This post, which describes my severe, mental struggles with body image and self-esteem, is to be read as a journal entry. It is rambling. It is honest. It is sad. I just can't begin to describe the scrutiny I put toward my body each day; the anxiety I feel when choosing an outfit, the hatred I feel when I see my reflection. The best disclaimer I can add is this: "I'm sick."
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I think I'm mentally anorexic.
I mean, I eat. In fact, I love food. Sometimes, I love it a bit too much.
I have a sensational sweet tooth—always have—and have a penchant for Oreos and chocolate cake. My favorite junk foods are Goldfish crackers and Scotcheroos, and my favorite junk T.V. is the Food Network. “Chopped,” to be exact. “Chopped” when it is judged by Alex Guarnaschelli, to be exacter.
I know that mangoes are my favorite fruit. And I know that grape tomatoes are savory when roasted with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and olive oil. Some of my favorite textures are those of cottage cheese, shrimp, and mushrooms. And though I despise early mornings, breakfast is possibly my favorite meal. The sizzle of eggs, the frying of bacon.
During my last semester of college, I took an Italian foods class. We studied food. And looked at it. Drooled over it, even. Oh, the timballo. The frutta di mare. The fresh mozzarella. The different olive oils and wines and breads. It made me appreciate good food; it made me want good food.
I can’t quit eating now. Not before I learn how to use chopsticks. Not before I try poutine in Canada, exotic curries in India. Not before I eat true, fresh, and rich ingredients in Italy.
And, quite literally, I can’t.
I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia when I was nine years old. It was summer, and I had spent the entire day outside, as usual. My mom made supper, as usual. But sometime in the evening, I fell ill. An intense nausea. Clammy skin. A dizziness that left me flat on the couch, unable to fully communicate with my mom. She quickly phoned Helga, an acquaintance who was also the school nurse. Helga came over to the house and inspected me and, together, she and mom managed to feed me a hot dog. With protein, my blood glucose level (blood sugar) slowly returned to normal.
My memory is patchy when I think of that evening; I don’t remember trying to chew and swallow a hot dog, but I do remember the furniture arrangement of the living room. I don’t remember when I first told mom, “I don’t feel good,” or when Helga first arrived. But I do remember her voice. Her and mom’s, softly and cautiously, above me. It was quite late then, and dark—save for the light of the T.V. And as I drifted off to sleep—something I do to this day if I recover from a similar experience—I heard whispers and worries. “What if it’s diabetes? What if she has it just like her brother?”
Ultimately, my diagnosis was milder than that of my brother’s (three years earlier, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which is known commonly as juvenile diabetes). However, I still have to be careful. Exercise rapidly decreases my blood sugar, and I am often left hungry or dizzy. Even walking long distances—especially in the summer heat—drags me down. And things that affect diabetics—motion simulators, roller coasters, hot tubs—affect me as well. In fact, when I was nine or ten, I went to Hoo Doo Days (a small town's Labor Day celebration) with my aunt and cousins. Hoo Doo had, as always, a parade, a midway, and some carnival rides. My cousin Derek and I went on one particular ride; a ride that swung the cars in a wide circle, and one that allowed you to simultaneously spin your personal car even more, if you wished. Oh goodness, did I feel terrible.
Another low blood sugar, another hot dog. Only this time, I was flat on my back on a public sidewalk, rather than on a couch.
It’s well-known among family and friends that I sometimes need frequent breaks and extra snacks. Even at work, I bring with me several snacks. I’ll eat breakfast (either at home, on-the-go, or at my desk), nibble at something around 10:30, eat a small lunch around 1:00 or 1:30, and have another snack around 4:00, just before I head home. (When I was working late, I often brought with me two meals—lunch and dinner—and four or five snacks.)
I have to eat in order to feel well.
I have to eat in order to function. In order to think. In order to talk.
But damn … sometimes I wish I didn’t have to. Because in my head, in my crazy, anxious, obsessive, depressed, perfectionist, manic brain, I’m ugly.
It’s a disease, this type of thinking. And, really, there is absolutely no benefit to it; all I’m left with is a hatred for myself. But I also can’t stop. I can’t stop looking in the mirror and critiquing everything. It’s the critical part of me. The anxious part of me. The part that wants control of something.
Several years ago, my friend Brent told me about his sister’s pregnancy. “She was so unhappy,” he said to me. “She would just stand in front of the mirror and cry and whine, ‘I’m sooooooo fat!’ And then just sob more.” Brent laughed at the memory, convinced his sister’s emotions had been riding the ups and downs of pregnancy hormones.
Recently, I realized I am her. I am Brent’s sister, minus the pregnancy. Minus the hormones. I’m just that sick. I will stand in front of the mirror in my underwear and bra, staring at all the bits and pieces that I want to shave off or change. All the parts of me that aren’t perfect. That aren’t flat enough or round enough or smooth enough, respectively. I stand there and cry into my hands, not wanting to accept the size of my feet, the width of my hips, the shortness of my torso. I’m so mentally flawed that I actually believe I’m unattractive.
I’m not sure when this mentality came into play. It certainly wasn’t in elementary school, even though I was one of the tallest girls (with a shoe size to match). I never minded being tall. (The only time I did was in sixth grade, when I had a solo in the operetta. To access the microphone, I had to be in the front row and, thus, I lankily towered over my classmates, a full head taller.) My hips started to appear freshman year; my pant size was in the double digits for the first time. And no one, ever, told me I was pretty. My mom would tell me, sure, and my brother, too, but I knew they were obligated to. I was her daughter, his sister. They were supposed to say those types of things.
It just wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t a toned athlete, and I wasn’t a popular girl, someone who shopped at Victoria’s Secret and made themselves up nearly every day. No, I was a dork. A total and utter dork with glasses and crooked teeth and wide hips and raw, bitten fingernails. That was me. I hated me.
I still hate me.
I hate me for hating how I look. I hate that I never feel beautiful. I hate that no matter how hard I work out, no matter how little I eat, I can’t change the width of my hips. Or the prominence of my veins in my feet. Or how my toes are shaped. Or how short my torso is. I just look at myself think, “I’m structurally flawed.”
I wish I were an inch taller, just once inch from six feet. I wish I could go into a vintage store and try on shoes. I wish my teeth weren’t crooked. I wish my eyes weren’t almond-shaped and squint-y. That I didn't have astigmatism. I wish my neck were longer, my hips were narrower, and my waist more defined. I wish my torso were longer. More specifically, I wish my torso were longer and my legs were shorter in order to accommodate all those ill-fitting dresses I keep returning. I wish my knees weren’t so knobby. That my hair wasn’t frizzy. I wish I didn’t have to tweeze my eyebrows. Or already pluck a few stray, awkward hairs. I wish my belly button were lower, my boobs were bigger, my butt smaller. I wish my eyes were greener. I wish my hair were darker, to make those “green” eyes “pop.” I wish I didn’t have to worry about acne. I wish my face were less round. I wish my skin didn’t have its greenish, olive tone. I wish my thighs weren’t so close together, that my upper arms were so loose. I wish I could wear short shorts and bikini bottoms. I wish I didn’t have growth marks and stretch marks on my hips and legs from the year I grew four inches. I wish I didn’t have a scar from an infection on my torso. I wish I could wear strapless dresses. I wish I could wear A-lines.
I wish. I wish. I wish.
Only, when I’m actually looking at myself in the mirror, tears in my eyes, I’m thinking I hate I hate I hate.
Anorexia isn’t an eating disorder. It’s a mental disorder.
The disorder starts with an emotional attachment to control. It starts when you begin to have doubts about yourself. It starts when that one person, that one person, says something about the way you look and you never forget it. It starts when other members of the color guard make fun of how you dress, and joke about the fact that you had to order a costume in XL … just because you’re taller. It grows when your anxiety worsens, when your depression fluctuates. It grows when you see everyone on Facebook receive compliments—real people you actually know and care about and talk to, real people, and not magazine models or Photoshopped advertisements. And you? If there’s a new photo of you, no one says anything. No one says you’re beautiful or stunning or remarkable.
No one bothers to turn their head.
You assume that everyone else sees what you see—an unattractive, plain, wide, flabby creature. You don’t believe your dad when he says, “You need meat on your bones.” You don’t believe your brother, who remarks how thin you look after he hugs you. You don’t believe your mother, who—within the first five minutes of seeing you—says, “You’re skinnier every time I see you.” And you don’t believe your fiancé, either. Because he’s obligated, too.
And so you’re left alone, with just your thoughts and your tears, standing in front of a mirror. In my head, that's normal. But I also know it's sickening. And terrible. ... And truthful. Because a lot of the time, I eat only because I have to. Because I’m not well.