When it comes to body image, I think most people have a distorted perception of their own body. If I were to ask someone right now to go get some fries or a burger with me, most people would think this through; they would want to know whether or not they ate enough or worked out enough that day to justify that meal.
On a campus where everyone is so conscious about their bodies, it has gotten to the point where you can look at a girl and physically see when she has cracked under the pressure of every hard class she thought she could handle, but couldn’t.
It pains me to see a girl only eat lettuce because she is so scared to gain weight when she is only skin and bones. Perhaps that girl thinks that because she cannot control the outcome of everything in her life, she can control her weight, giving her a sense of superiority over at least one thing. When I see these girls around campus, at Yates or at Leo’s, looking miserable and emaciated, it hurts because they are clearly unhappy.
For a period in my life, I was one of them.
In 11th grade, I was going through a rough patch. One of my best friends was anorexic and bulimic, and as everyone exerted themselves trying to help her, the experience ended up rubbing off on me much more than I’d expected.
I was athletic in middle school and high school, playing tennis three times a week for three hours each, swimming three times a week for an hour each time and playing volleyball two hours once a week. I used to be so proud of my body’s toned, athletic figure, but after seeing my best friend go through her own struggles, it finally started to take a mental and physical toll on me.
I remember waking up one day and suddenly hating my body, when before it had stood as a testament to my hard work. I do not know what happened, but slowly I became overinvested in how I looked. When my grades were not how I wanted them to be, I started getting harsher on myself by cutting out more and more food.
It got to the point where I shut out all my friends and pushed them away because I hated any sign of affection. I rejected my parents and little sister because I felt as though they were giving me too much love and I absolutely hated that. Looking back, the thing I regret the most is how I treated my family.
That year, I focused on only two things: my weight and my grades. Winter of 11th grade, I was progressively getting worse — I got to about 80 pounds and no longer had my period. I honestly hated everything about myself: I was always cold, everything that touched me hurt me and I was so tired of being the way I was and hating the way I looked.
I was miserable and all I wanted was to stop worrying about something I perceived to be so stupid and just be happy instead.
My parents took me to the doctor, and he said if I continued down the path I was on, I would not make it to the end of the year.
I had never seen my dad cry, but he did that day. I have always wanted to make my dad proud; he was the only person I cared about in the state that I was in and I hated myself for making him cry. That was the moment that hit me, where I knew I had to pull myself together and try to get through this terrible state of mind.
I tried so hard to start gaining weight, but it was still hard for me to accept the fact that the number on the scale kept going up. For someone with an eating disorder, it meant failure. I pushed myself not to think that way anymore, so I started eating a lot more and talking to my friends again after having pushed them all away.
June of that year, my parents thought it would be best if they sent me to a pre-university program at Vanderbilt University for six weeks. The space was good for all of us, even though at that point we all had no idea if I would get better or worse.
My third day there, I was sitting in the computer lab working on a project, and one of the most beautiful guys I had ever seen was staring at me. I remember feeling ashamed of my gross appearance, and so my first reaction was to get up and change computers.
He followed me, which actually terrified me because I was not used to a guy talking to me at all. He surprised me further by coming up to me and saying “Why are you doing this to yourself? You are so pretty and should smile more.”
I could never understand why he did this, but he made it his goal to help me recover during our six weeks together. We spent nearly every waking moment together and our conversations deepened, to the point where I found out that he was suicidal.
I know most people would think that this duo of a suicidal boy and an anorexic girl was never going to make it, but together, we beat the odds. After spending two weeks with him constantly monitoring my food intake, and him sharing his own problems with me in conversations that stretched into the early morning, we not only became best friends, but we both realized that we were really happy for the first time in a while.
At that moment, I knew I had the strength to overcome my anorexia and that all I’d needed was someone who understood the feelings of wanting to recover and could give me that one last push.
Those were the six weeks that turned my life around, and we still remain best friends today. We both applied early decision to the same school, and even though we both did not get in, we still talk every day.
He tells me he is happy, and that he has never relapsed into the mindset he was in before our summer together.
As for me, I may have stumbled and fallen for a time, but just like in all the sports I’ve played, the game was not yet over — in fact, it had just begun. I now know I am strong enough to overcome the worst of situations. If I let my weight control my mind, I would miss out on so much. Life has a funny way of pushing you past your limits, only to help you realize that those limits were higher than you’d ever imagined.
Going through something like this puts everything in perspective. Things like getting your heart crushed by the guy you like become so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, because you have gone through much worse in your life and have been able to bounce back.
I am not saying that I am invincible, because I am far from that. But I don’t cry over my small misfortunes anymore, because I believe everything happens for a reason. Honestly, it sucks when you are going through something that makes you so uncontrollably miserable, but you will come out on the other side having gained immeasurable wisdom.
I wish there was a way to tell girls that when Kate Moss said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” that was probably the biggest lie on the entire planet. Being happy is incomparably better than being unhealthily skinny and miserable any day.
Nothing truly gets easier, but you just learn to better deal with anything thrown your way and to take your struggles in stride. For once things are not foggy for me — having finally accepted my body, I have never felt happier or more complete.