There are times when I can look down at my stomach. There are even fewer times when I can look down at my stomach and actually like what I see.
These times come on different days, in different years. These times used to be frequent.
I used to have confidence. All the time. Every day. When I was a kid.
I guess every young child thinks they're amazing. The world hasn't beaten down on them and completely destroyed their souls yet.
Having all that self-confidence was amazing.
It gave me strength.
It gave me happiness.
It gave me comfort.
It gave me delusion.
It left in 2010. I was eleven, in the sixth grade. When I stopped fighting with my mother about me needing to wear a bra, or at least an undershirt, every single day. When I realized I would have to get used to the Nile River on my lower chest on hot days and the red marks on my skin. When I was told I had two large weights that would never go away. When I accepted that I had breasts. A 36 B cup, if I'm being specific, which my mother seems to consider "huge." Even though mine are clearly smaller than hers. Maybe she exaggerated to scare me into surrendering to her.
It left in 2010, when Jackie told me I didn't need to eat so much Parmesan covered popcorn before ballet class. When I couldn't seem to shake off this comment of hers, unlike her insults about my music tastes and pretty much any opinion I had about anything. When her words echoed in my mind every time I wanted a snack. When my daily cravings for junk food made me feel guilty. When I felt guilty every time I felt slightly hungry. When I started to realize that Jackie actually had a point.
It left in 2010, during every single one of my dance classes. When I lifted my leg on my front battements and saw my thighs replaced with ham hocks. When I looked at the other girls in my class and how their bodies looked like the ballerinas hanging on the studio wall. When I inevitably had to look in the ocean of the dance studio mirror to check my posture. When I noticed how the waistband of my tights made the weight on my stomach spill over. When I saw that the black color of both my leotard and tights did not have a slimming effect.
It left in 2010, when the clothes that I loved and have worn for years suddenly shrunk. When I realized that they didn't shrink in the wash. When my dance teacher did measurements in front of the class and my numbers were clearly larger than everyone else's. When I wasn't sure why my numbers had gotten way larger than everyone else's.
It left in 2010, when I started to take notice of how other people looked. When I noticed that almost all female celebrities I admired looked like hourglasses. When I noticed that Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift seemed to never produce body fat, even though they said they ate junk food in interviews. When I realized how big a deal how you look actually is.
But it's not like I just decided to starve myself. Skipped meals and only ate celery and ice. Wrapped a measuring tape around my stomach and took notes about the numbers. Sure I skipped breakfast occasionally in middle school, and most of the time in high school. Sure I still skip breakfast a couple of times a month. But that's only when I have to get up before eight AM. I'm not hungry in the mornings. I'm too focused on being tired. But I always eat a sufficient meal later in the day. I learned my lesson when I passed out from dehydration in 2010. Even though I really passed out because we were reading a gross article. It wasn't from dehydration. Screw what the school nurse said.
In 2011, It made a welcome comeback. I can't remember when, but I remember It came back. I thought It would be around forever. That 2010 was just a preteen hormonal phase. But, It left on the day I saw a shirt that supposedly tightened muscles just by wearing it. It left the day I ordered that shirt online. It left the day that shirt came in the mail. It stayed away every single day that I wore that shirt, and looked at my stomach to see if I had magically lost weight.
But I just wanted to get a six-pack. Isn't that what everyone wants? I looked up ab workouts on YouTube, particularly Robin Antin's dance workout, actually used by The Pussycat Dolls. I convinced my parents to take me to the gym and figure out how to use the machinery. That's healthy, right? Exercise is a good thing!
It came back in 2012, when I got my first 'real bikini,' a departure from the 'two pieces' and 'tankinis' I had before. It was with me when I wore that bikini in Cape Cod. When I walked through the shallow water, trying to catch the eye of some high school boys. It gave me the delusion that someone actually found me attractive, and to keep walking. So I kept walking, and glancing over my shoulder. I did this for so long, I got a sunburn. I can't remember when It took off, but It did. I haven't worn that bikini since.
But it's not like I need a bikini anyways! A one piece is a lot more practical! And I have fair skin, so I should be somewhat covered up at the beach.
It came back in 2014, when my clothes started falling off, which hadn't happened in centuries. When I got to go shopping and realized I needed small pants and t-shirts, instead of the medium ones I had bought for the past three years. When I asked my mother why my period skipped this month and she said it was because I had lost a lot of weight. When a guy in the hallway told me I looked pretty.
It stuck around for a while in 2014. Filling me with false hope and telling me that I was all that and a bag of chips. Telling me that it wasn't a big deal if I ate too many bags of chips because those calories wouldn't stick around. Telling me that I could look down at my stomach because I actually had abs now. Telling me that the only reason I was single was because guys were intimidated to talk to me. Telling me that I looked good even when the mountains of pus on my face stuck around for too long. Telling me that I looked good even when I didn't have time to put makeup on or put thought into my daily clothing choices. Telling me that I was beautiful, despite my imperfections.
It stuck around for a while, until one Thursday in late September 2014. I was sixteen. I had overslept, as usual, and hastily put on clothes. I went to a private school that looked like a college campus and expected its students to be dressed like executives rather than sixteen year olds. I threw on a tan long-sleeved shirt and black pants and ran into my father's car. I didn't realize that Connecticut had been plagued what seemed like a monsoon, and had no umbrella. While I was jogging to the required all school meeting in the building halfway across campus, Mother Nature decided to give me an aggressive shower, leaving me drenched for the rest of the day.
I sat down to pretend to listen to some boring announcements, and looked down. The water had turned my tan shirt invisible. I saw my rose-colored bra, working overtime to keep my breasts in their assigned seats. I saw bits of my obliques, which had turned into "love handles," the term for oversized obliques. I saw my stomach, which folded like a piece of paper. I felt like I was going to be sick.
I then knew It had left.
It left without saying goodbye.
It seemed to wash away in the downpour and fell into a sewer grate. It clearly wasn't waterproof.
It's been back since then. It sticks around for a day and then leaves. Sometimes It takes pity on me and sticks around for two days.
It was back today. Making me feel fantastic after spending a forty-six minutes at the gym. Making me think that the dizzy feeling I had was not from doing thirty minutes on the bike and sixteen minutes on the elliptical after. Making me think I could actually put on that white "workout" tank top. The one made of spandex that gave me no room to breathe. The one that was way too bright. The one that put my stomach under a magnifying glass.
I tried to keep it around. I missed It. For once, I was fine with everything that I had shoved down my throat today. I felt happy with my muscles screaming, as if the feeling was my stored up fat being erased.
It didn't last. I knew It wouldn't stay. I just wanted to live in the fantasy a little longer.
I went to the bathroom. I couldn't avoid the sickly, fluorescent lighting that should only belong in a morgue and makes me look paler than usual. I couldn't avoid the ocean of the full-length mirror. I saw everything. I looked and felt disgusting.
I saw It leave. It got up and ran out the door without saying goodbye or when it would come back.
It's not like I have an eating disorder. Making myself throw up after every meal. Sure, I thought about gagging some of the acid reflux out of myself a few times. Sure I bent down over both the toilet in my bathroom and the trashcan in my dorm room more than a few times. But I never actually did it! My fear of putting unnecessary germs in my mouth got in the way! And it was just to make that nauseous feeling go away. It wasn't for weight loss purposes! Although that would be nice…
I should be honest here. I've been honest about everything else. I need to be honest about this.
I have no idea what this is.
I don't know why It leaves for so long and comes back whenever It wants to.
I don't know why It left in the first place.
I don't know how if It will ever move back in with me permanently.
I honestly don't think my situation is a full on eating disorder, but I don't think this is healthy. I know it's not healthy.
But it's not like I can control this! Having to reverse nine years of feeling like I am a fat, ugly, useless person is no easy task! Every compliment feels like people are just saying that to make me feel good, not that they actually mean it. Every piece of clothing feels like it serves to highlight all the flaws in my body. Every meal becomes Sophie's Choice with what I actually want to eat with what I know I should eat. Even though all meals end with me hating my life. Even though this could turn into a more serious thing in a short time. It just needs a faint push from a too tight shirt or a bad mirror angle.
Even though the one thing I should be okay with, and one of the few things that I'm basically stuck with for the rest of my life, is the thing I hate the most about myself.