What Does Your Spine Mean to You?
God, I could write about this for a good 6 hours.
The first thing that comes bubbling to my brain’s surface when I repeat that word several times in my head is a flashback to when I was younger — probably about seven or eight. My best friend growing up was a girl who lived a couple of blocks away from me. I was about a year and a half older than she, and to this day we have a complex relationship (I feel this way, and I’m not sure if she realizes it). We played together all the time, and were thick as thieves.
In the summer, we would play in her yard with the hose and cheap Dollar General inflatable slip ‘n slide finds, and then eventually tucker out and take to the couch. Something I always felt around my friend was… an uncomfortable feeling. It was a feeling that, as I write this, I can feel as I think about those moments — the moments I stood there in my swimsuit, feeling…big. That pain in my chest — that ache. When suddenly you catch a glimpse in a mirror and think, “Is that what I really look like?” It is that ache that I can feel right in my rib cage — right in my heart. I felt big as I watched the child’s spine jutting out of her back like the hard scales on the back of a dinosaur. I remember going home one afternoon and touching my toes facing the mirror and searching for the bones that didn’t seem to exist in my own back. I wondered why? Why didn’t my spine show? What was wrong with me?
The feeling and the pain that I felt as merely an elementary school child about my own body was something no child should have to feel. I shouldn’t have felt it any way — I was a perfectly healthy child at a perfectly healthy weight. However, I was not an insecure child. I was happy in my own body — I was comfortable, I should say. I didn’t hide myself and enjoyed swimming in bathing suits and I didn’t think twice about the calories in the food I ate. I was so happy and so carefree. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did want to make changes in my body as I got older — but what woman doesn’t? Don’t we all long for a long and well-toned torso and a nice ass? That’s merely all I was going for when sixteen-year-old me decided to go on a health kick! That’s normal, right?
Well, to be honest, normal would be going on a health kick that would last a solid week before one crumbles and just gives in to the Ben & Jerry’s. However, in my case, that didn’t happen, and the eating disorder was born.
So, during the fateful summer two years ago, the night my month-long camp session ended, I finally found myself with privacy for the first time in weeks. As I undressed to shower I finally looked at myself. I was finally alone — no more communal bathroom with two giant mirrors that girls had to fight over. It was a space alone — a space to be alone with my body…and my thoughts…for the first time in weeks. In a way, I avoided the mirrors at camp because I knew that I was losing weight, and for some reason, I decided to wait and see what I looked like, what I really looked like, for the very end. In some way it was like a grand finale. A before and after.
Hey look! You’ve been eating less than 1,000 calories a day, exercising obsessively, have literally zero energy, and haven’t really been able to see what you look like for a solid month, so girl, you get all up in this private bathroom with that nice mirror and look at your handiwork!
So I did. I stared into the eyes of a girl that I didn’t recognize. The thin face looked back at me, framed in long dark hair. My eyes — it was hard to even call them my own. They looked so big in my head, and so sad too. I touched my face, my hands and my long thin fingers practically able to cup my whole face. They found their way to my collarbones, another set of bones that I was unfamiliar within my body. Then my eyes caught sight of the other mirror on the opposite wall. It was a cabinet perfectly positioned behind the larger mirror so I could look at the reflection of my own back. I gasped — there it was, the long lost set of dinosaur scales. I immediately bent over and craned my neck to see was I looked like. Yep, my spine was now externally present. I smiled, as if it was some sort of victory — some sort of achievement. I was actually exhilarated by it — then suddenly frightened. I knew deep down that this wasn’t good. I knew that I had lost weight, and that I was unhealthy. I didn’t necessarily think that I had a problem, but… I had a problem. A problem that was evident on the anxiety-filled two-day car trip home that was a fight with my concerned and instinctive mother about the fact the only place I would stop for lunch was Panera, and the only thing I would order at Panera was a salad. She knew the moment she saw me there was an issue.
Over the months that followed, the painful, emotional, hungry, weak, cold, difficult span of time that I became seriously ill, my spine became my checkpoint. Each night before bed, each day before I got into the shower, and pretty much anytime I was alone with a mirror, I was checking to see if my spine was still evident underneath my pale-grey flesh. It always was, and I always breathed a sigh of relief and smiled a little smile. As if my bony back was telling me, “its all good — we are still here. Just make sure to eat as little as possible.” I would bend over and survey myself in the telling glass of a mirror and could see every bone, every little muscle, every rib that heaved with each painful breath.
We learned about the skeleton in my high school anatomy class and I remember thinking to myself — why don’t I just use myself? However, these thoughts were also paired with the snarling comments of my own eating disorder. The sick voice in my head roared and screamed and threw digs at me when life got more difficult — You fat pig — you disgust me. Do you even have anorexia? I don’t want to revisit them.
Today, I know that my spine does not show. And it does not show because I would have to be at a low, unhealthy weight for it to show. I know now, that my body was just simply not made in a way to have my spine poke out, and to have my collarbones be very protruding in my chest. It is not because I am over-weight or fat, it is simply how I am made. And with each bite, meal, day, journal entry, mirror glance, and painful flashback, I am learning to accept that.