real life

'For years I used the size of my body as a coping mechanism. It almost destroyed me.'

This post deal with disordered eating and domestic violence, and could be triggering for some readers.

In my early 20s, I became skinnier than anyone who had ever called me fat. 

Four years on, I am still recovering my mind from an eating disorder.

I was a soft, happy and carefree child. My mother tells me that I have always loved food - I've never been a fussy eater and was always excited by mealtimes, new flavours and watching her cook. 

She indulged my appetite, because nothing is more satisfying than raising a well-fed toddler, with plenty of squishy rolls to soften the falls and tumbles of childhood games. 

Me as a toddler. Image: Supplied. 

At the age of six, I entered primary school, which is when my ordeal began. 

The kids around me found nicknames for me and for each other, and I was deemed “the chubby one”. I was at a healthy weight for my age, quite short, with a big, happy belly and round, squishy cheeks, which turned red from even the slightest physical exertion.

I carried my weight and the names I was called with me into secondary school, trying to squeeze my belly into the low-rise flared jeans of the early aughts. 

Still the shortest, still the fattest, still the girl with red cheeks and a big appetite. 

Comments about my weight followed me from the classroom to my home, where my parents were growing concerned about the possibility of raising an obese teenager - a daughter who they thought would end up fat, lonely and unhappy. 

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They were wrong about the latter - I was always happy, because I had food, a great sense of humour and good grades.

At 16, my body suddenly began expanding vertically. I shot up 25 centimetres in under a year, and ended up towering over all girls (and some boys) at 6´1. 

My wonderful body seemed to have known this all along, demanding to be fed in anticipation of the impending growth spurt. I was no longer fat, no longer chubby. I did take up a lot of space still, but in a different way. 

I still would not have been able to swap jeans with my ballet-dancing, cartwheeling, horse-riding girlfriends, but I lost the nickname and gained the approval of my formerly worried parents. 

I hadn't done anything to achieve this outcome, but I received praise for my “new” figure nonetheless.

At 22, I ended my first relationship. My boyfriend at the time had been abusing me physically and verbally, commenting on my appetite, my stomach, my thighs and punching me – hard enough that my soft rolls were no longer able to protect me. 

And because I had lost faith in my ability to protect myself with an armour of body fat, I decided to get rid of it all and see what other coping mechanisms I would develop.

At 23, my thighs were no longer touching. My belly was concave, my collarbones were protruding, and the comments of my loved ones had shifted in tone. 

Suddenly I was being told to eat something; to reverse what I had done to myself and to seek professional help.

I no longer fit into the jeans of my girlfriends, they were falling off my sharp hipbones. My happiness and my sense of humour were gone, but I still had my good grades - I was excelling at university. 

Men wanted to take me out for meals, wanted to carry me through the night on their backs, wanted to praise me for my thigh gap, my flat stomach, my runway model looks.

I indulged them, and myself, until I got too tired to leave my apartment; too exhausted to use my bony fingers to swipe left or right on my phone.

My days were filled with mirror selfies of my naked, alien body, and being utterly dissatisfied, hungry, sick and confused.

Me, then. Image: Supplied. 

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At 24 I had finished my Master's degree in Germany and entered therapy, which I later swapped out for a supervised re-feeding programme at my parents’ home in Australia. 

My mother cooked me my favourite foods and then sat with me as I refused to take a bite. 

She cried when she folded my tiny clothes, and she apologised profusely for anything she had ever said about my soft, carefree body.

Over time, this body got better. I bid my underweight BMI category farewell and slowly worked up an appetite, made new friends, stopped trying on anyone else's jeans and donated my tiny clothes to charity. 

I am still coming to terms with taking up space, with looking in the mirror and accepting what I see, with eating my favourite meals again... but I will work on this for the rest of my life and that is okay, because I have the privilege to visit a therapist who teaches me how to stop turning against my own body. 

Me now. Image: Supplied. 

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My quest for using the size of my body as a coping mechanism is over. Now it's time to heal my mind.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] 

You can also visit their website, here.

Feature image: Canva.

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