When I was ten years old, I remember riding in the backseat of my moms car to go to the mall with my best friend. We were talking, and laughing, and singing along to the radio. At least until I noticed that my legs were twice the size of hers as they lay flat against the seat.
I knew that I was in the bottom percentile for height and weight-that my doctor was constantly encouraging me to eat more and to be okay with sitting still from time to time. Those were facts, but my eating disorder never cared for facts. Instead it burned that moment of dysmorphia into my memory, so that it would still haunt me 12 years later.
I remember laying on the floor of the treatment center, with my jacket off and my body elongated, attempting to stretch. I trusted those in the room not to judge my body, as we were all there to get better, and for most of us that meant gaining weight. The twelve year old across from me popped that safe bubble as she voiced her “concerns” asking if the doctors were “sure” that I was anorexic, because I was “so much fatter than her.”
I refused my lunch that day. The only time in my three and a half month stay that I didn’t even attempt a meal. Because as I sat at that table my eating disorder screamed in my ear that I was “not sick enough” to be there.
I know now that being there saved my life. That there is no such thing as “sick enough” when you’re battling a life threatening mental illness. But that didn’t matter to me three years ago, with the “F” word bouncing around my brain.
I remember crying to my therapist six months out of treatment because two angelic campers placed their hands on my stomach and asked if I was “having a baby.” That day I did two hours straight of cardio, with their words playing on a repeated track in my head.
I found out a week later that they were asking everyone that because their mom was expecting another child, and they had just learned about pregnancy. My cheeks burned with shame as I flashed back to my purge on the treadmill, overshadowing the joy I felt for that family.
I remember my mom voicing her concern about my weight as my dietitian promised me that I was finally approaching a healthy weight, over a year into recovery.
I knew that my dietitian was right, she always is, but my eating disorder told me not to believe her, and I fell back into a pattern of restricting.
So today, when I laughed and played with one of the miracles in my life, an incredible seven year old that’s smile can make any painful day a joyful one, the last thing on my mind was my weight as she attempted to fit herself into an overturned ottoman. Jokingly I asked her if she thought I could fit. Laughing, she replied with, “no of course not, you’re too fat.”
And for half a millisecond I forgot that the word “fat” shouldn’t be able to paralyze me anymore. I felt the word pierce right through my heart, pulling down the corners of my smile.
But then I remembered that children see everything. As a counselor, I have this incredible ability to be a role model for these kids. I see them attempt to mirror me and my staff all the time. With that in mind, I was going to be damned if I would let this perfect little angel see the word “fat” have this effect on me.
Instead, I swallowed my stress, and I jumped towards her laughing as I shouted, “I’ll show you fat!”
As she collapsed into giggles, crying out “You’re not fat! You’re just too big for it because you’re older than me! I was just kidding!” My heart filled with warmth. Because I wasn’t faking my smile, or the joy I felt in that moment.
It was as though the “f” word had bounced right off of me.
And I didn’t care. Because I once lived my life according to whether choices would make me “fat” or “skinny.” Everything from what creamer I put in my coffee to whether or not I took the stairs or the elevator was controlled by the voice in my head. And I don’t use the “f” word, because I do think that it’s hurtful and meaningless, and there are so many better adjectives. But if I did, I would practice what I preach and offer up some positive affirmations. And that would look a little bit like this:
I am not fat. I am not skinny. I am,
I am more than the number on the scale, and so are you.