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Measuring cups, ripped trail-mix bags, and peanut dust covered my desk. For the disordered eater, the scene is a familiar one.
With drawn curtains and only the desk lamp giving off light, my dorm room calls to mind a still from a drug den in a '70s British pop documentary, only with textbooks and plastic cookware instead of the customary dirty needles and burned spoons.
It was sophomore year and I was in the fabled slump. Bulimia had become an inconveniently significant part of my daily routine. I couldn’t eat one meal without either a) counting the number of times I chew each bite to make sure I’d really exhausted all its offerings, or b) saying screw it and eating so much that I knew I wouldn’t have to stick my finger more than three inches down my throat to make it all come back up.
Normally I chose the latter. It tasted better — the first time, at least.
I threw up everywhere, bordering on unabashedly, after all meals. This list of places included but was not limited to the gym, my liberal-arts building, restaurants, cafes, once in the park next to my campus. My preferred perceived “safe space” was my bedroom trashcan. (I was a resident advisor and didn’t want to be caught by my residents purging in the communal bathroom. Definitely not role-model material.)
I can chalk up my illness’s gripping powers over me to a number of factors: mild depression, extreme anxiety, social pressures, discontentedness with friends, family, school, etc. But the issue I focused on most prominently during this period was my unforgivingly thick, treetrunk-like, smooshy, chunky, lumpy, cauliflower thighs that just wouldn’t disappear. As is often the case for those of us struggling from body dysmorphic disorder and/or disordered eating, looking at my reflection was like a walk through a fun house of mirrors, minus the fun.
I know now that my thighs were obviously not the biggest problem. No, though I was soft and round and my mom told me I had an adorable figure, the real issue was inside my own head.
For illustrative purposes, I will say that I hovered somewhere between a size 8 (praise GAP and their generous cuts) and a size 12 (merciless Citizens of Humanity). I was 5’0” and 175 pounds at my heaviest, 170 of which I was convinced comprised my saddlebag legs.
There was one concrete external stressor that clouded my ability to see myself as fine and fun. My boyfriend, the person with whom I spent the most time both in and out of clothing, was approximately forty pounds lighter than me.
He was a chicken-legged, tow-headed, long, bony being who could eat like a trucker when he wanted but was still slight like a praying mantis. His impossible metabolism combined with occasional bouts of unintentional fasting both baffled me and brought fat tears of frustration to my eyes. I wanted to feel as cavalierly about food as he did. Even better, I wanted to not think about food at all, just as he often seemed to do.
Through no doing of his own, this boyfriend made me so acutely aware of my physicality and all of its accompanying grossness that I started to resent him for his figure.
I hated that whenever we went left the safety of our rooms, I wanted to wear giant bed sheets so nobody would be able to see the stark difference in our body compositions. I hated that I felt like I had to pick around the food at my plate and daintily feign stuffed-ness after only a few bites because otherwise I’d look like a porky glutton in comparison. I hated that I didn’t feel like I could be nakedly naked around him, always getting undressed under the covers or backing away from bed to hunt for my pants instead of just walking normally, so as to prevent any unauthorized viewing of my rump.
To be clear, it wasn’t as if we didn’t touch or anything like that. Despite my apprehensions about him being turned off by my chunks and my independent loathing of my figure, somehow, feeling was different than seeing. My libido seemed to be fully functioning regardless.
When we eventually broke up after four years of togetherness and four years of me closet eating and purging, I thought at long last my chance had come to be with a yummy lumbersexual mountain man who could pick me up by my voluptuous hamhocks and spin me around with ease.
I was incorrect.
In what some may perceive as a special form of self-sabotage, I somehow managed to woo only males whose BMIs were undoubtedly lower than my own. Most of them were people I was interested in because I was interested in THEM; I realized only after having had that first moment of stomach flutters that, oh fudge, this dude was way skinnier than me. Again.
At first, it was difficult. One guy, while kissing my face and letting his hands explore my bottom half, pulled away with his hand on my thigh and said, “Woah. You’ve got some meat there.”
Another wanted me to wrap my arms and legs around him so he could carry me like in the movies. I refused, on the grounds that it would probably be awkward when he was so encumbered with my weight that he couldn’t take a single step in any direction. Then I left. I was too embarrassed at having aired my personal frustrations at this guy who I really didn’t know to want to pursue anything more.
Throughout this period of flirting and kissing, I was discouraged. My thoughts were jumbled. On the one hand, if I was going to be with someone, I wanted to be with someone who I felt physically, visually matched myself. On the other hand, I wanted to forget that superficiality and be able to enjoy a moment, an hour, a date, a night, whatever with someone because they were rad, not because they were also thick.
I didn’t want to need the validation of another person to make me feel physically attractive.
I also didn’t want to throw up anymore.
I was sick of feeling sick and sick of disliking myself. I was emotionally tired of looking around at the people I knew and comparing myself to them on a range of one to elephant in terms of prettiness.
Little by little, as I had more experiences with more guys, almost all of them thinner than I, I started to ignore the pieces of my body that I disliked. I stopped being shy and hiding myself. As I collected tiny moments of self-trust and small, unprompted reassurances from those people I shared myself with, I decided that maybe I wasn’t as unattractive as I had thought. Or if I was, maybe it wasn’t as important as I thought it was.
For everyone who is plagued with an eating disorder, the process of dealing with and ultimately overcoming it is different. I’m not proud that I placed as much weight on this physical mind-block as I did. And I’m not proud of the ways in which I sought support. I am, however, proud to say that, now, not only do I not want to throw up anymore, I don’t.
To that end, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I will never again have to deal with bouts of bulimic tendencies. Though I would like to attribute my current state of remission to newfound maturity and priorities and focus, it would be untruthful to say that my somewhat slimmer frame isn’t a also considerable factor. It came, however, as I learned to like myself. It wasn’t that I lost weight and then decided I was worthy; rather, as I began to accept the way I was, my eating habits became less erratic and I had more energy to flit around sportily, and suddenly everything physical was more enjoyable.
I am smaller now, but I’m still round. I am also once again dating someone who is littler than me. He likes my ass. And I like my thighs.