I have never been considered a small girl, and I have never been petite. My mom is petite, and my dad is not, and I took after my dad. I was always muscular. Growing up playing soccer I was considered lean (I despise the words skinny or thin) and strong. It wasn’t until I started fourth or fifth grade, when you start that awkward phase before the official puberty-ridden awkward phase that I became less lean and more full. Full breasts, full hips, full legs, I was full or “filling out,” as that antiquated phrase suggests.
I was a cheerleader in high school. And while most girls love their uniforms, I dreaded putting mine on because it hugged my curves differently than the other girls. I felt as if I was always being stared at, and not because I was particularly good at cheerleading. It made me shrink in embarrassment. Everything changed for me one day after a basketball game. While standing with some friends, one of the football players came over to us. He looked me up and down and without taking a second hesitation said, “You could be a linebacker with those legs.” I made a joke and tried to laugh it off, while everyone else just laughed. His words burned a hole in my brain. I looked like a football player? I was a 16-year-old female. It destroyed me.
I developed an eating disorder not long after that. At first it was a few meals skipped here and there and an extra ten or twenty minutes in the gym. It progressed quickly when on the advice from a friend, I started using diuretics and laxatives to push food and fluid quickly through my system. I stopped eating carbs (this was during the height of Atkins popularity), and those extra minutes turned into hours in the gym after school and on weekends. By the time prom came, I was fifty pounds less full, and completely sick. I had noticed that my clavicle bones were sticking out and found it both scary and sexy. I had chronic headaches and could barely stay awake in class, but that was a small price to pay for someone calling me fat.
In my twenties I switched from laxatives, which had stopped working, to over the counter diet pills. They made my ears burn and tingle, curbed my appetite to an unhealthy level, and caused me to get sick every night. Every single night. I gave myself a hiatal hernia and wound up in the gastroenterologist’s office for an EGD scope at the age of 23. I had my first colonoscopy at 25 after I had done so much damage to my colon from years of laxative abuse, my intestines were not functioning properly. I developed cholecystitis and had my gallbladder removed at 26 after an ultrasound showed it was “dangerously inflamed.” I was slowly killing myself.
After my gallbladder surgery I worked with a nutritionist to try and heal myself and my fear of being fat. The irony is that if you looked at me, I didn’t fit the mold for what someone with an eating disorder looked like. However, internally, in both my body and mind, I was textbook. Fast forward many years later to 32 years old, and my struggle with food and body image roared again when in the midst of an argument with an ex-boyfriend, he told me that I disgusted him and “looked like a whale,” among many other disparaging things. I wasn’t even mad at his words, because I knew how I was going to fix it. This time, I lost 80 pounds with the help of a new diet pill I had found, daily gym binges, and a strict 1,000 calories-a-day maximum. My madness brought me back to my high school prom weight, but it still wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t until I got mono (which caused me to lose even more weight), and my doctor threatened to put me in an outpatient rehab for people with eating disorders, that I stopped trying to chase that perfect body and please everyone’s thoughts of what perfection should be. The idea of being labeled as having an eating disorder and having people look at me as if I was damaged and broken was something I could not handle. The stigma of having a disorder felt worse than being called hurtful names.
At 36, I still find myself pinching an inch here and there while looking in the mirror, and struggle with the idea of what my body is supposed to look like. I have my moments where I don’t feel pretty or fit and find myself falling into old habits. I’ve gone to therapy, and think we could all use an unbiased ear to bend sometimes. I’ve gone to culinary school, hoping to learn a healthy relationship with food. I studied for my certification in sports nutrition, blending my love of sports with the hope of helping those who struggle with the food/activity balance like I did.
But through everything, the most important tool I found in coping is educating myself and not feeling ashamed. I surround myself with people, both women and men, who don’t make me feel like I need to be a certain size to be beautiful. I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of those past thoughts, but for now, I’m learning to embrace that the perfect body for me might just be the one I'm in.