"It's just one bite of cake. Just eat it. It won't hurt you."
Oh, how I wish I could have. Sophomore year of high school: excelling in academics, thriving in extracurriculars, laughing endlessly with friends and family…
… Coming home from rehearsals and crying over my reflection in the mirror.
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes; some hit you like a gust of wind, others slowly submerge themselves into your daily life, masked in the joy of weight loss, energy, and attention. For me, it was the latter.
I had been dieting on and off for years since eighth grade. Eighth grade. While other twelve-year-olds were blissfully eating pizza and ice cream, I myself was on a "no-carb" diet for the first time.
I was never one those girls who was naturally skinny — I wore my first bra in fifth grade, started getting attention from guys in seventh grade, and by eighth grade, I was deeply unhappy with my appearance, realizing that I no longer wanted to "look older." In fact, the idea of looking "womanly" disgusted me. I wanted to be like the skinny girls, and I was willing to change my entire diet and body to achieve that, despite my completely healthy, beautiful body.
It wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I realized how detrimental this was.
Each day, I would write down exactly what I ate and how many calories I consumed, along with my total carbohydrate count. While doctors recommend eating 2,000 calories a day, some days I consumed only 930, not including any calories burned in 3-hour dance rehearsals every other day. At times, I would look in the mirror after showering and just cry at my reflection because I would appear bloated after a long day. It wasn't until the following months, I would look in the mirrors of the school bathroom and see my ribcage faintly through my cropped sweater that I felt like I could finally breathe again.
My mom immediately made an appointment for me to see a therapist.
I remember bawling in her office as she showed me a medical chart of healthy BMIs and weights, telling me to look for my weight. I did. I was completely normal, completely healthy, yet in my mind, this meant "still too fat" or "not skinny enough." Even with the physical proof before my eyes, I could not see myself as beautiful unless I was the thinnest I had ever been. Because when you have an eating disorder, it doesn't matter how others see you, and facts on paper cannot heal you. What matters is how you view yourself, and only then can you begin to heal.
And the truth is, I have never been overweight. But even being "healthy" and "normal" was unsatisfying. What I saw in the mirror each day was a girl who needed to keep losing weight, unaware of the dangers of the path I was on: a ubiquitous, never-ending journey of dissatisfaction.
After what felt like an eternity of therapy sessions, I could finally go out to ice cream with friends again and actually eat ice cream. This may seem minimal, but it was a baby step in the right direction of my journey to bettering my self-image and becoming body positive. Sessions of tears and anxiety turned to acceptance and understanding, gradually, and I am grateful.
I have probably gained 20+ pounds since age 15, straight to my thighs, butt, chest, etc. And that's OK.
I can't see my ribs sticking out anymore when I look in the mirror. And that's OK.
I thank God I do not look 15 anymore because I am learning to accept and love the body that I have been given. Am I satisfied with how I look now? No, but I take things one day at a time. And if I want one, a single bite of cake, I am going to eat it. And I am not going to cry or do sit-ups in my room afterward.
Fifteen-year-old me would see my current reflection and burst into tears. And now? At almost 19 years of age, I am finally starting to accept the body I have been given. Instead of spending my days being both mentally and physically unhealthy, I am focusing on more pertinent issues. How much water am I drinking? How much sleep am I getting? Who am I surrounding myself with? How can I better myself spiritually, socially, emotionally? I am more than a number on a scale, more than a number of calories per day, more than the bones (or lack thereof) I may see when I look in the mirror.
To all the women who don't have the same body they had at age 15, I get it. I will never be one of those girls with a fast metabolism and naturally skinny physique. Those bodies are absolutely beautiful, and so is mine. Being skinny does not come naturally to me— if I want to lose weight, I have to eat healthily and work out every day. And now, I choose to eat healthily and work out every day because I love the way it makes me feel— I specifically take care of my body to celebrate it and to help it, not to punish it like before. I've had to unfollow Instagram accounts of models whose body types I will never attain, and start following accounts of models such as Iskra Lawrence as well as others who promote body positivity of all shapes and sizes.
I did not heal overnight, and I am definitely not where I'd like to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be. I continue to struggle with my self-image each and every day, and I still refuse to weigh myself. I may never feel completely satisfied with the way that I look. But I will continue to learn, grow, and change — and that change is beautiful. Just like me, just like every other college female frustrated with their changing physique. And so, I am unconditionally thankful that I do not look 15 anymore.