The following passage is about my descent into anorexia at age fourteen, excerpted from my memoir, One Breath, Then Another. One of my primary goals with this book is to inspire and empower young women to realize that their voices matter, nothing is insurmountable and one’s own mind is often the biggest obstacle to one’s happiness. The memoir is about getting out of our own ways and supporting each other so we can all make the most of the time we have.
By contributing writer, Amanda Miller
Walking across the quad at lunch, watching the various group interactions with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I craved a way to stand out, excel, to prove I was talented, prove I was loveable.
I soon discovered what would bring the attention.
“Oh my god, you’re like, so skinny. Do you, like, eat or whatever?” girls in the locker room started saying, staring at me while we suited up for Phys Ed.
“Yes,” I said self-consciously. And I was eating. I had always been thin, inhabiting a particularly skinny pair of legs. My thighs never touched and my lower legs and ankles were especially bony. At five foot four inches I weighed ninety-five pounds. But until high school when weight became every girl’s obsession, no one had commented on my physique. Suddenly hearing “You’re so skinny,” over and over began to have a strangely intoxicating effect: it was tinged with praise and jealousy. Desperate for friends, I thought, I know, I’ll get even skinnier. Then I’ll get more praise, more jealousy, and maybe then people will love me. I stopped eating to see if anyone would notice, to give myself a purpose, to punish myself for feeling and wanting so much. I told myself I was worthless and didn’t deserve food until someone told me otherwise.
To motivate myself, I spent my nights compulsively making collages of emaciated women in magazines, primarily fromVogue. Sometimes I cut out the whole woman in whatever skimpy outfit she was wearing, her collarbones like handlebars. Other times, I just cut out a part of the woman, say the lips, coated in vamp red lipstick. Or the eye: blue or green or brown with heavy strokes of color above and below, like circus face paint. Sometimes the whole head: powder white skin and frizzy teased hair, hair like my mother’s. She brushed out her Jewish red hair until it was huge. My father always told her to straighten it, thin it. ButVogue’s women made hair like that sexy. They could wear a giant trash bag over their fleshless rib cages, flared out hips, knobby knees, slap on some stilettos and people would muse over this provocative image of high fashion. Of all the magazines, I was most intrigued by Vogue where the models were most skeletal, the fashion strangest, the pictures promoting a depressed heroin-chic woman. I cut out legs, torsos, feet, arms, hands, noses, eyes, heads, lips, whole bodies, layering them on top of each other until I’d plastered a Picasso like arrangement across my entire ceiling. Staring at it from my bed as I wriggled my way into sleep night after night, I vowed to follow these women’s lead.
I ate nothing for breakfast and two small apples for lunch. Two small ones were more psychologically soothing than one big one because I could drag the experience out longer. I would think about these apples all through my first four periods. At lunch, I took tiny bites, savoring each one, eating every bit of the apple until it was just core and two thin strings from top to bottom. I would suck on the core until I was sure I’d extracted every last bit of flavor. Then off to fifth period where it was time to daydream about the next thing: one nonfat Yoplait yogurt when I got home from school. This was my only chance for flavor variety as I had strawberry, apricot, mango, banana. What will it be today? I’d salivate thinking about it, body whining. I told my body to shut up; it was weak, I was stronger. I would win. When I finally got home to the yogurt, first I licked the lid. I collected small dabs at the edge of my spoon, which I sucked hard, savoring for as long as possible, one teensy bite after another until I reached the bottom of the plastic container. I scraped the bottom with the spoon and licked it long after all had been consumed, spooning empty air, sucking with all my might. Then I weighed myself. I congratulated myself as the pounds fell off: ninety, eighty-five, eighty. I beamed with pride at my discipline. I’d step off the scale and head to my room to do homework and wait for dinner. When I wasn’t eating, I was chewing Extra peppermint gum, usually a new piece every hour. My jaw always ached.
What a prison I was in! My mind was consumed with thoughts of calories and maintaining a bony physique, so there was little room for anything else. Thank goodness I now have the mental space to be creative and to think about others. And now I eat what I want, my belly is not flat and my hips are, well, hippy.
“Based on current information, a woman must have a minimum percent body fat of 13-17% for regular menstruation. If a woman’s percent body fat is too low, her periods may stop and she may experience infertility. Her menstrual irregularities may also compromise the health of her bones, normal hormonal function is necessary for bone health.” (http://www.shapeup.org/bfl/basics1.html)
I am so lucky and grateful that I was able to recover from anorexia. So many women who fall prey to this disorder as teens struggle with it their whole lives. If you know a teenage girl, hug her and tell her she is beautiful the way she is and she is loved. We adult women have to role model being passionate individuals and kind human beings first and foremost. The shape of our bodies has nothing to do with this.
Tagged as: Amanda Miller. love your rebellion. eating disorders. ED. anorexia. body acceptance. contributors.
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