t roll over to the next semester. These patterns quickly led to the “Freshman 15” and boy was I angry again. By junior year, I decided to join the dance team at my school. I couldn’t wait to wear the cute sparkly crop tops with our school letters, and hold pom poms, and dance at our football games. But unfortunately it proved the exact opposite. Our very first physical test of the season was a timed mile. Coach wanted us to finish around 7-8 minutes… I took 10 and finished last of all my teammates. I crossed the finish line panting and heaving, holding my side that was cramping worse than I remember possible. She said, to no one in particular but seemingly directed at me, “get your things. And if you’re going to throw up, do it in the grass and then catch up,” I guzzled water and then lifted my oversized team duffle bag and shuffled after my teammates who were already tailing coach to the next event. I was in the gym every day with the girls. We were lifting the same amount of weights and running the same pace on the treadmills next to each other, but they were half my size and could have solos and lifts in our dances because they could just float through the air meanwhile I sat out many of the dances.
Halfway through the semester our coach gathered us all together after a football game (parent’s weekend to be exact) and as we all stood in our huddle with our arms around each other, our parents waiting eagerly to join us for pictures and congratulations, she said through a fake smile, “everyone, forget your crops tops even exist as part of your uniform anymore. Until everyone on this team looks good in them, we will not be wearing them.” We all looked at each other dumbfounded and then at her. Her smile grew and then she bellowed loud enough for our parents to hear “5-6-7-8” and we all chanted “CNU Storm!” and disassembled. I hardly had time to process what just happened before my mom and aunt ran over and pulled me into a big congratulatory hug. I let the hug last long enough to choke back my tears and be able to blame my watery eyes on the fake eyelashes that had been digging at my eye the whole game. Immediately after that game, I began only eating one meal a day, if that, and opting for a salad with no dressing instead of the Chick Fil A or pizza. We had another set of team pictures done around this time where we got to wear whichever combination of uniforms we wanted. I chose my favorites and anxiously awaited the finished products. When they finally arrived, I was temped to just delete the file since I detested the way I looked in almost all of them. Below are some of the photos. I weighted 135 lbs and had about 20% body fat. That just goes to show you how deep my disorder was engrained in me.
Fast forward to today when I have gained a solid 40 lbs from these pictures and found myself perusing the plus size section of the store since none of the “cute” clothes could even think of making it over my hips. Even though I’ve had 3 reconstructive knee surgeries during these last two years, I gave up on getting better–gave up on myself and now I really AM the size I feared I was all these years.