I’d always been told eating disorders allow for control.
But what they forgot to tell me was that by the time I began to look for control in my food,
I had long ago lost it.
From nine years old onwards, the defining quality I had been taught to pride myself on was my size.
I was the small friend,
the skinny one whose parents fawned over and teachers put on display in the front row.
I was told beauty was in my bones,
but only the ones that stuck out of my skin.
These lessons were more implicit than my classes in school,
but I had mastered the content before I even knew I was learning it.
When you tell a little girl to love her little self,
do you consider what happens when suddenly she isn’t little anymore?
Can you really call her the sick one if she’s only trying to prove your own point?
Can you blame her when she couldn’t tell the difference between the crash diets all the women in her life went on,
and the disease that keeps ruining everything?
You always prided her on her perfectionism, after all,
always admired how she pushed herself so
than the rest of you,
always admired the end, never bothering to ask her about the means,
maybe because you really didn’t know,
maybe because it was easier to pretend because that way she’d stay your idea of pretty.
My mother didn’t ask me to go bikini shopping with my sister when I went on birth control last summer..
She never told me it was because she was ashamed of how I’d look in them now that the hormones had filled in my ribcage and stretched out my skirts but,
she never had to.
You can tell your daughter you think she’s beautiful all you want, but,
when you’re holding a tape measure in one hand and diet tips in the other,
you may as well stick your fingers down her throat before she can bother to try her own.
When you tell her to buy a size up because it hides her shape better,
you don’t have to remind her to skip dinner.
She started counting calories before you even left the fitting room.
My friends stopped complimenting my body when I first attempted recovery.
Their silence was louder than any therapist’s comfort ever could be.
Do you know the message you send when you only compliment a body when it’s dying?
When you don’t realize someone in the room is in recovery,
you might not notice the message you send when you reserve ’fat’ for an insult,
that even in feminist ‘safe spaces’ you opt to say ‘not thin,’ ‘above average,’ ‘bigger.’ anything, anything, but that dirty word ‘fat,’
You might joke with your friends that your spring break diet will be ‘trying anorexia,’
and then you might not notice who gets up and runs to the bathroom while everyone else is laughing.
You probably don’t think about eating disorders that much, really,
probably seriously believe that sharing a ‘love your body’ post on Facebook makes it ok for you to go romanticize jutting collarbones, outlines of hip bones, thigh gaps, any sign of being small.
probably find it so easy to say ‘love your body’ as long as you can make it clear only a certain type is worth loving,
probably don’t dread hot weather and tight clothes and the beach days you used to love,
probably think of prom as a party, not as a constant trigger of diets and dress sizes,
probably would never skip it rather than risk throwing up in the dress you spent hours picking out,
probably couldn’t understand how exciting getting the flu can be when losing your appetite is the only time you feel beautiful,
probably don’t think about what it’s like to be afraid to hug someone in case they smell vomit in your hair,
probably never hated your favorite food after you’ve tasted it as a stomach bile cocktail,
probably wish I’d stop being so graphic and gross, because aren’t eating disorders supposed to be, like, romantic?
I do not blame my mother for teaching me to crave compliments instead of carbs
I’ve watched her eat one slice of whole wheat toast for Sunday breakfast since I was old enough to chew myself.
When I was little I thought it was because she didn’t like the pancakes, eggs, or home fries she had cooked so carefully for the rest of us-
but when I turned thirteen and stopped coming to breakfast all together,
I understood that it had nothing to do with food and everything, everything to do with control-
everything to do with losing it.
Stella is a Senior at Boston Latin High School and a part of the Teen Voices Emerging Program. The following is a brief description of her piece:
“I am a Boston high school student who likes writing and tea. I wrote this to deal with my feelings about womanhood, but I hope that it might be able to help my sister better understand her own.”