On a recent trip home, as I was rummaging through my old belongings, looking for a specific photo, I instead came across my old diaries from when I was a younger. They were from Claire’s and The Limited Too and had fun, girly covers like “Softball Chick” and “Army Girlz” with camouflage paper and rhinestones.
I was intrigued. I wanted to read what I thought the world was like 10 years ago, who my crushes were, and what used to matter most to me. I eagerly opened the first diary dated back to 1999.
As I skimmed through page after page, I was heartbroken to find that I had not written about my secret kiss behind the field at recess and I had not written about the time I lost the lead role in the school play. No, instead I wrote endlessly about my obsession with my body: unhealthy goal weights, meticulous eating plans, desperately wanting my middle finger and thumb to touch when I gripped my wrist. I was 9.
It all begins differently for everyone. For me it was about attention. I wasn’t getting it and I wanted it. In my head, I thought that if I looked good (which I associated with being thin), then more people would notice me, more boys would like me and more people would appreciate me.
And to be honest, I don’t think my childhood thoughts were that off base – we live in a society that praises a woman’s body before her brain, and one that is obsessed with giving weight loss accolades to ordinary pedestrians and celebrities alike.
While some are “fat-shamed” and ridiculed for their size, being thin is the complete opposite. You are put on a pedestal and then a magazine cover for the whole world to admire you. And that’s what I wanted.
The tragic narrative of my disordered eating spanned almost five diaries worth. I admittedly didn’t read through all of them (who wants to read a play-by-play of what you’re not consuming?), though when I finally had enough, closed the books, and returned them to their secret hiding spot, I had an odd lingering feeling.
Part of it was a fascination with my younger self, part of it was sadness for all the mental anguish I put myself through, but the majority and the most shocking part of what I was feeling was a deep-rooted longing. I actually missed being anorexic.
First and foremost, I envied the girl who had the immense drive and determination to reach her goal. During my anorexic times, I was incredibly focused, exhibited the utmost willpower and — above all — wielded the highest control. In a very twisted way, I took better care of myself than I do now because I was so concentrated on my body.
There are times when I wish I still had that level of resolve. I can barely write an entire blog post without breaking for some television or turning to my phone. I go up for seconds simply because the food tastes good and I’m enjoying my company. That would have never happened then. I was my own boss and the toughest one. I called the shots and I ran the show.
In my eyes, anorexia also made me special. It made me the best at something. I was the thinnest and that was the equivalent to getting back at all the girls who taunted me in the hallways. I had bragging rights.
I felt superior to everyone else – people who I didn’t know, people who couldn’t stop themselves from devouring an entire bag of chips, or even those who meticulously watched what they ate. It didn’t matter because no one had my waif-like arms or my boney back. I felt extraordinary and, to some degree, I was.
It never meant to spiral as far as it did, but when one person tells you that you look amazing, you want more people to recognize you, to keep that high going.
I read a lot of memoirs that glamorize the anorexic condition, and while that makes me nervous for vulnerable readers, I have to admit that it’s hard not to. The drama of it all makes for a great story.
The disorder involves an exquisite anxiety of starvation, a small savor of nourishment and, on top of all that, an immense mental supremacy. Just re-read those paragraphs above and it’ll seem like I had experienced my five minutes of fame, not five plus years of struggle. For a while, it definitely felt like the former.
Eventually though, the attention that I so greatly sought turned into a kind that I no longer wanted. It became a negative acknowledgment of my emaciated frame. I was special not because I was thin, but because I was too thin. People saw my disorder, not my “great” body. And they hated my entitled, superior attitude.
Ironically, what brought my anorexia to an end also propelled me on the trajectory in the first place.
No longer was I proud of the fact that I could resist the free bagels at the orientation buffet. I was ashamed of ordering everything steamed, no oil, dressing on the side. I was embarrassed of the habits I developed and of the person who the disorder coaxed me into becoming. I thought that if I had the body, I’d have it all. And still I didn’t.
In my efforts to feel good about myself, I had paradoxically landed right back to where I started: the 9-year-old girl in the diary who was unhappy with herself and too concerned with what other people thought. I kept equating my self-worth to what my body looked like. I believed that positive reinforcement from others was more valuable than my own self-confidence. Being skinny was a temporary solution to a much larger problem – I was seeking love from everyone but myself.
I wish I had known then what has taken me years and an eating disorder to know now: that self-adoration is more important than anyone else’s validation. If you always put the power in others to determine how you feel about yourself, you will never find peace within.
I haven’t kept any diaries since I outgrew my anorexia. That chapter is officially closed.