This week we are talking about body image. Today’s story is one that, we suspect, is more common than we’re aware of. The story is being presented, not in our usual interview format, but as freely written by an incredibly strong and willing guest writer, Grace. We are grateful for her willingness to share her story with all of you in hopes that it will help even one person out there that may be suffering from poor body image and anorexia (or PTSD). If you know someone that may benefit from reading her story, please share it. Thanks for reading.
“I was never a particularly “skinny” child. Adults often described me as “chubby.” My own father, who called me “Gracie Cakes,” even sang a song to me that included the line: “You have the chubbiest little Gracie Cakes.” In my very early childhood, I, of course, did not mind this, for it evoked that I was a cute kid. Throughout my time in preschool, I felt incredibly confident regarding myself as a person and my appearance. I had plenty of friends, who always greeted me as soon as I was dropped off by my father on his way to work. I often did not even wish to leave preschool at the end of the day, because I enjoyed it so much. Everything seemed so wonderful; I felt as if nothing could crush my world. However, that idea quickly flew out the window, with my self-esteem, once I started elementary school.
I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten to fifth grade, and was treated incredibly poorly by my classmates because I was different. Unlike a majority of the girls in my class, I had my hair cut into a short bob and wore khaki pants instead of the standard jumper as well as a sweater vest. This made me a walking target. I was labeled a “boy” by many, which I found to be very demeaning seeing as that was not the gender with which I identified. To add to this, I was not “skinny” like most of my female classmates. Many of the other girls who disliked/hated me would tell me to my face that I was “fat,” particularly one girl who I believed to be my best friend from second to sixth grade. I felt absolutely ashamed of my body by third grade, because I was essentially told I was “fat” by this girl every single day. Whenever we played with our Bratz dolls at her house, she would make comments about how my body should be more like those of the dolls. I often drew images of myself with the body of one of these dolls, which certainly disturbs me today, for these dolls are absolutely not bodies that any woman could realistically aspire to have. I truly believe that the drawings I was creating at the time showed how warped my body image was. I literally wanted nothing more than to have the body of a Bratz doll, so that I could be, what I believed, was society’s definition of “beautiful.” It also didn’t help that my pediatrician told me that I needed to “be more active” and to “not gain any more weight.” Mind you, I was running around outside for at least four hours nearly every day with my neighborhood pals, Nick and Brandon, after school. We literally spent at least five days a week together outside from the time I was in kindergarten to when I was in sixth grade. I recall my orthopedist going so far as to say that I was an “overly active” child, because I spent so much time in his office for sports injuries.
By fourth grade, my “best friend” had transferred to another elementary school, so I did not see her on a regular basis anymore. However, my body image was quite poor by this time. I recall seeing dieting commercials appear on television while watching my cartoons, and I believed that these commercials were “talking to me.” At the age of nine or ten, I had contemplated attempting the South Beach Diet, Slim Fast, Lean Cuisine, and Jenny Craig. A NINE- OR TEN-YEAR-OLD CHILD CONTEMPLATED DIETING. It was not long before I quit eating breakfast altogether and ate nothing but peanut butter crackers for lunch. I often was asked by my lunch mother why I did not have a sandwich to eat and I would answer, “I’m on a diet.”
Soon, my parents acquired an exercise bike, which I rode for about forty-five minutes nearly every day after school while listening to my SpongeBob Squarepants record. I then purchased yoga equipment as well as a DVD and practiced yoga on a regular basis. When that was not helping me to lose weight, I bought an exercise ball and performed all sorts of strange aerobic exercises with it in the basement of my house. In fifth grade, I remember my mother walking into the basement to do laundry and she asked me why I was exercising so much. She asked this question rather often, and I always gave the same answer, “Because I’m fat.”
In sixth grade, I transferred to a new school. While there, I was bullied immensely, so I was often too busy worrying about fitting in and making friends to worry about my weight. My food intake actually increased in sixth grade so much that I gained eight pounds, and I somewhat came to terms with my body image. Unfortunately, one day in December 2006, my “best friend” from my previous school (the one who called me “fat” every day) asked me to go to the mall with her. I was initially hesitant, for I feared what she would have to say about my appearance. However, I thought, “Maybe she’s changed…” I was dead wrong. At one point, we ran through the aisles of FYE together, pretending to be spies, when she said, “You run pretty fast for a fat person!” Because of that one sentence, any ounce of self-esteem I had left, dissipated. Because of that one sentence, I felt nothing but complete and utter shame whenever I looked at myself in the mirror. I hated my face. I hated my stomach. I hated my thighs. I hated my arms. I hated my butt. I hated my lack of a chest. I hated everything about my body.
In the summer of 2007, Nickelodeon began hosting a campaign called the “Let’s Just Play Go Healthy Challenge,” which essentially encouraged and taught overweight children how to become active and to lose the weight. I, perceiving myself as an “overweight” child, watched every tutorial on how to live a “healthy” lifestyle shown. From this campaign, I learned how to be active nearly 24/7, how to count calories, and how to weigh myself on a scale. To most, this would not be considered a “dangerous” thing. However, this campaign literally fed me the tools I “needed” to lose the immense amount of weight that I wished to lose. During the summer, I rode my bike eight miles every day. I purposely wore a hoodie in 90-degree weather to “sweat off the weight.” I still refused to eat breakfast. I ate virtually nothing that consisted of more than 150 calories. I perceived eating anything consisting of 180 calories a death wish. Within three months, I lost approximately 20 pounds, and only continued to lose weight during seventh grade, for I never felt like I was “skinny enough.” By the end of seventh grade, I was down to 100 pounds. Mind you, my height was 5’ 4”. I was severely underweight at this point, and my pediatrician became suspicious of my having an eating disorder. I denied all of her claims though; I genuinely did not believe that I had a problem. I simply believed that the way I was living was the way all “skinny” people lived. My parents even defended me, saying that they saw me eat; therefore, I did not have an eating disorder.
Throughout middle school and high school, I continued my obsessive dieting and engaged in a number of rituals. After each meal, I would run up to my parents’ bedroom, remove the scale from underneath their bed, check to make sure that nobody was around to see me weigh myself, take the scale into a bathroom, place it on a very specific part of the floor that I was sure was 100% flat, strip off every single article of clothing on my body including my socks, carefully step on the scale, and await my number with my heart racing. I would then step on and off the scale at least six times to ensure that the weight I read was accurate. If I found that I gained more than half of a pound, I would fling into a state of panic, get dressed, and rush out of the house to go for a three-mile-long power walk to burn the fat. I would even walk in rain or snow. I would do anything to maintain my “ideal” weight. I specifically recall promising myself that my weight would never surpass 112 pounds, regardless of how old I got…despite the fact that even 112 pounds is considered “underweight” for a woman of my height, in the eyes of most physicians.
In eleventh grade, I at last began to realize that I had a problem when I learned about an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa in my AP Psychology class. My textbook characterized anorexia nervosa (aka “anorexia”) as an emotional disorder that entailed refusing to eat due to an obsessive desire to lose weight. We watched several films that looked at the lives of those with anorexia, and I did see parallels between the victims’ lives and my own. However, I still was a tad in denial about my issue, for the cases shown in the films were extremely severe and I often said, “Oh, I’m not that bad. I only starve myself for a day or three, not 36 days. I’m okay.”
It was not until I entered a psychiatric hospital for two weeks in late June 2013 to be treated for suicidal thoughts and major depression that I was at last diagnosed with anorexia. While in the hospital, I was prescribed Prozac and Zyprexa (a mood stabilizer) to treat my depression from which I had been suffering for at least five years. Unfortunately, I was not aware at the time of the possible side-effects of taking these medications. After having normal eating habits instilled within me by therapists and being discharged, I began to gain weight quickly. Within one month of leaving the hospital, I gained 10 pounds and no longer was a size 3 due to my metabolism being slowed by Zyprexa (and also probably due to the fact that my metabolism was already messed up as a result of starving myself for over five years). I recall crying after discovering the weight gain; it was such a devastating feeling to know that I was gaining weight, for I did not realize that it was part of recovery. I felt like a complete failure, like my body would never be “acceptable” to the world (when, in reality, it was simply not acceptable to my eating disorder).
In September 2013, I began attending college, which was an incredibly stressful experience. I struggled to cope with the massive workload as well as with my mental illness. I soon met and began dating a boy in my class who was emotionally and sexually abusive. He was severely manipulative to the point that I shut out all of my friends and only ever spent my free time with him. I lost my virginity to him raping me, and remained with him until he finally threw me away in March 2014. I was completely devastated; I felt as if my entire world crumbled. I felt as if I had no control over my life, and, in turn, starved myself to control my body, to control something.
***SIDENOTE FROM ONE UNIFIED: For better understanding, we asked how or why she didn’t initially realize she was raped or why she didn’t report it right away. Here is her reply:
“I honestly didn’t realize it was rape initially, which is why I stayed with him after the fact. It didn’t happen like it does in the movies, y’know? I didn’t fight. There wasn’t this great struggle between us or anything. He just held me down and I fell into a state of shock. I didn’t really know what was happening and it just happened. Plus, I was in love with him, and wanted to stay with him more than anything. That’s the unfortunate thing about abuse. Love surpasses it. He went on to rape me two more times and sexually abuse me in other ways throughout the six months we were together.”
My eating disorder, who I began calling ‘Ana’ to separate her from myself, often mocked me by saying, “He broke up with you because you’re fat. Remember when he said, ‘I don’t date fat girls’? You clearly got fat and he doesn’t want you anymore”. This went on for approximately three weeks. I felt depressed for the remainder of the spring semester; however, I began to gain friends once again and support from my peers, so I soon resumed my recovery from anorexia.
Unfortunately, in May 2014, I was triggered by my “best friend” from college. We were hanging out at the mall, and decided to try on a variety of clothing in Charlotte Russe. At one point, I tried on a crop top that my friend handed me, and she said, “I don’t think you can wear crop tops. Your stomach curves out too much. You need a really flat stomach to wear those.” Once again, my self-esteem collapsed. The voice of Ana whispered in my ear, If your friend says you’re fat, then it must be true. As a result, I starved myself for over a month. I ate the bare minimum to survive, and exercised excessively. I became addicted to the number on the scale once again, and quickly shed 10 pounds within three weeks. It was not long until I experienced a mental breakdown and decided that I needed to “get my shit together.”
With the help of my outpatient therapist, I began talking back to “Ana” and saying no whenever she told me to harm my body in any way. I soon began dressing in ways that Ana had never allowed me to dress—in ways that showed off my body. I began wearing crop tops, and form-fitting clothing. I bought and rocked my first bikini. I simply wore whatever I wished on a given day and told Ana to shut up if she ever had a problem with it. She often threw temper tantrums, for my newfound confidence caused me to pay less attention to her. It had to be done though. I could no longer live at her mercy. I even began “freelance modeling” to encourage myself to embrace both my own internal and external beauty. I vocalized my progress on my Facebook page, and very quickly began trying to educate others about the perils of eating disorders and poor body image. It felt wonderful to develop such a strong and large support system, a majority of which still supports me today.
In September 2014, I began my sophomore year at my university: The Year from Hell. During the 2014-2015 academic year, I came to terms with the fact that I was sexually and emotionally abused by my ex-boyfriend. I had been suspicious of this for months, but I first made the complete realization in October 2014, which completely destroyed my mental health. I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), particularly nightmares, panic attacks, and intrusive memories. In December 2014, I reported my rapist to my university and a mediocre investigation began by the school. Throughout this four-month-long investigation (which should have only lasted 60 days or less), I was verbally abused by the university’s police, particularly my own investigators, and felt highly threatened by both the university as well as my rapist and his supporters. I feared to travel about campus alone. I experienced shaking spells on a regular basis due to severe anxiety. I would endure weeks of insomnia. I felt my life spiral completely out of control, and, instead of starving myself to cope, I jumped to the next extreme of anorexia: I binged. I drowned my horrible feelings of hopelessness and self-blame in copious amounts of potato chips and fast food. By the end of the academic year, I gained thirty pounds. My rapist was never found guilty for his actions, which still hurts me to this day.
I am currently still struggling to find my way to a healthy lifestyle. My PTSD has been horrendous ever since the conclusion of the 2014-2015 academic year, and I was triggered by the immense stress of this as well as the words of several people close to me in May and June 2015. I am currently recovering from starving myself for two months straight and am seeking treatment for my eating disorder; however, things appear rather bleak for me at this time. Nonetheless, I have come a long way from my 12-year-old self, and do feel rather body positive. I often tell myself that I have the body of Venus and I constantly receive compliments from friends and partners about my physique. I am in no way attempting to lose weight anymore; that desire has entirely left my mind. I simply wish to gain a feeling of control, which, at the root of it all, is what all eating disorders are truly about. Very few people who suffer from eating disorders, in my opinion, truly care about their outward appearance. They just wish to know what it feels like to be able to control something, because they themselves do not know what that feels like.
At the end of the day, I know that I am beautiful inside and out; I am content with myself. I am simply not content with the world around me, for it is the biggest trigger I know. To cope, I aspire to change it, one life at a time. Education is the best cure for any world problem and I aim to utilize this as a tool to save the lives of many others suffering like I have suffered. Everyone on this planet struggles with self-esteem issues. Everyone. We all feel the same pain, some simply feel it more deeply. At the end of the day, none of us are alone. We all hurt together, and it is important that we all work together to help one another cope.”