Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Age 21

Once upon a time there was a beautiful, strong, happy woman who gave birth to two beautiful baby girls. Nothing was more important to this woman than making sure her daughters knew how beautiful and how strong they were. The oldest daughter grew up to be a little more independent than her sister - she wore crazy outfits to school, loved learning, was a fierce debater and adamant feminist. The mother was so proud, and she let her daughter know every day. So much so that the daughter was afraid to tell her mother about her insecurities when the girls in school started weighing themselves and stopped eating. She didn't want to disappoint. Strong women didn't care what others thought, strong women knew that if you are beautiful on the inside the world will see that reflected on the outside. Strong women knew that beauty is not about weighing 115lbs. One day the mother and daughter were watching the news when a special came on about eating disorders in high schools. The mother looked at her daughter proudly and said, "I am so glad you are healthy, that you know better than this." The daughter squirmed inside, but smiled and scoffed at the insecure stick figures on the screen.

I am 5'7", 140 lbs and a size 8. I am beautiful, inside and out. I am a feminist who appreciates that beauty comes in every shape, color and size. I believe in knowing your own self worth and self confidence. I will never, ever tell anyone that I wish I could just lose ten pounds. That I am not the defiant, magnificent, proud person they think. I do love my body most of the time, but I do not cherish my stomach or my thighs. I hope one day I can actually be who I claim to be.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Age 24

I'm a feminist, a confident woman, an advocate for body positivity - and it takes a man telling me I'm beautiful for me to believe it. I make myself sick.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Age 61

Let me first say that I am 61 1/2 years old and I live in West Virginia. I am a third generation victim of eating disorders. I know definitively that my mother had body image distortion, and it was modeled for me. I never met my mother's mother, but I can tell just by looking at pictures of her that she was fixated on being little. My mother had an interesting manifestation in that she couldn't see her body accurately, nor could she see mine accurately. So for almost all of my adult life I have been trying to erase her programming, which was entirely negative. I still don't know if I am seeing my body realistically, I think not. I think I am really fat; and I have at least four reasons that I "know" it is true. (1. I'm on medication that causes weight gain, usually about 25 lbs. 2. I moved from Florida where I had no appetite to West Virginia, where eating is a pleasure shared. 3. It was autumn, and I was packing on winter weight. 4. I have fibromyalgia and CFS which have drastically cut into my exercise energy. I spend more time idle and on the sofa, where I don't hurt as much.)

That said, here is what I have deprogrammed. Mother said my lips were big; I know they aren't. In fact, I think I have a beautiful mouth. Mother said my legs were fat, like tree trunks; my legs aren't small, but they're not fat either. I have the same legs as my Dad, my brothers, and 2 of my 3 children. They are solid Italian legs, but not fat. My mother's people have skinny legs. I almost like my legs. Mother told me that my butt was big. I am very proportionate. Mother said my hair was too straight and she was always putting perms in it. I love my hair. I've put back the red (strawberry blond) I had as a child. I think my hair is very, very pretty. I love my eyes; they are strikingly attractive. I am on the short side - 5'4" - and that limits what I can wear; I am learning at this late age how to dress attractively. I watch What Not To Wear on TV to get ideas and it has become fun to dress pretty. I have no money so I am a pretty regular shopper at the Goodwill Store. I now know what will add to my natural beauty and what will detract from it. I finally am madly in love with my freckles. I hated them for decades. Now, I hope they'll never go away. I look a bit younger than I am, so others say. I don't know what 61 is supposed to look like. I am trying to stop shopping in the juniors department. I am very self-conscious about my fingernails; they break off so easily, and never grow very long. I wish I had pretty ones. The biggest reason I quit smoking was because it gives wrinkles.

I am never thin enough. I am terribly eating disordered and see no way out of it. Beginning in 1973, after the birth of my third child, I was primarily anorexic. I got down to 87 pounds and was almost happy with how I looked. Looking back at pictures from those years, I looked like a concentration camp survivor. In 1980, I began living with my second husband, Larry, who loved to eat. He fixed food and saw that I ate well. I got up to 105 and was sort of OK with that weight. But then, I began gaining and gaining and began purging after every meal. Larry caught me and I developed hundreds of ways to get around him so I could get rid of what I just ate. That pattern of purging after meals is a giant monkey on my back - probably a mountain gorilla, if I'm honest. For me, I can starve myself when my life is chaotic. When I'm content, I eat and then want to purge. I don't like to look in full length mirrors now; I think in all honesty I look terribly fat. My hair and face please me, as do my feet. It's what's in the middle that I don't like. I sure hope I learn to love my body just as it is before I die. I'd love to live a life that doesn't focus on eating, food, calories, pounds and sizes of clothes. I wish I could feed me in a healthy way and not obsess about what I weigh or how my clothes fit and what size they are. I just don't how to do that, so it likely won't happen. And that's me and my thoughts about my body.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Age 18

When I look in the mirror, I see a girl who is so incredibly sad. Tragically unhappy. My friends and family think I live a perfect life because I’ve learned to smile through the pain. I have mastered the ability to appear happy even when I’m not. At 18, I’ve become a phenomenal actress – showing others only what they want to see. Or what they can handle.

But the pressure to be a certain way – thin, beautiful and popular – has made me so sick. In an attempt to fit in, I have lost myself so completely. I spend my days staring down into the bowls of toilets. My insides splatter porcelain as tears trickle down my face. I wish I could stop. I wish I had more control.

I wish I loved myself as much as people believe I do.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Age 20

I am 11. I am standing in front of the bathroom mirror, pinching the fat on my thighs. I am crying, because I can pull away with whole handfuls of fat - at least in my mind. I am hysterical. I am so, so big. I take up too much space, gravity pulls me down so far, I galumph when I move. I pinch more fat. My mother knocks on the bathroom door. Dinner. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and emerge from the bathroom, smiling.

I am 15. I am standing in front of the mirror in the girls' locker room. Next to me is my best friend. We are comparing our breasts - hers are much smaller. We then compare our post-adolescent stomachs. Hers is much smaller. I am so, so fat. No, she says, you aren't fat. You're athletic. No one thinks you're fat, you're just not skinny. She turns away. I bite my lip, blink away the tears, choke back a scream. I emerge from the locker room, smiling.

15 is the year I learn to battle my weight. I learn to measure my self-worth in pounds and inches. Today, I will eat only celery and carrots. Tomorrow, I will have black coffee and a cracker. The day after, nothing. Look at yourself, fat girl. You are not worth food. But I get hungry. I so badly want food that I eat without thinking, stuff my mouth with anything I can find, visit fast food restaurants and eat it all. Then I learn to get rid of it, through the cunning use of my left hand and a box of chocolate-flavored laxatives.

I am 18. I am standing in front of my boyfriend, naked. He is staring at me. I don't know what he is seeing. Appreciation? Awe? Disgust? He turns away. He hands me his tee shirt. So you don't get cold, he says. I turn away. Do you think I'm fat? I ask the carpet. No. I think you are too skinny. I can see your veins beneath your skin. He doesn't know what's important. He doesn't know what this means to me. He thinks girls should be big and curvy, and I think I should disappear.

I am 20. I am bent over the toilet bowl, staring at my rippling reflection in the water. I am shoving two fingers down my throat and getting rid of everything I ate, or didn't eat. I am 21. I am drunk, because I drink every night to forget about the fat that is eating away at me. I am wobbling on my heels, jamming my hand down my throat, beginning to cry. I bring up vodka, saliva, bile, blood. I collapse on the tile floor, thanking God that it's all out of me now, nothing can touch me when I'm this empty. I am not worth anything but emptiness.

I am still 20...and I wish things were different...that this never happened...that I loved my flaws...that my flaws didn't exist...that I didn't, that I were happy...believe in happiness…I so badly believe in happiness.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Age 18

I always thought that beauty meant strength, and that conforming to societal standards of beauty would make me powerful. I was a size 4, starving, told by everyone around me that I should model, with violin-bow arms and a concave stomach.

Then I went to college and started eating. I gained 30 pounds in three months, and my psychiatrist told me I had to be careful. I wanted to scream at him, "I'm recovering from an eating disorder!", but I didn't. I just kept quiet and kept eating. I'm now a size 8, and I exercise every day. I have defined muscles in my arms and legs. I can run miles and lift children and work at a construction job.

I look back at pictures of myself from high school and I see brittleness, fragility. I've learned to embrace my scars, my cellulite, the fat on my stomach and butt, the way my flesh moves when I jump, as signs of trials overcome. My body represents who I am: I'm stronger now, thicker, more of a presence, capable. Powerful.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Age 16

For as long as I can remember, my weight has fluctuated. When I’ve been heavier (healthier, happier), it’s because I’m eating. When I’m thin, it’s because I’m skipping meals. Starving myself, actually. When I’m not eating, when I’m so hungry it hurts, I’m told I look beautiful. That's certainly better then constantly hearing I look bloated, or that I'm getting a belly, or that I should try to lose the extra weight. I would rather hurt myself by not eating then hear those words spoken to me again. Those words hurt far more then the constant hunger pains.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Age 18

I have always thought my body was a bad thing. No, that's not really right. I was told I was overweight, and was told that I needed to eat better, and exercise more, then maybe I would feel better, and "become a better person." These criticisms always stuck close to me. I heard them (and frankly, still do hear them) on a weekly basis from my parents, and they cut deeply. Every comment someone made on my weight felt like a small jolt through my heart. So I started to hurt myself. Every time I just felt despair that my family couldn't accept me for who I was, I would hurt myself. This started in middle school, and continued on into my high school years. I knew it wasn't helping me feel better in the long run, but it helped heal the immediate internal wounds, inflicted by comments such as, "do you really want to eat that" and "maybe you should go for a walk instead." They seemed to tiptoe around the "f-word," and instead use "big," "large," and "voluptuous." Calling myself fat was often met with exclamations of "You're not fat!" and sometimes even anger. But let's face it, I know that I am fat.

Only recently have I been able to feel as though my fat is a part of me, and I love it. Yes, I am fat. And you know what? I don't have a problem with it. When I look in the mirror, I see someone beautiful, someone who may be fat, but is still in love with themselves. I now believe that no matter what size I happen to be, I will be content with it. If I got down to what most doctors would say was a "healthy weight," I'd still be a 12/14, and I'd probably still be fat and fabulous. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that as a college freshman, when all the other gals are obsessing about those two cookies they ate with lunch, or are eating nothing but salad from the cafeteria, I am enjoying life, enjoying food, and enjoying my body. It's not to say that I don't have other worries, such as my grades, and how I'm going to finish that paper worth 25% of my grade by Friday, but I can happily say that I don't add to any worries with obsessing over the fitness (or lack thereof), size, shape, or weight of my body. I do not even own a scale, but I don't need one. I love every roll of fat, and ounce of flab, because honestly, it's just a part of who I am.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Age 39

curvy round buoyant
bouncy soft comfortable
insulated grounded well-padded
not heavy
not cumbersome
not overweight or obese

These don't fit.

I just have extra fat. Everyone has some, I just have more.
I'm not saying that I need all of it, but it's not too much to carry.

For now,
I fit it
it fits me.

Age 22

I've often wondered what it would be like not to have any fat on my body. I wonder what these muscles could do without the weight of the fat I carry, how far I could run without getting out of breath, how high I could jump. I wouldn't want such a change ever to be permanent, though. I know that the muscles I have are just what I need for carrying every ounce of me.

I think I started to be less ashamed of my body when I dropped my long hair and got my gigantic mohawk. Suddenly everyone around was complimenting me. They said things like, we love your hair, it looks like the sun. I felt powerful with my hair spiked out to look like it could kill someone. The mohawk is long gone but the feeling of confidence in being visible is still there.

And I love my body. I really do. I walk around in my apartment naked and whenever I see myself in the bathroom mirror I smile and look at how long my armpit hair is getting. Sometimes I feel like a five-year-old, sitting in the bathtub poking at my belly and thinking of how it's like a flotation device. I'll never drown.

And I love my body when I am bicycling down the road and the cars are passing me and there is a fresh breeze in my face. I love my heart and the way it pounds when I try to go as fast as I can. I love the slight pain that gathers in my legs when I strain to pedal faster. It makes me feel strong and alive.

Age 70

OK, it probably started at the age of 12, in the summertime, with a rolling pin trying to trim my thighs. I had a girlfriend who was the skinniest peg you ever wanted to meet. Me, well, I wasn't so lucky (or so I thought). My mother even signed me up for a magazine called "The Chubby Club." I hated it. The magazine would come with pictures of girls who were so much heavier than I. They sold dresses which had this elastic at the back waist (you know, so it could stretch). I dreaded it coming in the mail.

Next came the diet doctor. I remember my mother bringing me and the doctor taking my "before" picture. Every week I went, got pills, weighed and had a little question and answer session with the doc. One of the answers I can recall was, "if you eat from a pig, you'll look like a pig." His name was Dr. Repp in West Philadelphia. Needless to say, when I passed out one day my mother threw the pills down the toilet and I didn't go back to Dr. Repp. I think I weighed 150 lbs when I started with him; I recall losing 10 lbs in one week.

Today, well I'm 170 and hate it. I've tried so many diets. No flour, no sugar seemed to be the only one that works, but it's too difficult to stay on it.

My body image is of a fat person.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Age 28

For more than 20 years, I have hated my body. Every aspect of it - my skin, my hair, my size, my height - down to the freckles on my shoulders. Over those 20 years, I have been a compulsive over-eater, exercise bulimic, anorexic, bulimic, ED-NOS, and at times, even recovered. I've been pre-med in college, an EMT, a firefighter, a 9-1-1 dispatcher and teacher. I've gotten married, have two wonderful children, and while they give me purpose, the only time I ever felt validated as a worthwhile human being was when I was sickest, and at my thinnest. All the good I know I've done, the people I've helped, no one ever noticed me, appreciated me, respected me, except when I was skinny. I curse and hide my body. I look at my old scars, criss-crossing my arms and thighs where I once used to injure myself and I wonder, since it's been years since I hurt myself, that means I'm recovered, right? So I skip some meals, and stick my fingers down my throat when I do eat, but so what? Right? Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

I'm scared for my daughter. That she'll endure the same hell I've lived in my whole life. I walk a tightrope between worry and obsession with what she eats, how she eats, etc. I worry that my son will face the same image issues or that one day, maybe unknowingly, he'll judge someone else's worth based on their appearance and weight.

I don't need money or a big house or cars and jewelry to make me happy. If I had one wish, it would be to be rid of all my body image issues and disorders and

Age 34

I am fat. No, really. I am fat. Morbidly obese is the medical term. I prefer fat. I have a fat ass, fat upper arms, a fat belly, fat hips, fat thighs and a fat face. I have stretch marks and I have cellulite. I also have a body that enables me to do the things I want to do. It has conceived, carried and borne two healthy children. It houses my brilliant mind and gives me means to express my thoughts and creativity. It lets me make love to my partner and to enjoy it. I like who I am. I like where I am in my life. I would rather be fat than stressing about dieting and losing weight. I can spend that time writing and creating and being. My body has got me where I am today and while I haven't always been on BFF terms with her, I think she is pretty cool. That is why I decorate her with ink and other expressions of love. I refuse to be ashamed of her. Why should I? My children love snuggling up to me because I am soft and squashy. My partner doesn't find skinny women attractive. I look like my mother did and I don't see that as a bad thing. Maybe I am in denial like all the fat haters say I am. But hey, it sure is more fun here than at Weight Watchers.

Age 19

Ever since I was a child I've been told I'm beautiful, cute, even angelic. I've had more than one guy tell me I'm "perfect." I don't understand where all of these compliments come from. I have days when I look in the mirror and I see what everyone else sees; I see a beautiful young woman. I only weigh 105 lbs, that can't be fat. Right? So then why is it that I have a lot of days where I look in the mirror and despise what I see? I'm not tall (I'm only 4'11") and I don't have big breasts and a non-existent waist. I'm not what I should be. I'm not perfect at all. How dare anyone say those words to me.

For years I've struggled with an eating disorder. I don't know how to stop.

Age 20

"I know all women have body issues. If you didn't, you wouldn't be normal."

My new boyfriend told me that when I became upset at him commenting on my body fat (or lack thereof), and I don't think he could ever understand just how much more depressing I find it that I am merely 'normal' in my repellant self hatred.

At least as an anorectic, one has something special. Now at a healthy weight I am just another female, having family reassurances constantly contradicted by the media - another 'sinful snack,' 'flawless perfection,' 'perfect new body' advert. I don't know one woman who is truly happy with herself. Most of them haven't been classified mentally ill, so what hope is there for me to ever let go of this?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Age 15

Now is the only time in my life I have been called beautiful, and it’s only because I am starving myself. I have always been fat, but last year I have started to not eat. I hide my food and wait for a good time to throw it all away. I act sick so I don't have to go near food when I'm at home. And the people in my life are praising me about how pretty I look now that I have a slimmer waist and hollow cheeks. People are encouraging me and I know I cannot stop. My friends are not fat and most of my parent’s friends are not fat, only my close family is. So I am a fat ass. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I catch a glimpse of a slim pretty girl, but then I'm overwhelmed by my huge fat thighs and rolled fat belly. I poke and prod my fat leavening purple-green bruises and dark red lines of blood. I never mean to hurt myself; I just wanted to show myself how I should look and feel. I can no longer see me as me, I only see what I think is me. I’m scared for my health.

Age 20

I'm covered with scars. Face, arms, stomach, thighs, ankles, all covered, all attacked, all self inflicted. As grotesque as they are, I don't hate them as much as the fat that they lay on or the stretch marks that some blend in with.

I hide it all behind designer labels and a pretty smile. Thank you for your compliments, I've never believed them. I really just want people to realize that I'm just as breakable as the china doll that they think I look like.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Age 22

I have hundreds, probably thousands, of dollars worth of tattoos on my body. I am more proud of them than anything else, but just once I want somebody to say "Oh, she would be so pretty if it weren't for all of those tattoos" instead of complimenting them. I have them so people look at the tattoos instead of looking at me, I want somebody to really see me someday, and think that I'm beautiful. Maybe someday I'll stop putting beautiful things on my body and actually believe that my body is what's beautiful.

Age 19

I am 19.

When I look at old pictures of me, I cry. I cry at how pretty I was. How that girl disappeared. How I fear I'll never find her again.

I wipe my tears away only to cry again when I remember how sick I was. How everyday I had a stomachache. How if I was awake too long, my stomach would hurt so badly I wanted to curl up and die. How I worked out when everyone else relaxed, and how eventually I couldn't eat a full meal anymore. How I spit out every bite behind my napkin.

And I wipe my tears away only to cry again when I remember how my jeans began to fall down. How I would lie on the ground, admiring the valley between my hips and ribs, and swear nothing was as beautiful.

And I once again, wipe away those tears only to cry again when I remember how fast the weight came back. How with medicine and depression I became literally twice my size.

And I look at those old pictures and cry, because, I was so damn beautiful.