When I was 5 or 6, I would sit with my legs dangling over the side of my bed, pressing my thighs into the edge, staring disgustedly at the way the fat spread out. When I sat next to my sister, who was a year younger than me, I would stare at her legs and wonder why they seemed so much smaller and better than mine. That was when my thighs became the enemy. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 42 percent of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner.
When I was 9 or 10, I had a green bikini swimsuit with boyshort bottoms. I hated that swimsuit. It made me feel like a beached whale. I would stare in the mirror and judge the way my hips protruded and how the boyshorts clung to my thighs, making them look like two fat sausages. That was when I started to hate going to the beach, when I dreaded having to take off my terrycloth cover-up and expose myself. ANAD reports that 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat.
There are approximately 30 million people in the United States today suffering from an eating disorder. I am one of them. And I am writing my story not to draw attention to myself, but in the hopes that by sharing it, someone feels less alone in their experience. You have nothing to be ashamed of or to hide. You are not to blame.
In middle school, I became obsessed with fashion. I religiously read every month’s issue of Teen Vogue and Seventeen cover-to-cover and would stare at the models plastered across each page, overwhelmingly jealous of their flat stomachs and narrow hips. I ran cross country and track from seventh to twelfth grade, and because of this was surrounded by girls who seemed so much thinner than me. I hated our uniforms, lycra tops that left no curve of the upper body to the imagination and I always tried to get a size larger than what I actually was, in hopes it would hang looser. Same goes for the clothing I would buy in stores; I bought babydoll and poncho-style shirts, already designed to hang loose, in size large, despite size small fitting just fine, in the hopes they would hide me even more. I bought A-line style dresses and skirts and wore them multiple times a week, desperate for anything that would completely disguise my hips and thighs. I lived in constant fear my hips would be exposed, that people would see I wasn’t the narrow ideal.
My first year of college proved no different than any other period of my life. As my taste in clothing shifted to a more tomboy style, it became even more difficult to hide the shape of my body. As spring semester rolled around, my anxiety rose exponentially when I decided to come out as gay to my immediate family and friends back home, on top of the continued shifting of my life socially and academically, and I began to restrict my eating as a way of feeling grounded and secure, as if there was one thing I could control. Towards the end of the spring, I lost 20 pounds in a single month. However, I was completely unaware of the true magnitude of my weight loss until I returned home for the summer.
Almost instantaneously upon arrival, the comments began. Positives ones about how thin I looked, jokes about if they were feeding me enough at Smith, that I should keep up the good work. I began to feel like my body was finally beginning to look like that of the girls in the magazine, like I was finally becoming beautiful, which is when the fear developed.
I began to fear weight gain, fear what would happen if even a pound returned to my body. I began to fanatically track what I ate, scared that eating anything more than an apple for lunch would ruin me. I worked full-time at McDonald's that summer and would spend every mind-numbing moment of my 9-hour shifts, which started at 5:30 a.m., obsessing over what I had eaten that day and what I could allow myself to eat. But being constantly on my feet and working left me painfully hungry and when I slipped and ate something I didn't deem harmless, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. I felt the need to fix the mistake I felt I had made. That is when the purging began.
It started as something I did anytime I ate "unhealthy" foods (which to me was almost everything). I would eat the food in a moment of what I viewed as weakness and feel agonizing distress while doing so, until I immediately ran to the bathroom to throw it up. Then a sense of relief would flood over me, a sense of relief that felt so calming and reassuring that felt I was in control and everything would be alright. As time progressed, I began to throw up after every time I ate, savoring the temporary blissful feeling of having righted my wrongs, and eventually I started to throw up when I felt any sort of self-hatred or guilt, anytime I felt I needed to make atonement. It didn’t matter where I was - I threw up during my bathroom breaks at McDonald's, in the bathroom at the gym, and multiple times a day at home while running the faucet to drown out any noise.
By the end of the summer, it had been three months of this behavior tacked onto an equally devastating semester. I was constantly tired and on edge, prone to breaking down crying at the slightest provocation, and spent every moment I was not at work curled up in my bed, lacking the energy to do more than stare blankly at the wall. I was scared of who I had become, where I was going and how I was hurting the people I loved, particularly my sister, who had found out what was going on. So, in a moment of clarity at my annual physical, I told my doctor what was happening. After a long talk, she convinced me to make an appointment with the counselors at my college, who then suggested I work with a therapist in Northampton. Now, two years later with cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, I’ve come a long way.
I will forever be glad I spoke to my doctor and I urge anyone reading this article going through any sort of similar experience to do the same. It has been a rough road to recovery, one that has had many hiccups and relapses along the way, but one for which I am so fortunate and grateful. By speaking up and searching out help, I opened the doors to not only getting better, but finding an incredible support system, as well as the help I needed to move forward with my life without bulimia tagging along for the ride. It is my hope that my story will help someone out there realize that they deserve better, that they are a strong and amazing person and that there is no shame in speaking up and asking for help. You are not alone.