I’ve struggled with body issues for longer now than I haven’t. I remember there being a time – around 8 or so – where I still scampered about in the blissful ignorance of the here and now, a roly poly butterball in hairy legs and lycra bike shorts. At 8, I didn’t yet realize that my body ‘belonged’ to society.
At 12, I was still covered in puppy fat but I had already begun to understand this meant I wasn’t as worthwhile as all the naturally thin, athletic girls around me. How could I ask anyone to love me when I was so repulsively unattractive? I put myself on a punishing diet; everything became about the limited calories I allowed myself to eat, and the rigorous order in which I could eat them.
A 100 calorie yoghurt for breakfast at 8am. Walk the 30 minutes to school. Diet coke for lunch, and nothing else. Walk the 30 minutes home. Force myself to do 30 minutes of exercises before allowing myself ‘lunch’ at 5pm, which was 4 ryvita crackers with a scrap of jam on them. Dinner at 8pm, eat half of it. Lie in bed at night with my hand on my stomach, enjoying the feeling of hip bones growing more prominent daily.
Praise! Praise! Praise! Girl, you look so wonderful! Girl, you’ve done so well! Girl, we’re so proud of you! Beaming. I am worth something now. Never, ever let your guard down again.
My monstrous body is eating itself. I am starving it, defeating it. I close my mouth to stop it from making a sound. My silent victory speaks for me now. The boys’ appreciative glances at the park, offering me cigarettes and booze, they speak words more powerful than I’ll ever say.
Girl, that’s enough now. Girl, we’re worried about you. Girl, you need to eat something.
They’re all jealous. How can I be too thin when I’m still too fat? Stand in front of the mirror, poking and prodding. Measure myself obsessively. Gain half an inch overnight? No breakfast. Lose half an inch? No breakfast, just to be safe. Start throwing up dinner just to make sure. I’ve come so far. I’ll never go back again. Write endless pages in my diary about how fat I am, how disgusting, how no one will ever want me. Draw pictures of my misshapen duck’s body, no tits, massive arse, ham legs. Ask for carrots at birthday parties. Sneer at other girls, too weak to avoid the crisps. Period stops for a year, budding breasts wither away but still too fat.
I am 13.
Eventually grow exhausted with dieting. Exhausted with punishing myself. Start eating a bit more, here and there. A little bit can’t hurt. Put on a little weight. Period returns, and I’m glad because I know somehow this is a good thing. Relax into my teenage body. Put on a few kilos.
Girl, you look much healthier now! Girl, stay just like this! Girl, do you think you need that second helping? Girl, you need to start watching what you eat again. Girl, you made me promise I would tell you if you ever started getting fat again and I’m just keeping my promise. Girl, don’t blame me – I’m just trying to help.