This was really hard for me to write.
2003. I’m standing in front of the mirror. There’s a sliver of light between my thighs, and I think, “Oh, thank god.” I briefly contemplate going into the bathroom, because I have just eaten carbs, and meat, and cheese and I’m so full I look pregnant, and even though my friend and I laughingly show one another our “food babies,” my heart is screaming, you should be ashamed.
For many of us, we develop these isolating and deep-seated feelings of self-hatred and shame during our formative years. Between the ages of 12-25, I was hit particularly hard. Many of us were. The internet contributed in a big way (think Ana blogs, for example) but so did other people.
People? I’m not talking about the media or advertisers here. I’m talking about the people who love us. They usually don’t know just how deeply they are hurting you while they’re actually hurting you.
I went into foster care during my sophomore year of high school. My mother had shrunken herself down to bones. She was a drug abuser who hadn’t meant to teach me to hate myself, but this was invariably the message I’d heard. If you don’t care, why should I?
Later, my foster mother, a radiant, theatrical redhead took my Sicilian face in her hands and said, “We’re going to lighten your hair. And let’s fix those eyebrows.” I let her. For $200 I walked out of a Midtown salon with light brown hair. I was a new, beautiful girl!
And then my boyfriend said, “If you don’t change, I’ll leave you.” He wanted me to work out. He wanted me to be big, and buff, and strong. He liked that kind of body-not my kind of body. And because I loved him and needed him, I needed him to want me, too.
Because then I wouldn’t be alone. You see, if it’s not one thing, it’s the next. We can’t survive like this, because if we fold every time we’re attacked, we’ll never get out of this alive. Sometimes life is a Sisyphean task.
He bought me a gym membership for my birthday (yes, you can get angry here) and I went four (four!) times a week, lifting weights and doing 100 crunches and flexing in the mirror. It worked: I hated my body. I hated him. And I hated myself. I was only 17. I could have spent those hours at home writing, or with friends, or doing things that made me happy.
2007. I’m walking in leopard heels to my new internship. I hadn’t learned yet how to walk confidently, so I’m wobbling a little. I’m faking sexy. And when I’m not faking sexy, and just existing, because for a second it all gets too exhausting, I can feel myself. I am not concerned with how I look. I am concerned with this rare, splendid feeling: happiness. Groundedness. Me.
It is a rare moment that feels like a window opening.
When the moment breaks, I am standing outside of a building on Astor place, and there are beautiful women everywhere. I take notice, memorizing the way their bodies move, how they look when they smoked cigarettes outside, the way their legs fold smoothly like sheets of paper.
I felt crude, awkward and intrusive. I was no model, nothing special. And when I walked into the room, I felt my eyes apologize. I’m sorry, it’s only me.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 24 million people–of all ages–suffer from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. This is in the United States of America alone.
Sometime that year, I stood over the toilet. I remember exactly what I was wearing: those stupid Victoria Secrets yoga pants that everyone loved. A sports bra. I sucked in so that when I looked down, there was no belly. And then I stared in the mirror for as long as I could, as if I were trying to solve a complex puzzle that had absolutely no possible solution. Hips too high. Waist not small enough. Hair too dark. Skin too puffy. Legs touching. Fat arms.
This was me. 140 pounds of normal, beautiful, healthy, real and enough.
I buried those feelings for years. In fact, I learned to internalize them so deeply that my friends turned to me as “the one with advice.” I had morphed my fear and hatred into some feigned disconnect. I was “above it.”
In an attempt to “take a stand,” I quit my internship at Cosmo!Girl Magazine (you know, that fancy, glamorous unpaid job at the Hearst Towers) after they left me and a friend out of an intern photo spread. As if I hadn’t noticed most of the girls chosen were extremely slim.
After they held editorial meetings boasting post-photoshoot “touch-ups” that included adding weight to models instead of booking models that didn’t need retouching. After I decided I was sick of representing the very industry that “gave me” the complexes from which I was suffering.
Years later, I admit that while leaving Cosmo!Girl was probably good for me (I wasn’t happy with the message the magazine was sending in general, beyond weight), I should have resolved my body image problems in more constructive ways. I didn’t need to kill opportunities in my righteous crusade. I needed to focus on healing instead of blaming.
I believe that my friends saw strength in this move. And as well they should; I was a brilliant liar. If only they’d seen all my tears. When I said, “I hate the fashion industry,” and when I refused to join in on collective America’s Next Top Model viewings, everyone simply thought I was standing my ground.
What they didn’t know was that the disease was growing inside me–self-hatred–and that I breeding outward hatred, resentfulness and anger. I wasn’t going to fight my own demons by quitting jobs. I felt jealousy, envy and isolation every single day. Every. Single. Day. I needed to work on myself, in whatever real ways it required.
While I never developed an eating disorder or attempted suicide, I will tell you that what I did to myself was agonizing. I became accomplishment-obsessed in order to prove my worth. I used sex–lots of sex–to bolster the flimsy and pathetic thing that was my self-esteem. I had no idea what sexuality actually was beyond simply fucking.
I dressed up and drank and took a thousand smiling, dancing photographs. Every award, publication, photograph, accomplishment, outfit, lover, sexual escapade–nothing, not one single, solitary thing, mattered or changed. If anything, it all made it worse.
When I stood naked and alone and quiet at the end of the day, Facebook blinking with friends and literary acceptances and photos from last night, the me that was my profile–or the me that everyone thought they knew–wasn’t me at all. It was some alien. It was a shell.
It was the child me hurting inside an adult body.
When I tell you that between the ages of 20 and 25 I was possessed by the Devil, you won’t believe me. But that’s what it felt like, like I had something inside me scratching and clawing, roaring, fighting, destroying, lying, manipulating, hating and killing everything around me. I seriously hurt people. I seriously hurt myself.
One night I came home. I had broken my Christmas tree into a million pieces. I smashed every glass in the kitchen. I was fuming, breathless, angry, screaming. Why? Because I had convinced myself that my then-partner had thought another girl pretty. She was smart! And even worse, she was nice! She was whole! She was a good person.
He stood there, bleeding, glass in his feet, looking at me, face contorted by an unforgettable blend of pity, compassion and disgust. So instead of apologizing I blamed him.
That year, I got sick. I developed an auto-immune disorder and ended up hospitalized so many times that needles and x-rays became no big deal at all.
This was my body. My body. My only body. My one. My horse, my hound. It was as if it said, “So you think I’m broken? I’ll show you broken.”
Now, I tell you this not to recall my darkest moments. We’ve all had them to varying degrees.
I tell you this because someone may have died when you were younger. Someone may have left you. Someone may have cheated. Someone may have told you that you were ugly, you were fat, you were stupid, you were bad, you were worthless, you were broken. Someone may have never came back. Someone may have used you. Someone may have told you to lose weight. Someone may have told you to gain weight. Someone may have told you to fix yourself.
I am here to tell you that you don’t, you aren’t, you shouldn’t, and that only you know your true worth. I am here to tell you that it may take years, but the secret is the same for anyone with an addiction: one day at a time.
Because, in many ways, we don’t know that we are addicted to the feeling of being broken, or being sad. These feelings are native, comfortable, dependable and consistent. I get it. Like, any drug, however, they cover up the real you.
You know! The beautiful, awesome, smart, magical, inspiring you.
I can list the ways I healed, but it’ll be different for you. For me, it all started with recognizing the thoughts. I look ugly. My nose is too big. That girl looks too skinny. I am not smart enough. I am not good enough. Why doesn’t he like me? No one can actually love me.
It started with a diary. And I wrote a lot of bad, bad, bad poetry. It started with stopping myself from judging my body against others’. . It started with stopping the objectification of others. It started with saying, “my baby, let me love you.” I rerouted.
And I’m human so it did not always work. It does not always work. That’s alright. Progress, by its very definition, doesn’t manifest overnight.
Do you treat your friends like they are an ugly, stupid, worthless, empty, broken or bad thing? No. Treat yourself like a friend. In the end, it is you and it is the world. By starving, shrinking, depleting, hating and blaming yourself, you take yourself out of the world you so desperately just want to be a part of, right?
That’s all you want: to be OK, to be acceptable, to be good enough, to be wanted, to be happy.
I am here to tell that you are. All you have to do is say bow down, bitch, to those thoughts.
So much of the world is run on the economy of perceived worth; things and beauty and colors and sizes and items and attention are all meant to relate to ideas that make us feel whole, beautiful and coveted.
But these things don’t make you anything. What really matters is the investment in good friendships, honesty, self-love and growth.
My journey has only just begun, but I hope that at the end of my life, and that at the end of yours, we can both say, “I am happy.” I believe that true happiness only concerns itself with one thing: love. Of the self. Of others. Of our time on earth.
Love is just fucking not on the other end of the mirror, and it’s not in hating others for what they have or don’t have. It’s as simple as saying, “Here’s my mind. Here’s my body. I am alive. I am as good as it gets,” and really believing it.
Anything else is a construction that doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Why would you live your life by that?