Please note as a content/trigger warning; this post discusses my history with my eating disorder. There is also a photo below of me during the worst of my illness. This is something I wrote last year that was very cathartic for me in my journey. I hope that if you are able to read this that no matter where you are with your journey, you gain hope that you too can work on being mostly okay.
From left: me in 1983 on my second birthday, me in 2007, and me in 2018
My life has been a series of ups and downs with my weight. I was always a tall kid (my class photo from first grade is hilarious because I am literally a head taller than everyone but this one kid named Connor), but I was fairly lean until I was nine. Nine is the year my mother died. When I was younger I didn’t think about the correlation, but that’s the year I started filling out. A lot. I started to notice I was growing breasts. It was only a year later that I would get my first period.
It was also the first time someone made fun of me for being fat. I remember it super clearly. I was in the fourth grade at the time and we were doing gymnastics in gym. No matter my size, I have never exactly been the most graceful person in the world, but I always liked gymnastics at school. I liked the fun light-headed feeling that I would get especially when I would do the vault, turning a somersault and falling down on the mat.
Considering at that time it felt like my life was falling apart and being rebuilt from the ground up, I really appreciated that feeling of reckless childhood freedom.
Until the day that I heard several girls giggling after I did the vault. When I walked back to get into line, one of them went “Boom!” and pointed at me. That is when it sunk in that they were laughing at me, that my body was not this weightless and free being I felt like when I was tumbling. That I was the tallest and fattest girl in the class and I made more noise than anyone when I fell. That I was heavy. That there was too much of me. That my whole existence suddenly just seemed as heavy as the world I was trying to block out that consisted of my mother’s death, moving to a new town, having to explain to everyone why I lived with a white woman when I was black and why I had no parents.
That feeling stuck with me all through out puberty. I’d never really seen what a healthy relationship was with food. In my household, food was used as a crutch and all of the women were laser focused on their weight. Both my mother and my aunt who raised me had been thin in their youth and were petite in height. As they aged, weight crept on. One of their favorite arguments was to talk about who was thinner and who’s arms jiggled the least. These two grown women in their 40’s would literally take off their shirts and scream at each other, fighting over who had less fat. I used to poke at my arms and watch them shake, wondering if they thought my baby arm fat was disgusting too.
It really isn’t any wonder that I spent my teenage years thinking if I could just lose weight, if I could just be thin, that somehow I would be happy. That somehow I would feel the joy that somehow alluded me. That I would finally outrun all of the ghosts that had been chasing me seemingly since birth.
When I was nineteen, I did just that; I lost weight. A lot of weight. Over 100 pounds of weight. It took me a couple of years, but I did it. I didn’t do it in a inherently harmful way. I got active, I started eating healthier food. I noticed a change immediately in how people looked at me. It was really jarring. Nothing about me changed but the shape of my body but it was like I’d put a spotlight on myself and everyone could see me. I had since moved away from my hometown but every time I would go back to visit friends, I would run into the same people who looked at me with distain who suddenly were looking at me with new lenses. They wanted to talk to me, compliment me, flirt with me. It was disconcerting. It was confusing. It felt all wrong. I didn’t understand why this one change suddenly made me interesting.
One of the biggest milestones for me was when I was able to shop in the junior department. The elusive junior department that I never was able to shop in as a teen. I was obsessed with now being able to buy those cute clothes with those odd numbered sizes. It felt like a badge of honor, like I was finally part of the cool folks club.
Yet I still didn’t feel right inside. I still felt as odd and displaced as I always had. My body shrank but my personality remained the same. I wasn’t suddenly outgoing and extroverted, an accomplished flirt and the life of the party. I was still dark and strange and sarcastic and introverted and shy.
And so things stayed like that for a long time. I met the man who would become my first husband and father of my oldest son when I was twenty-one. I was married and a mother by twenty-four. My marriage, which in hindsight never should have happened, started really falling all the way apart when I was twenty-six. That is when I started to spiral, and my life of feeling like controlling my body was the only thing that I was able to actually control. I started eating way less. Just to see if anyone would even notice or care. No one did. So I ate even less. It started to become a game I played with myself. I remember the day I ate nothing but a homemade egg roll and I felt a satisfaction in my life that I wasn’t feeling in any other aspect. I felt so powerful and in control.
At that point I told myself I didn’t even care if anyone noticed that I was wasting away (though that was a lie). It felt like my own private game and secret. If anything, the thinner I got the more people took notice of me and complimented my tiny body. I’m 5’8” and I am not going to give out numbers of what I weighed; I don’t feel I need to. When I say that my bones were poking out and my head looked huge, believe it. Looking at photos of myself then make me cry. They make me angry. I looked tired and sick. My eyes looked haunted. I became one of the ghosts I was trying to outrun. Yet we live in a society where people only saw my “perfect” thin body and not the pain and misery I was putting myself through to achieve it. Nothing mattered but seemingly having a pretty corpse.
Soon the junior department wasn’t good enough. I remember the first time I bought a dress from the little girls department, and it felt like I reached new heights in my game. At the same time, something started to feel off about it. My head constantly ached. My cycle was starting to become inconsistent. I was barely able to keep up with my active toddler. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t feeling good. Wasn’t being thin supposed to mean I was healthy and had boundless energy? That is what had been ingrained in me. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
I got separated from my first husband when I was twenty-eight. My son and I had to move back in with my aunt. It became harder to hide how I was eating. Even with her own messed up relationship with food, she started to call me out. Even at the same time she still relentlessly talked badly about her being fat and wanted to try every fad diet under the sun and admitted she felt a little jealous that I was thin. She was a product of her environment as much as I was.
I ended up gaining some weight. It freaked me out and I would get on a cycle of losing and gaining for several years. I would be online claiming I was being so healthy when I was losing and everyone was cheering me on because of course you cheer on your friend when they are losing weight. Little did folks know they were helping enable me to eat little, smoke a lot, and fill my stomach up with a ton of black coffee when it got so empty I couldn’t stand it. I wasn’t able to get to the size I was prior and it was frustrating but I had so much going on in my life that I just let it be and kept it as a “goal” when things settled down.
Then 2012 came. My aunt very suddenly died that summer and my life was turned upside down again. The stress of my aunts sudden death took my appetite with it. I wasn’t even thinking about my body, I was just too sad to take care of myself. I started having health issues, one of which was stomach ulcers that made eating almost anything legit painful. Once again I was very thin. Once again everyone was telling me how great I looked. This time, it made me angry. I associated my health and lack of appetite with my aunts death. I could feel the old pull of “Well I’ll show all these folks, I’m going to get so thin that they won’t know what hit them”. It wasn’t as easy this time, though. I always prided myself on being able to lose weight quickly. Now that I was in my 30’s and I had spent over ten years ruining my metabolism, weight didn’t just melt off even when I was doing unhealthy things.
2012 is also the year I met the man who would become my second husband. When we first met he lived in Texas and myself in North Carolina. He wasn’t privy to the ways I was hurting my body. It was easy to keep that hidden since he wasn’t always here. He knew a bit about my past and a little about how food and weight was a weird thing for me, but not to the extent it was. At the time I had not even come to terms with how bad things were, so there was no way for me to articulate it to another person.
He moved here in 2014, and I quickly realized the game was over. I now lived with someone that noticed if I ate too little, if I was playing weird tricks with my mind over eating. I felt a bit of panic for sure. I was so happy to have him here but at that point I barely knew who I was without my disordered eating patterns. It took a while, but I just came clean. I talked about all of the demons, all of the bad, the years of deprivation and near starvation and sadness. And being the person he is, he just loved me through it and was there. Once I said it all out loud, something clicked for me. I really thought about the years I spent being thin, thinking it would bring me happiness when it didn’t. I couldn’t help but think that maybe I should just be chasing happiness within myself and not within what my body looked like. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten something and felt happy about it and not guilty.
Slowly I worked on myself on the inside. Slowly my weight started to creep up. For the first time ever I didn’t feel shame about it. I was in a good place in my life; I had a wonderful child, a wonderful marriage, wonderful friends. I knew that if I was hurting or sad I didn’t have to make myself sick just to see if anyone would care. People cared about me. People were looking out for me. Most of all, I was looking out for me. There were no more games. I started to look at my curves and rolls and thick thighs and smile. I started to wear tighter clothes, crop tops, all the things I felt too “big” to wear when I was much thinner.
A turning point for me was when I got rid of all my junior sized clothes. I had been holding onto them for years, “just in case”. They had simply been taking space in my closet and glaring at me for too long. I’m in my late 30’s now. I don’t need to prove something to myself by wearing clothes that are actually meant for teenagers with their slimmer hips and bust. This body has carried five babies and given birth to three. It isn’t that the styles are too ‘young’ for me, but the shapes are. I don’t want to ever again try to fit myself into a mold where I don’t belong thinking it will bring me any joy. So I donated them all (and yes, those little girl clothes went too). I don’t think I have felt that free since fourth grade and doing a vault before I was made to feel like I was too heavy.
I AM heavy. There is a lot of me; I take up space, I am gloriously here and I exist and I am alive. And I am happy with all of it, finally.
I think about my children a lot in this. Right now it appears I have sons (I believe gender is fluid and I have no idea if my sons will always be my sons). A lot of folks assume that if you don’t have daughters that things like weight and eating disorders aren’t a big thing to consider but they are. I want my sons to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to grow up feeling confident in their bodies. I want them to treat others with respect. I don’t want them to be the kids laughing at the fat girl in class when she does the vault. My oldest son used to not wear shorts because he thought his legs were too thin. He was only nine. I told him his legs were just right and were healthy and strong and helped him run fast. He started wearing shorts after that.
I have to live my life in a way where I take my hurt and anguish and I turn it into joy and love for my children. I owe them that.