My Body, Myself

When I was 18 years old, I suffered from a mild eating disorder. I put my body through hell in an attempt to stay thin. I lived on diet coke, menthol cigarettes and diet pills. The year before I had almost died of a blood disorder and lost 20 pounds in two weeks. When people told me how gaunt and sallow I looked, in my distorted brain it was a compliment.

I fought long and hard to not gain any of it back. My hair was long, nearly to my ass, and my stomach concave. I had to starve myself, take those disgusting yellow jacket pills that declare war on your liver, make your mouth parched, and your chest quiver in order to do so. My family tends to be tall and thin, but the women are curvy, with rounded hips, big breasts and what could only be described as totally flat asses. We all have high set hips and are partial to a belly. I had to declare war against my actual body type (the cursed Apple Shape) to remain petite. The moment I began to fill out, I tried to suck it back. It worked, for a while. I thought I was the hottest thing since, well, whoever was hot at the time. All I had to do was give myself a permanent irregular heartbeat to achieve such an effect.

For a long time (even after I’d stopped starving myself) I was reluctant to admit that I’d had an ED. Simply because I didn’t feel like I had suffered in the same way that many women and men with EDs have. I was never hospitalized. I never got below 100 pounds. I kind of felt like a failure at the whole thing, and it was hard for me to admit that I still had disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy mindset. Instead, I criticized myself for even failing at an eating disorder.

I never thought of it until recently, but back when I was thinner, I rarely ever got hit on. Sure, there were the usual disgusting perverts, and the odd frat boy, but when it came to the type of people I was interested in; creative, intellectual, still thumping below the surface of their collar bone people, they were nowhere to be found.

I realize, much to my surprise, that I get hit on now far more than I ever did almost ten years ago.

I don’t believe it has anything to do with what I weighed then or what I weigh now. I think it has to do with a mindset, a certain amount of confidence, and being comfortable with who I am. Back then, I was a skulking mess of insecurity that could barely look people in the eye. I felt hopelessly inadequate, ugly, and completely out of control. Controlling my weight was my way of having some kind of say in who I was and how I wanted to present myself. But it didn’t work. People saw through the facade. Some may have found me beautiful, and I was – but there was one thing that far outweighed any physical beauty, and that was self-hatred.

That self-hatred carried on throughout my early twenties, long after the gangly teenager disappeared, as I entered an abusive relationship, cut myself off from everyone I loved and became a recluse. I started finding comfort in food, and I gained a good deal of weight. Suddenly it no longer mattered that I wasn’t thin. I kept myself at a distance and became a complete hermit. The only solace I found was in writing, and eating my feelings. In my new borderline agoraphobic life, all I cared about was my next meal. My partner and I bonded over late night snacks, going to cafes and shopping for groceries. Our relationship was so completely dysfunctional in every other aspect that eating together was the only time we enjoyed each other’s company. His weight grew until he was borderline obese, and I slowly began to crack under the pressure of my circumstances.

It is interesting how so many of us women, at some course in our lives, begin to fixate on food as a way to control our emotions. Whether we starve ourselves, binge, or somewhere in between, it becomes a means to control the uncontrollable.

What do I weigh? I have no idea. It fluctuates by about 20 pounds on a regular basis. I don’t diet, but I’ve taken steps to eliminate unhealthy components to my food as much as this poor girl can. I walk, hike, cycle and do yoga and lead a fairly active lifestyle. I keep it pretty healthy, except for my fixation with Wheat Thins, chocolate and good cheese. I have a love affair with soda I’ve been trying to do away with for years. I’m a vegetarian. The mere thought of a diet pill makes me want to barf. It took many years to get to this place, and believe me, I still struggle. I had to retrain myself not to look at food as an avenue out of sadness, but as fuel. After having a son via c-section I thought I’d never rise from the pit of self-pity and despair I felt when looking into a mirror. And yet somehow, two years later, I manage just fine. I had to teach myself not to value my self-worth on appearance or weight. I had to learn to shut out the naysayers and the peers who constantly harped on about their own hangups, looking for reassurance, so as not to be triggered by their insecurities.

Why the fixation with weight? With being perfect? Those women who are naturally skinny are beautiful and petite, but we can’t give them any more credit than they warrant – genes are their diet, not starvation. The women who deliberately abstain from food for want of a size 2, they aren’t the norm. We place unhealthy expectations on everyone when we insist that naturally thin women must be anorexic or obsessed with their weight. Not only do we undermine them, but we give ourselves unhealthy, unattainable goals.

Which brings me to a common mishap in the weight-obsessed world: it isn’t fair to say that “real women have curves.” It is a well-meaning slogan, but it certainly isn’t true. My size 0 friends would balk if I were to tell them they weren’t a “real woman” simply because they don’t have cushy hips and a sensuous butt. They are just as much a woman as I am. The fact that so many women embrace that slogan without realizing the hurt it causes to their petite peers is a prime example of how our society teaches us to pit ourselves against each other.

The opposite is also true. I’m tired of seeing fat-shaming everywhere I go. Tired of rarely seeing plus size models in magazines or anything above a size 16 in a department store. Shows like The Biggest Loser only make the media perception of fat people worse. We see them as incomplete human beings who are only deserving of love and compassion if they nearly kill themselves to lose weight. I had to delete a Facebook friend the other day. She was going on and on about how The Biggest Loser had inspired her to lose 20 pounds because, “I don’t want to look like them, EVER.” Her statement disgusted me. Her comment was littered with replies in the vein of, “Don’t lose sight of your motivation! Eyes on the prize!” By the way, in all the years I’ve known this girl, she’s been extremely fit and thin. All of her posts are fixated on eating, calorie counts, exercise and weight. It is maddening.

I finally was able to embrace my true self and stop the cycle of self-hatred by realizing how many countless hours I was exhausting in just being dissatisfied with myself. I realized what an utter waste it was. Because, one day, we will all be old and who wants to look back on their life and remember counting every calorie, down to the two calories in Tic Tacs, weighing yourself twice a day, and denying yourself things like birthday cake and home made lasagna?

I hate magazines that glorify women who look pale and sickly. I hate that it is more valued to be thin and have perfect tits and an ass you had to spend 7 days a week in the gym to achieve. Society values this over women who are creative, and spend their time dancing and having fun and cooking fantastic meals, who study and learn and appreciate their body. By the same measure I despise those who put down women who are naturally thin and insist they must be sick or anorexic. We are all different and unique. We come in different shapes, sizes and colors and they should all be embraced equally and never compared. Why is that so hard for so many of us to do?

I find women attractive. The kind of women I find attractive varies drastically. I’ve looked at both large women and extremely petite women with an approving eye. I like real girls who have dimples and freckles and blemishes, scars and lifelines and those everyday signs that they were out living life and making themselves happy. That’s what I like.

I own my curves. Sure, from time to time that deep-rooted self loathing returns, telling me I should exercise more, I should buy some Slim-Fast and lose a few pounds. But why? My body type tells me different. My husband tells me differently. Everywhere I look are signs that I should embrace who I am, love it even. And yet, for so many years, I ignored all of those signs and instead gave in to self-loathing.

It took me years and years, but I have embraced my “hotness,” and accepted the fact that I will never be pencil thin. Nor do I want to be. It’s so much more sexy to dress the way I want to dress, and be the person I want to be, knowing that the body I have serves me well without needing to be changed. That’s all I can ask of myself: to just be who I am.

I just hope that women everywhere can find that inner peace. It’s awesome.

8 replies on “My Body, Myself”

Great, article, thanks for sharing. I liked your points about non-curvy women; I often feel that anyone smaller than a size 10 is “not allowed” to worry or discuss weight concerns. I’m not yet ready to publicly ruminate on my own disordered eating, but this article is a step in the right direction.

I’ve really wanted to read Portia de Rossi’s “Unbearable Lightness” but think it might be too triggering to me. Has anyone read it?


I was anorexic for most of my teens, and resisted any sort of treatment until after I graduated from college. I am about six feet tall, and at my lowest weighed 85 pounds.

To this day, I maintain at below 110. It’s perverse, perhaps, but I like being angular, and I like the attenuated edge of my physique. I don’t want to be “hot” and I don’t like thinking of my body as material for the catcalls and fantasies of random men. I prefer, instead, the broadcasting of a certain unmistakable control. I associate thinness with a rarified, elegant, and elite beauty, and I guard my slenderness with care.

Still, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live comfortably within a softer, rounder, body, or to live without a subtle moderation of what I eat, and when. (These days I limit portions only, but nothing is offlimits–I live in New York and my last experience of Per Se’s tasting menu is still deliciously vivid on my tongue.) Sometimes I envy women who don’t seem to mind the occasional sexy wriggle, or who showcase their curves with relish.

I’m not sure I’ll experience that, though. For me, self-love is conditional, and feeds, oddly, discipline and pleasure alike. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. And at the same time–oh, the irony!–I realize that my self-sculpting is sculpture in service of something, and thus, somehow, not quite right.

Like some others have said, I can relate to parts of this post SO much – the line about criticizing yourself for having failed at an eating disorder actually made me tear up a bit because that’s exactly how I felt. And I still don’t call it an eating disorder, I always say “struggles with food and body image” or something like that – I’m completely aware that I do it and the reasons why, but I still do it. Have you read Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin? If not, you might find it really interesting; I read it while my struggles were at their worst and I could relate to it SO much it scared me.

And I really appreciated your paragraph about how problematic “real women have curves” is. Yes, real women do have curves. But real women also don’t have curves, or have small curves, and so on. Being a woman is not a certain kind of body. I will never be voluptuous and that’s fine, I like my little curves (though I hated it in high school). I very much appreciate the need for a wider range of bodies to be represented (and be represented in a positive way) in the media, but denigrating one kind of body isn’t the way to do that and it drives me up the wall when people do.

“For a long time (even after I’d stopped starving myself) I was reluctant to admit that I’d had an ED. Simply because I didn’t feel like I had suffered in the same way that many women and men with EDs have. I was never hospitalized. I never got below 100 pounds. I kind of felt like a failure at the whole thing, and it was hard for me to admit that I still had disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy mindset. Instead, I criticized myself for even failing at an eating disorder.”

This passage could have been lifted word-for-word from my own experience. For a long time after “recovering” (I use the parentheses only because I believe people live with their eating disorders forever – not that everyone will relapse, but that it is always a part of you) from my own eating disorder, I felt like a failure on two accounts. I felt like I failed at my eating disorder, and that I failed at my recovery. It was almost scarier facing those feelings than the actual damage I had done to my physical self.

Like you, a huge part of shifting my view of myself has come from observing other women. Realizing the vast range of women whom I love, admire, and think are beautiful has certainly helped me begin to see those same attributes inside myself. Thank you for sharing your story, Teri.

No, I’m pretty sure she stole that passage from me. The only difference is that I’ve always used the phrase “I flirted with an eating disorder, we were never properly introduced” to sort of mitigate how serious it was for me. When I was reading the article, I kept thinking how this didn’t sound very “mild,” and it occurred to me that if I wrote down my old habits, I’d probably sound like EDs and I were full on running bases. I’m about five years recovered, although I still have disordered thoughts. . . The other hard part is that I am currently trying to lose weight, not the weight-of-a-tween I dropped in high school, but about a pants size, largely vanity based and so I don’t have to replace my wardrobe. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to not resort to my disordered habits.

That’s exactly the position I’m in! I’ve gained about a pants size’s worth of weight since starting grad school and would like to lose it but have been having trouble because I never knew how to lose weight in a healthy way – I mean, I know in theory, but I’ve never done it.

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