What does it mean to be ‘thin’? Is it determined by the infamous thigh gap, the 24-inch waist, or the impossible bikini body?
When I was young—all the way through elementary school and early middle school—I was fat. My relatives used to remark that I was cute when I was chubby (I had quite the bad temper though). I didn’t really mind being “fat” as a kid; in fact, I didn’t think twice about snacking on McDonald’s chicken nuggets or lounging in front of Disney Channel for hours. I was happy doing what I did.
But then… something changed. My mom had always told me to be “more of a girl”. I hated wearing dresses, doing anything with my hair, and having to sit still while my mother clipped my nails. I would never have dreamed that I would force myself to become that superficial type of girl that I hated so much.
At some point in sixth grade, I started seeing girls get skinnier and shorts get shorter. I started feeling self-conscious for the first time in my life. I had always been the “nice” one and the “smart” one, but why not the “pretty” one? Why not the “popular” one?
So I started ruining my life.
My eating habits crashed drastically. I barely ate lunch during seventh grade. I would avoid the cafeteria altogether by hiding in a classroom so I wouldn’t think about food. I drank loads of water to substitute the hunger. Sometimes I would binge eat after school to fill the painful void in my stomach; then I would rinse, wash, and repeat. When I went to bed for the night, I used to hold my hands against my stomach and think, “Just a little more. I just have to lose a little more.” But, in reality, there was no stopping point for me. McDonald’s became a place of nightmares for me (I still can’t eat there without becoming sick). My hair fell out. I couldn’t meet people in the eye at the dinner table. I was miserable at school. But who cares how you feel if you look good?
A part of me knew that I should stop. My mom had noticed my painful expressions at the dinner table and remarked that I was going to develop a stomach ulcer if I didn’t eat something. Still—I had already embarked on this vicious, vicious cycle. On the nights I stayed shut up in my room, despite my parents banging on my door to fetch me for supper, I could hear my family talk about me. Suicidal. Depressed. Doesn’t talk.
Only one of my friends—who is still one of my best friends now—seemed to worry. She would offer me food every day without a slip of judgement. She was the one to make sure that I was still breathing. If I disappeared into the bathroom and didn’t have the courage to come back to class, she was the one who came looking. I can’t thank her enough for that.
My grandmother bought me a new closet of brand-name clothes to fit my retailored skinny-bitch body. Abercrombie and Fitch. Hollister. American Eagle jeans. I still remember the way the it-girl of the day looked at me one day, and said, “I like what you’ve been wearing lately. You look good.” It had made me feel fantastic at the time, but what about now? How hard did I have to work to earn those words? How much was I willing to pay to become “pretty”?
A lot of people will tell you that this won’t work. They are sort of right. But they are sort of wrong. I did lose weight. I dropped dress sizes by the week. I didn’t grow a whole lot taller, but what little curves I did have started showing. My doctor had commented on my weight loss and I lied and told her that I had been exercising. My relatives—the aunts and uncles and grandparents—all were impressed by how much weight I lost. How skinny. How slim. How pretty.
But guess what? None of that matters. I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t happy. I was obsessed and confused and so damn sad. In the midst of this tempest, I began feeling so isolated that I started seeking counsel and comfort from one of my teachers. Thank God that I did so, because I can’t tell you I would still be here if it weren’t for the support I received.
If you’re struggling, then please see someone. Just to talk. Just to distract yourself from everything else. Just to feel like you’re a person again.
By the end of seventh grade, I was so sick that I barely left the house. I skipped out on all of my summer camps. I stayed home and finally—finally—decided to put an end to whatever I was doing. I spent the summer as a “rehabilitation” summer for myself. I ate regularly. I tried to go outside more. I focused on the things I loved. I realized soon enough that my go-skinny obsession had brought on an onslaught of mental anxiety.
When the final year of middle school rolled around, I was well enough to go out with friends again and not gag at the sight of a fast food place, but I wasn’t perfect either. I suffered my first panic attack a couple of months before high school. No one knew what was happening and my mom was dialing an ambulance before I finally calmed down. In retrospect, it was probably the worst panic attack I’ve experienced, even up to this day.
Now, I am proud to say that I’ve reclaimed some of myself. I am back to a normal weight, and I give my body exactly what it needs. Lots of vegetables and fruit. Plenty of grain. Some dairy. A bit of meat. I eat foods that I love. I don’t skip meals (Please, please, please: no matter how busy or sick or full you may be, never skip meals).
Even on my bad days, when I feel the same skinny-obsessed repulsion arise in my throat, I keep fighting. I refuse to give up on myself. It gets better, slowly, but surely.
I’m happy that I can go to a party now and have a cookie or three without having an anxiety attack later. It always makes me nervous when a friend says to me, “I need to lose weight.” More often than not, I always correct them and reply, “You mean, you want to be healthy.” Exercise works wonders. There is nothing compared to that feeling of freedom of owning a fit, able body.
So here’s my advice: give yourself what you deserve. Treat your body right, and don’t do it alone. Staying in good physical and mental health isn’t easy… but I can’t express how important it is to never give up on yourself.