i wanted to start out saying something cliché like, “it all started with a boy,” but that’s just not true. when it comes to eating disorders, you can’t place the blame on any one thing or person, or at least, i can’t. i’m trying not to speak for everyone, but it doesn’t feel right. truth be told, i think i was brought into this world with the potential to have an eating disorder, which had lain dormant inside of my body and festered in the depths of my soul until certain things brought it out. but yes, one of those certain things was a boy.
i lived (and still live) in one of the smallest towns in america, and you know what they say: small towns breed small minds. when you live in a small town, people aren’t very accepting of anything that they deem to be “different” and they won’t be convinced otherwise. at the ripe age of eleven, i had no idea that i was fat, nor did the concern ever so much as cross my mind, even being surrounded by the few dozen kids in my grade, the majority of which were either of average size or underweight and growing. this was around the same age that i acquired my first crush. eleven years later, i still don’t know why i liked that kid. maybe it was because he was the first boy that ever paid any attention to me (which i was sorely lacking at home), or maybe it was because he was thought to be the smartest kid in my grade, or maybe, just maybe, being eleven years old and highly illogical, i just thought he was cute. i really don’t know, but since it was such a small town, everyone knew that i had eyes for him, so he eventually found out. at first, nothing happened—the calm before the storm.
we had been talking online through aol instant messanger pretty frequently, despite the fact that we barely saw each other in person due to being in different classes. plus, i was painfully shy—something that i haven’t grown out of even at twenty two. one day after school, i signed on and started talking to him, or who i thought was him, and who probably was him. i can’t remember the exact wording (thank god), but i remember being flooded with messages saying that i was fat, ugly, not good enough, and needed to stay away from him. at one point, i can remember that his away message said similar things and named me specifically for anyone to see. my heart was broken, but the word “fat” took me aback. nowadays, that word doesn’t so much as make me bat an eyelash. “fat” isn’t an insult, it’s just somebody’s body type, and it certainly doesn’t define their health or their overall self-worth. however, at an age where i didn’t have enough life experience to know any better, it was the worst word that anyone could have thrown at me. later on, he claimed that his older sister sent those messages, but i knew the truth.
suddenly, everyone was throwing that word at me. my mom, who forced me to go on a diet against my will, denying me all of the foods i once loved, even in moderation. my sister, who i was constantly at war with, but still idolized to a point. and then, finally, my friends, who said they were only “concerned” for my health (which i know now was not automatically in jeopardy due to being overweight) and popularity. my best friend, being the wonderful person she was, decided that she would start taking half of my lunch money because, according to her, i “didn’t need to eat anyway.” while she took a dollar and bought a snack for herself after eating a full lunch, i was left with a dollar to buy a zero calorie diet snapple from the snack stand. this went on for two full school years, and not once did someone express concern, not even the school staff.
at home, i completely stopped eating and, at one point, even drinking, except for at dinnertime, which was the only meal anyone of authority was around for. during the spring and summer, i had lost forty or fifty pounds, which everyone attributed to the fact that i was a growing girl and the fact that i had been riding my bike and was getting more exercise than before. no one, not even once, thought that something was wrong, and no one cared, seeing as the situation at home with my family was less than ideal, so there was simply no time for the petty problems of a twelve year old wearing oversized hoodies to hide her weight loss and “cat scratches.” the only time my mother ever showed concern was when i had a moment of weakness after not eating for days, and stuffed about six full sized donuts down my throat in secret, and she came to asked me, very lovingly, if i was “going into the bathroom and shoving my fingers down my throat.” i said no, because i wasn’t; i just wasn’t eating. however, the general reaction was good. to everyone else, the fact that i had lost a large amount of weight in an impossible amount of time was okay because i was skinny, and in their minds, “healthier” than i had been when i was fat and happy. meanwhile, a lost little girl was dying from the inside out, starving and cutting her body while everyone stood back and did nothing to help.
and i would never receive the help i needed. over the next few years, i would recover, relapse, recover, relapse, and recover with no rhyme or reason. i had nightmares about reaching my hand into a bag of chips and eating a single chip. when i wasn’t starving and obsessively weighing myself, i was eating too much and trying to cut my stomach open to get the fat out of me. even when i was of average height and weight, kids (even the people that claimed to be my friends) in my school still called me fat, said that i needed to lose weight, whispered my full name as an insult to others behind my back. i wasn’t good enough. i was never going to be good enough. my home life was a disaster, my romantic life a war scene of boys who lied to me or tried to assault me. on top of the scars and cuts, i started to have bruises, because cutting wasn’t enough to numb the pain anymore. in middle school and high school, i became obsessed with studying and grades to take the mind off the fact that i had absolutely no control over my life or the body that everybody hated, including myself.
there is so much more to the story, like the online communities i became part of, where their biggest concern was giving me advice on how to lose ten pounds in two days, and not the quality of my life. but eventually, i would stop starving myself. i wish i could pinpoint a reason so i could give some words of wisdom about recovery, but i can’t. my life didn’t get any easier, my mind was in no way noticeably healthier. but i stopped. by some miracle, i stopped. instead, i sought refuge in music (i.e., within temptation and epica) and books (i.e., the harry potter series and the gemma doyle trilogy) that took me to fantasy worlds where i dreamed of going, places where i could live to my full potential. i even started to write fantastical poetry and performed them at a local coffee house. i started to find beauty in the world again, even if it was only in my mind.
but i wouldn’t stop forever. no matter how hard you try to escape your old self, you can’t; she’s always there, waiting to emerge, waiting until you think you’re okay again so she can possess you like a demon that can never be exorcised. a few years ago, i became obsessed with eating healthy, to the point where i was counting every calorie, every miniscule bite. i felt myself spiraling down a hole without an end, and i was too exhausted to fight her off again. that was when i discovered wintergirls. when i was on the cusp of ruining my life, wintergirls showed me what could happen to me if i didn’t fight back. if i didn’t fight, i wouldn’t be a part of this world anymore. i would never graduate college. i wouldn’t see my nephew grow up. i would never get to meet the man i wanted to spend the rest of my life with. i would never write another word of poetry, my first book. after a lifelong struggle, wintergirls made me realize that my life is more important than the number on the scale. without that fucking stack of papers with some binding, i might not be here to write this today, as well as countless other girls and boys.
still want to ban wintergirls?