[trigger warning for eating disorders, anxiety, and self-loathing…]
This is how it works.
You get better. Not well, maybe — you’llneverbewellneverbefixedneverbeunbroken — but better.
You eat cake at birthdays, and let occasions soothe away your guilt.
You eat cake when someone else brings it to school, to work, to your house, and let the company wear away at your guilt.
You eat cake on your own in your bed too tired to put on clothes and let the guilt show in the pounds on your hips, the lines on your skin, the way your flab flaps when you run.
(You pretend you don’t see the way your flab flaps when you run).
You eat meals until you feel sick and line your stomach with foods you can’t throw up and drink peppermint tea as if it’s a religion. Your body forgets how to digest food, sometimes. You get IBS and are told to give up dairy, to go low FOMAP, to drink apple-cider vinegar. You are told it is common among girls with anxiety and stress.
(No one says anything about girls who stopped eating, or girls who binged on all the sweet stuff they could find then threw it up, again and again, in the too-grotty mold-specked bathroom of their student house. They don’t need to. You know each other, know the signs.)
You pretend you are fine. You are fine.
You go to stay with a friend, who happens to be fat. Straight afterwards your IBS symptoms get much worse. It’s like an echo in your body, a memory of before. Your body knows. Your body remembers. It is waiting — waiting — for you to slip up.
Your mother goes on a diet. You try (fail) not to feel guilt and fear crunch inside you every time you see her counting. You try (fail) not to measure your failure against her success.
(Deep down, you always know you have failed.)
But time passes. And you take steps. And you get better.
You tell new friends you had problems with food in a way that is half a joke, half a truth. You let them see the crazy and discard it. You fly under the radar by hiding in plain sight.
And anyway, you’re fine now. You are fine.
You eat every meal. Religiously. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hungry, if you’re out by several hours — you eat. You hate yourself and you take it out on the people skipping meals. They have to eat. You have to eat.
(You know just how easy — and just how hard — it is to stop eating.)
You go to uni, drink alcohol, fill your body with empty calories. Sometimes you do shots and feel better. You prefer something hard and compact and to the point. You’ve never liked beer much anyway.
You eat with friends. You eat out in restaurants and share plates and throw yourself into the food when you feel awkward or exposed or when the conversation stalls. You eat thoughtlessly, detached. Deliberately absent. You weigh too much.
(You try not to look in the mirror when you go to the bathroom. Sometimes you succeed.)
You go to your brother’s wedding, see the same kids you envied at school for having the right bodies, the right social skills, the right ways of slipping neatly into interactions. You are too big, awkward, gawky. (You were the only girl at the stag and there was a moment when your wetsuit wouldn’t go on and you hated yourself so so so so much that it was all you could do not to run and cry). When you see the pictures, later, you look huge. You hate yourself in every one.
You can’t detag pictures on a mantelpiece. You can’t remove your too-big, fat-fat-FAT body from your brother’s wedding.
You spend time online, with feminists, with other queers, reading. You learn about body positivity. You try to see fat on other people and find it beautiful. You still wince internally, sometimes. You hate yourself as you do it.
You try harder. You get better. (You forget, sometimes, that better isn’t the same as well.)
You learn to look at yourself from favoured angles, see only those perspectives. Images from another are jolting, stark, inexplicably ugly. They catch you by surprise and that is worse, the sudden tug of horror and revulsion clinging to too-much too-stretched skin.
You skim articles, arguments, realities; fat-is-not-a-dirty-word. You try to believe them. When your dinner weighs too heavy on your stomach you hide in the bathroom and refuse to throw up.
(It still feels worse when you don’t throw up)
You dye your hair bright colours, dress to stand out. You smile at strangers and make acquaintances over coffee. You tell your new boss in an interview that you want to disappear. You wonder why that’s still — still? — the case.
You read a book about a girl with an eating disorder. Your breath catches and races and you take an extra anti-depressant, play guitar for an hour, cry and try not to panic. Dozy monsters stir beneath your skin, claw at the inside of your throat. You don’t know how to coax them back to sleep.
(You remember counsellors telling you that eating disorders are a selfish disease. You write a blog post about your feelings.)