By Julia Beecher
Content warning: Contains discussion of eating disorders.
I am twelve years old when I realize I am different from the other girls my age. Where they are long and lithe, I am short and stocky. They are all grown up where puberty still sends blooms of acne across my cheeks and baby fat scrunched at my waist. They are the ones who never have to search for a seat in the cafeteria, who make the boys blush at the school dances. Among beautiful women, I am still a girl, invisible in the sea of faces. My nose is too wide, my stomach too soft, breasts too flat against my sternum. I am hideous. Disfigured. Disgusting.
I decide that if I cannot stand out for my own merit, I will take it upon myself. I slather on lipstick in crimson, eggplant, turquoise: clown makeup to distract from my body. Vivid colors serve as a beacon luring attention away from the roundness of my form. I scrutinize my reflection in the mirror first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep. I dream of slicing off the fat rolls of flesh that crease like dough, heavy and malleable, lumps of lard. I want to be free of my own mind, to shut off the constant stream of shame and guilt and self-criticism. It wraps around my brain like a tumor or a dark mass. I will never know freedom until I am skinny. Beautiful.
For every meal I skip, every dessert I refuse, I feel myself shrinking, evolving into the form I was always meant to take. I yearn for the curves of my waist, the stretch of my skin across my stomach, hip bones jutting through. I begin to shed my skin, to liberate myself from the fat that suffocates me. I revel in the sharp aches of hunger pangs, the sign of my success, until I don’t feel them at all anymore. Still, as the number dips down on the scale, I am always hungry for more, more, more.
Twenty pounds later, my mother drives me to the hospital while I brood silently in the passenger seat. The doctor snakes a needle into the pale belly of my arm. The sight of my blood flowing like Kool-Aid through a silly straw makes my stomach roil.
“I’m scared to see what your bones look like,” the doctor tells me after analyzing the damage.
My mother bursts into thick tears beside me, choking on her desperation. My countenance is unwavering. I have spent years building a wall around me, of hatred and frustration and desire, that the arrows of her words cannot penetrate. She dictates my “prescription” that I follow when Hell freezes over: three meals a day, plus a smoothie.
Handcuffed between my mother’s thumb and forefinger, my wrist is still thin enough to slip through. She swats it away as I raise it, threatening to strike. Heat scorches my cheeks and pricks behind my eyes. I’m going to shove her. I’m going to send her reeling with all one hundred and five pounds of my force.
“You fucking bitch!” I shriek, the rawness of the words ripping their way up my throat. “Fuck you!” It ricochets across the walls of the hospital’s car park. Echoing off the concrete and landing back again at our feet. Panic rises white hot and heavy in my chest. I strain my voice around it. “I’m not doing it. I don’t care what anyone says. I’m not going to let you ruin my life.”
“You’re ruining your own life,” she says, shoving back at me. “Didn’t you hear what the doctor said? You’re going to kill yourself if you keep going.”
No, I want to say, you don’t understand. I am creating my own life. I am killing the person that I used to be and rising a phoenix from the ashes. You don’t understand my craving for hunger, the pit gnawing at the bottom of my stomach to remind me of my achievement. The sense of pride with every pound dropped, inch shed, new notch in my belt. You don’t understand that only when I am free from the lumps of fat that oppress my organs will I be free from the thoughts that plague my mind. I am not ruining my life. Quite the opposite. I will finally be who I always wanted to be: happy, beautiful, satisfied, calm, confident, wanted, appreciated, liked, loved. Skinny.
The smoothies my mother makes slide like snot down the back of my throat. They share the same baby-pee yellow tinge, the same unnerving gelatinous quality as the oobleck I made in elementary school science class. Chunks of unpulverized frozen fruit, sucked dry of all flavor long ago, peek out the sides of the glass. Viscous globs slip off my spoon with a plop when I extract it: Excalibur from the stone.
I choke down mouthfuls, each one a moist, fat slug in my mouth. The first time I swallow, a fine coating of chalk blankets my tongue. Upon further inspection, a similar powdered-sugar film screens the top of the cup. Protein powder. Of course. I should have known that I would be fattened up like foie gras, force-fed like an invalid. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry; no amount of its saccharine artificial sweeteners can mask the taste of pure calories poisoning my body.
Eventually, I learn ways to make it more bearable: shut your eyes while you drink it, plug your nose, cover your ears. Some of the softness returns to my hips, to my jawline, my thighs. I pinch the pockets of fat between my fingers, intrigued and disgusted. A butterfly emerging from a cocoon, I no longer recognize myself, but I change for the better.
I loosen the ties on my sweatpants. I start to wear shorts in public again. I let boys put their arms around my waist without pulling away. I accept compliments. I pose for pictures. I buy clothes in my size. I take the blanket off of my bedroom mirror. I shower with the lights on again. I order ice cream with extra sprinkles. I say yes to pizza night, fast food night, sushi night. I taste my mom’s cooking again, warm and peppery on my tongue. I buy snacks at the bodega that do not bear the labels low-fat, low-sodium, low-calorie. I don’t check the black and white charts on the back of the packages. I start college, and the other women don’t laugh and point and stare at me the way I thought they would. I receive text messages from them with heart emoticons and exclamation points. I make friends who never knew me as a skinny girl, who tilt their heads and say, “Really?” when I tell them I was sick. I sit in their laps and hold their hands while we walk. I love myself a little better.
I am not perfect. I am still afraid, but I am not imprisoned. I do what I can. I keep moving forward. I make myself smoothies, sweet and fresh, every morning after I wake up.
Julia Beecher is a college student from Cambridge, Massachusetts realizing her kindergarten dream of becoming a writer. Her work has been featured in Misery Tourism, Serotonin, The Daily Drunk, and others. Send her fan mail (or hate mail) on Twitter: @JuliaBeecher.