What does it all mean, the dips and grooves in our bodies? How do they define us? Some see stretch marks as beautiful scars of battle; others view them as embarrassing reminders of weight struggle, laziness, unattractiveness. Who is really to say what is most beautiful? Our personal definitions of beauty reach both ends of the spectrum, and some never can get a grasp on what they think they should be, and instead spend every morning in the mirror, bouncing helplessly between confidence and self-loathing.
I never recognized my weight until we were forced into the nurse’s office in the eighth grade. I was “chunky”, sure – so were several other classmates, thirteen and awkward in size, overindulging in candy and ice cream and still watching cartoons. We were a year away from high school and still ignorant to a world of tight skirts, sex and pure vanity.
I don’t remember the number, but I do remember the look of concern on the nurse’s face, and the warm tears that rolled down my face that afternoon as I drank Mountain Dew and buried my face in my mother’s shoulder. I had just been introduced to body image, and from the start I knew it’d be a disastrous relationship.
The summer between eighth grade and freshman year I ate cupcakes and pizza at sleepovers, drank my favorite soda and spent afternoons in the pool or on the trampoline. With no apparent reason other than some sort of growth spurt, I dropped about twenty pounds and was suddenly sharing jeans with my - previously - much thinner best friend. The weight had melted off of me so fast I looked tired and pale, but either way I was happy to be approaching fourteen a size three. Then my grandmother cornered me at a family BBQ in late August.
“Are you anorexic?” She was lucky I knew what the word meant.
I can’t remember my answer, although I can only guess it was “no” between bites of a hotdog.
As freshman year began I made plenty of new friends, who later confessed between giggles that they thought I was bulimic. The thought still twists my insides into a constrictor knot. Large or small, I found it impossible to escape from the judgment, both internal and external. From there the bedroom mirror became my best friend and my worst enemy, and with each morning came the unpredictability of how I’d view myself for the day. While I struggled, I remained somewhat of a social butterfly (even involved in chorus and theater), and had two boyfriends while in high school. My first told me my bra made my breasts look saggy. The second never judged my appearance. We lasted a bit beyond senior year.
In those four years I went from super thin back to plump, and in the beginnings of college I remained that way, camouflaging the insecurities with lots of black clothing and lots of piercings. (I still love black clothing and piercings, but my reasons for that love have somewhat evolved.) I weaved my way through a string of insignificant relationships that temporarily made me feel better about myself. Typical, is all I could, and do, think.
When I met my husband I was still thick, and while I worked my confidence in my own sexual prowess I was still scared and insecure. I knew he found me attractive, but as always I was terrified that with the first argument or the first pass from another woman, he’d be gone. The worst part of my own self-judgment is the thought that my own physical imperfections somehow make me intellectually inferior to others. I have managed to convince myself that my opinion is never quite the best, that my voice could never be heard over the voices of everyone else when I’m the girl in the corner with the chocolate in her hand; that without the perfect hourglass, there will always be someone better, no matter what someone sees in me. Ridiculous? Maybe. But never for a second will I think I’m the only one.
I’ve gotten better since, despite events in my life that completely tore down remnants of confidence I had to force myself to regain. A few years ago I joined a gym and unearthed a love of running, and while every day is a struggle, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I eat pretty well with the occasional indulgence. I drink too much. I scold myself for both. The mornings are still unpredictable, and sometimes I still want to smash that mirror to bits. But in the twelve years since thirteen year old me came face to face with a lifelong enemy, I’ve discovered ways to keep the beast at bay. But don’t ask me for pictures; I’d like to keep the past in the past.
Who has the right to judge us, but us? Let’s spend every day trying to feel good about who we are.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Anorexia or Bulimia, there is help.