In the fifth grade my classmates and I were all forced to line up and weigh ourselves in front of each other. The point of the lesson had been to teach us how to use one of those old fashioned sliding scales. This simple exercise in antiquated technology turned into one of the most humiliating incidents of my life. I was the only one who weighed over one hundred pounds (one hundred and four pounds to be precise). That day after school I sat on the end of my little bunk bed, my shame feeling like it weighed another one hundred pounds. Sobbing, I remember saying those words out loud for the first time, "I just want to normal, I just want to be thin!"
As a child, I knew there was something wrong with me, something I had not learned the word for yet.
I ate when I was not hungry. I stole food from stores. I ate until my stomach was bulging and I thought I would puke, and then I ate more. I began to notice other weird things about myself. None of my classmates seemed to take the threat of nuclear war or the destruction of the rainforest as seriously as I did. Sometimes I would wake up and feel like the world was ending or I had no friends. My parents tried to take me to therapy, but I did not know how to explain to someone that eating was the only thing that made me happy.
In high school I would skip classes so I could go to multiple lunches and sneak out to fast food restaurants. I also spent more and more time in my room and started shoplifting other things, when the thrill of bingeing was not enough. As I entered adulthood weighing over two hundred and twenty pounds, I began to believe my weight was the cause and not a symptom of my depression. I had seen newly skinny weight loss show contestants talk about how much they loved themselves. Weight loss was the first sign a female celebrity was getting her shit together. Every popular, happy girl that was called beautiful was also thin. I really believed losing weight would transform me into someone people liked because I liked myself.
I started out slowly. I exercised, walked, and read food labels to disgust myself into not eating my favorite junk foods. I lost a few pounds and people took notice. I got compliments from the same relatives who used to poke my love handles. When I graduated from afternoon walks to afternoon runs, strangers would yell encouragement from their porches, but I still experienced unexplained moments of sadness.
When I lost twenty pounds, my mother took me shopping to buy new clothes. This was a moment every fat person looks forward to: a chance to shop without tears or going to multiple stores and leaving fitting rooms disappointed and empty-handed. The whole time, all I felt was guilt. That morning my brain told me I was a fraud, that I would just get fat again, and that all of this was a waste of time and money. Joyless, I bought one outfit and went home to run until my legs were throbbing.
It is hard for me to explain how I could achieve something so many people dream about, yet still feel like shit about myself, but I think part of the problem is that women are taught to derive their self esteem from others. When I made it to one hundred and sixty pounds, men started to notice me. Initially I was thrilled, but now that I was working hard to stay thin, it actually hurt more when I was rejected. People will make comments about your body regardless of your size. A year and half of diet and exercise only earned me jokes about needing to eat a sandwich. My depression insured I focused on these negative things to fuel my self-loathing. I started smoking pot and quickly became a pothead. I did coke and ecstasy until I was a shaking mess on the floor. If my friends expressed concern about me I would cut them out of my life. Everyone was just jealous because they were still fat or being negative. Part me thinks I was just really hungry.
Once I had successfully alienated everyone I actually liked, I had to cling to my weight loss as my only source of happiness. I started running for hours on a treadmill. I became obsessive about portion control, keeping a careful count of every calorie in my mind. Three years after I started dieting, I reached my goal weight,one hundred and twenty-eight pounds. I had never been so miserable in my life. Now that there was no more weight to lose, I felt completely lost. When I was at my thinnest, my family started accusing me of losing weight in an unhealthy way and by that point I was. Most of my "meals" consisted of cigarettes and red bull. My mother started insisting I get help for my other issues. I just became defensive and continued isolating myself. I rarely left my house and became obsessed with twisting my curly hair until it fell out. When bald spots started appearing on my forehead I threw on a hoodie to hide it and smoked another bowl.
I finally hit rock bottom when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in November. She told me she was afraid that if she died, I would end up in a mental hospital or worse, and made me go to an emergency clinic. I have started taking Prozac. I am looking for a new therapist. I wear a beanie to protect my hair and am finding new ways to deal with my feelings. I am slowly returning to a healthy weight. I do not know if having a clean bill of mental health will really make me happy, but I do know that we live in a society that tells someone who can not eat to seek therapy while telling someone who can not stop to hit the gym. We need to look beyond the scale to the invisible parts of health. We need to find a better way to measure self-worth and happiness.