December 11, 2011
I'm sorry for hating you all these years, for trying to starve you into something worth loving. I'm sorry for punishing you. It wasn't your fault; it was mine. Thank you for staying resilient and keeping me alive when I didn't deserve it. You never gave up on me, even when I gave up on you time after time. No longer will I waste you away to nothing. I no longer need to see your bones poking their way through my skin to be happy. I am satisfied with the shape of you, and your soft curves. I love every inch of you, your beautiful cells and flesh and blood. I love your scars and freckles and careless imperfections, the gentle misalignment of your ellipsed hips, the crookedly continuous line of you, the soft plateau of your stomach, the thick flesh of your shoulders; they make you perfect to me. You amaze me more and more, day by day.
You know, you used to be the part of myself I hated the most. I put you through so much abuse denying you the food you needed to survive, cutting and scratching you open because I wanted to hurt you on the outside as much as I was hurting on the inside. I fought with you every inch of the way, even when I knew I was killing the both of us. I disrespected you for all these years, and I am truly sorry. I've realized that I am lucky to have you.
This is my recovery. This is our recovery. I have realized that I can be just as happy with you at one hundred pounds as eighty. That I want to start counting kisses instead of calories. That I need to eat to keep you healthy and strong. Starting today, I will treat you with the respect that you have more than earned. I will protect and take care of you, as you have done for me. I promise, you won't feel hungry anymore, because I will fill you when you are empty. Mostly, I need to learn to fill myself, too. It'll be a long road, but it's time I start working with you, not against you. We are strong enough to face this and get better. Together, we can fight this.
This was not your fault.
You need to know you're beautiful.
December 12th, 2011
Every day, I am surrounded by marionettes, emaciated puppets that bend and bow effortlessly to the will of their masters. Beautiful bones, all of them, with drawn on smiles and glossed eyes. Still, I love making them all flawlessly beautiful, even if their version of beauty is so different from my own.
I'm lining Rena's eyes with a dark kohl pencil, smudging it gently into her gold-painted lids. She's in full, thick makeup; I've smoothed the faint blemishes peppering her cheeks, coaxed away the darkness puddled under her skin and beneath her lids, and dusted her with shimmering bronzes and pinks, making her look thoroughly sun-kissed, though it's the middle of December and the sky is bleak and lightless.
She shivers in her plain underwear, drawing little girl arms about herself, limbs folded like a mantis. Impatiently, I take her chin in my fingers for a moment, firmly adjusting her back to her previous position, a reminder that for the ten minutes I have with her, I am in charge of making her beautiful.
Which isn't to say she is anything but stunning. Even before I coat her with a mask of creams and powders, she is what all the other girls envy and the men want. Her eyes are a light smoky gray, and appear larger while set against her high cheekbones, and her lips are full and lustrously ripe, like plump fruits. Above all of these lovely traits, though, I notice her bones most of all. She is matchstick limbs bent into the shape of a girl, a walking mannequin. Her collarbones protrude farther out than her breasts, her hipbones push aside the waist of her boy shorts, and when she stands, the gap between her thighs astounds and frightens me. She is everything I used to crave, in front of me every day, a walking, breathing skeleton from my personal closet of ghosts.
"There," I murmur, brushing a final sweep of the mascara brush across Rena's long lashes. "You're perfect," I pronounce.
She smiles palely, a million pixels of peachy lip skin curving at her pleasure. "Thanks, Olivia."
"It's just my job, Rena. Get out there; your shoot starts in five."
She nods. "Seriously, thanks." Before she rushes out she hesitates, lingering at the door. "Olivia?"
"I'll see you later."
Every day I step on the scale, I contemplate that I really should paint my toenails.
They are the same shade of lilac that they were two years ago, before the hospital, before therapy, before I went positively crazy. They are chipped and a little imperfect. A little like me.
I really need to paint my toenails.
I slide my cotton underwear (still size S) down my thighs, feeling their smooth curves and strong muscle, courtesy of my new routine of a morning run. The smoothness of my calves is a marvel; I shave every day now, no longer neglecting them because of laziness or unwillingness to have to look at them. My panties settle on the sweating tile, still steamed from the shower. My skin is flushed and dripping in front of the mirror. I used to avoid mirrors like the plague, but I'm not afraid to look in this one now, fogged and slightly distorting the girl looking back at me.
Her limbs are strong and sure; she stands on her own two feet without swaying. Her stick-out hipbones have faded into gentle disturbances in the soft flesh of her stomach. For the first time she has gentle curves; calve to thigh, hip to waist, ribs to breasts. She doesn't seem so sure about them. I'm not so sure about them. Her face is still the same, but she's a little different. It's subtle, but it's there. It's not so much in her physique, though she is notably curvier and fuller-breasted, nor in her hair, nearly two years' growth from its formerly cropped cut. You can see the difference in her eyes, their newfound sparkle and depth. They smile without her lips arcing. I smile a little, too. I'm still learning to recognize her.
I step on the scale.
December 1st, 2009
You are starting to confuse me. I looked at you today for the first time in awhile, really looked at you and realized I can see through you. Your skin is translucent, a pale pigment that exposes your bones, your empty stomach, my empty mind. You are a fragile sparrow, so frail I could break you with any sudden movement. Your shoulder blades are in danger of breaking through the skin of your back. You terrify me. I don't understand. I thought this was what I wanted, to see your bones jutting from my skin, kneebones piercing through the thin flesh of my legs. You feel both too big and too small at the same time. How can that be? I'm so dizzy. I just want to sleep,
The humming that is my heartbeat vibrates my ribs and pounds a headache tempo into my bones. I close my eyes against my bathroom, swimming in front of my head like a carousel passing by too quickly for me to train my vision on. Hunger is drugging, leaving me breathless, shaky, and unsteady. When my head hits the cold porcelain lip of the bathtub, I'm already engulfed in blackness.
Bright lights and bright eyes coax me to consciousness, a constellation of suns and stars swimming through the fog-gray mush that is my brain. It smells like the doctor's, all sterile and of rubber gloves, of cleanness, of sickness. "Are you okay?" The eyes blink, concern emanating from them. "Do you know where you are?" I try to speak but the words stick to my throat. "We're going to help you," the voice tells me, and for once I am relieved, because finally, someone will.
They explain in calm, patient voices that I am very sick. I need to get better. To admit myself. To be an inpatient. I am ready to refuse. The questions start. Is there anyone they can call? Should they call my mother? Won't she be scared not knowing what's going on? I hide the pinpricks of tears in my eyes and scrawl a shaky, ambiguous signature on paper, signing my way into the crazy ward because I am starting to scare me too.
I don't know how long I've been sleeping, but when I wake up, it's dark and quite silent, except for the scuffle of nurses on call in the hallway. But there is another sound as well, a human sound. I open my eyes. Sitting at the foot of my bed is, of all people, my father. He must have just gotten out of work, the graveyard shift. I'm about to call out to him, to tell him I'm awake when I stop and hear gut-wrenching sobs emanating from his lungs. He stifles them, so that they are barely audible, but I can still tell, even in the dimness of night. I have never seen my father cry before, not even at the death of his own mother.
I look at him now, pieces of a broken man, and see what I'm doing to him. I feel these guilty tears of my own start in my eyes and this time I let them tumble freely and willingly. I know I have to change, because at the rate I am going, I can't stop hurting the people I need most. I see I am not the only one starving.
Vibration purrs through my bones as the door to my room bangs open. With my eyes closed, I can sense a rush of movement, then cool hands pressing against my forehead with an achingly familiar tender protectiveness.
My lids flutter open. Her face swims into focus. I murmur, "Mom."
She nods, unable to speak for a moment; she leans forward in the chair and smooths my hair. I pretend not to notice the tears threatening to breech her big blue eyes, and have to blink to conceal my own. I try to raise my hand to her face to pull her cheek closer so I can kiss it, but my arm feels heavy. She looks down at me trying to move it, and in that moment I know what she sees: a little girl arm with paper-thin skin. As her gaze sweeps across my body, lying on top of the sheets in a flimsy hospital gown that hits me mid-thigh, I can gauge the horror and fear and worry flashing like exploding bulbs in her head. All eighty-five pounds of me, arranged artfully like a mannequin on a gurney. Here is the glamour of starvation, on display in my fragile, hungry limbs.
" She chokes up a little, and wipes at her eyes, smudging her liner a little. I wish I could sit up in this bed and fix it for her. With one sweep of a flat brush, I could straighten the line, perfect her brown eye shadow. Some gloss could add shine to her full lips, a feature passed onto me. I could do all that for her. Doll her up really nice, the way I used to. I'm not much use for anything, now. After all, what good is a bird with broken wings? "How are you feeling?"
I shrug a little into the pillow, smiling a stone angel's grin through the pain I'm causing her, still playing my part of her sweet little girl, a role I disinherited on the day I looked in the mirror and saw the unbeautiful girl I still see. "Fine. They're real nice here."
"That's good," she agrees. Hesitates. "Are you
talking with someone? A therapist?"
"I will be," I tell her. "They think it will help. With my
"It's gonna be okay, baby girl," Mom whispers, a tentative, hushed sound, stroking a hand through my hair, or what is left of its once-glossy chestnut bulk. "You don't have to be afraid. The doctors, they're going to get you help."
I look back at her, face contorted with shame. She can't see the monsters dancing under my skin, their hate words. She doesn't realize that maybe I still want to commit these sins upon my body, that my bones ache to be seen in order to survive. My eyes are wrought with confusion, with guilt. "But what if I don't want help, Mom? What if I don't want to get better?" I ask her frantically, and then I sob.
She rubs my back and lets me cry, soothing me not with words, because there aren't any, but with her presence. I realize how much I've missed her, the sweet gardenia scent of her favorite perfume, the way her palms are smooth and silky and the way they used to hold my own. So I lean into her chest and let her hold me like a child without a place to go, finding home in the cradle of her surprisingly strong arms.
As I start to calm down, she holds me at arms' length, seeking my attention with her eyes. "You know, Olivia, I'm sorry."
Her words are meant to make me feel better, but the apology in them only begs a fresh wave of guilt. I try to smile for her, wipe my tear-soaked cheeks with the corner of my gown. "Why are you sorry?"
She sighs. "I keep wondering why I didn't see what was happening. Why it had to get this bad before I realized something was going on with you." Mom kneads her wedding band in circles around her ring finger. "You know, it's not your fault. You're sick, and you will get better. I know it's going to be hard, learning
But I'll be right here with you, okay?"
"I know you will be," I tell her, and it's true. She's always been there, even when I was keeping secrets close to my chest. "But I'm afraid." I draw in a deep, shuddering breath, sending a quake of overflowing panic to my lungs. "I don't know how to change," I whisper softly. "I want to. But I don't know how."
"That's why you're here," she tells me, holding me close once more. "You're going to figure it out. You need time, and if that's what it's going to take for you to get healthy, then that's what you're going to do." She squeezes my palm. "You need to know you're beautiful, Olivia."
And I know it's a long way to go before I can look in the mirror and like what I see, or can eat without my internal calculator ticking away the calories. But for the first time in years, I'm craving Mom's blueberry pancakes with maple syrup.
December 14th, 2011
I used to resent every ounce of weight I could pinch between my fingers. I could visualize it all falling away and leaving me a skeleton behind, narrow ribs for my heart to beat behind and a gap between my thighs so wide it would let the sky shine through, blue and stunning and beautiful. At the same time, I want the feel of a ripe orange crushed between my teeth and the taste of cold, sweet vanilla ice cream melting on my tongue. We can't have everything, can we?
I stand on the scale, watching it zero itself to oblivion. No amount of treatment will shake the rush of anxiety, of panic that floods my body as I wait for the verdict. I know the number will never satisfy, but I check it every week. I want to be aware of where I am. I still want to know, need to know.
And open. 105.
Two years ago, I would have been horrified by this triple digit testimonial. Two years ago, my flesh and muscle and bird bones weighed a grand total of 85 on my five foot four inch skeleton , enough for me to catch the strings of passing balloons and float away on a dizzy cloud
December 15th, 2011
I don't like you today, I'm sorry. I could feel it watching Rena dress herself, hipbones straining from her skin, that same rush of desire you used to give me. I regret every morsel I put into you today, but I still did it, refusing to taste a thing, because I know I need to feed you. But I resent you today, Body. Why? I knead the soft flesh draped over my shoulder blades and imagine it shrunk away, withered and dwindled like the drying of a peach. I told Rena how I felt about you today. She understood. How could she not? After all, she is the same starving bundle of bones I was.
"How can you stand it?" she asks incredulously, touching a finger to the corner of her eye, expertly wiping it without displacing the thick liner. "Being around it all day. I wouldn't be able to do it if I were you."
"It's hard," I admit. "I'm not going to lie, I'm not over it. " Pause. "Sometimes, I think that's why I got into it. To keep me motivated."
There are tears in Rena's lovely eyes. "No," she says firmly, shaking her head. "I don't want you to feel that way, ever. You have to understand I know what it's like to starve, though not by choice, and I know the way it feels and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. You need to know you're beautiful, Olivia. You have to figure that out, okay?"
December 3rd, 2009
I am terrified for therapy. I don't know how to explain how I feel about you, how some days I want to take a blade and cut out every cell of fat contaminating your sharp bones, how it feels to run my fingers over the empty drum of your stomach. I can't say how sometimes I see your thinness as strength, and other times I am disgusted by it. I have not learned to love every inch of you. I want to. Oh, Body, I'm sorry your yielding flesh offends me. It's all I've known, this wanting to be a human skeleton. I don't know anymore. I think I want to love you.
She tells me to call her Kate, as opposed to Doctor Allen, and offers me a butterscotch right off the bat. Paranoid, I ponder whether to take it or not. Is it some sort of test to see if I'll eat it or not? Should I put it in my pocket and save it for 'later'? Should I lie and say I'm allergic to butterscotch?
I politely decline, and take a careful seat at her leather couch.
We run through the basics for the first ten minutes. Rather, Kate rattles off my file, why I'm here, what my evaluation results were and such. I watch a thin-legged spider sprint across the ceiling in quick stride.
"So Olivia," Kate prompts, closing her black folder and setting it down with a thud. "Where would you like to start today?"
I'm a little taken aback; she wants me to decide what we talk about? "You mean, we can talk about anything?"
She shrugs her shoulders, removing her glasses from their perch on her slender face and setting them on the table in front of her. It's an instant transformation; she suddenly goes from scholarly and reserved to carefree and gorgeous. Not only does she have good assets long shiny blonde waves, cute nose, dimples but her eyes set her face off. They're a deep green, like moss, the kind that makes you think of forest walks and woodland sprites. "Anything. As long as you're talking, there's really nothing off-limits. Whatever's on your mind."
" I pause, not quite sure to begin. What does she want to hear? "Um, yesterday I saw my mom."
"That's wonderful! For the first time since you were admitted?" I nod. "What was it like, seeing her?"
"I was happy," I say, picking at the chipped nail polish in my cuticles. It seems too intimate, speaking into Kate's imperturbable eyes. Too personal. "Happy to see her, I guess. And happy I wasn't lying to her anymore."
"What were you lying to her about?"
I give her a blank stare. "You know. What I do."
"Well, what do you mean 'what you do'?" Kate asks, regarding me intently.
"It's all in the file, isn't it?" I ask, and I'm not being snippy or mean; I'm actually curious
Surprisingly, she laughs a little. "You're right, it is in the file. But I want to hear it from you." She cocks her head. "How am I going to get to know you if all the information I have is from some silly file? I want you to tell me why you're here."
" I agree hesitantly. I meet her eyes head-on for the first time. "I'm here because
I have food issues." There, I'd said it out loud, verbally admitted that I had a problem. But I didn't feel embarrassed or upset. Instead, I was flooded with relief, at being finally able to speak the truth. It felt right, with the same comfort I got from my mothers' arms. "I think I have an eating disorder," I say quietly, but strongly. "And I think I want help."
Her face seems to glow with pride, but all she says is, "Good job today, Olivia. Our time today is up, but I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."
December 17th, 2011
You feel full, and so do I. I filled you with sliced fruit and muffins from the bakery around the corner I have not visited until now, and eggs the way my mother used to make them, scrambled with fresh milk and butter, seasoned with salt and a pinch of hot pepper. I feel alive today, and the air feels like a breath of the coming spring, unusually warm for the season. This morning, I ran a 5:25 mile. Our muscled legs carried us all the way; it felt like flying. I am so proud of us today. We are so strong, and so, so beautiful.
Today, I no longer believe in numbers. My mindset has expanded from those three little digits, and I can see things I never noticed before, like the way my eyes seem to smile even when my mouth isn't. Or how I am now strong enough to run a 5K, a feat I never would have accomplished while running on empty. Life isn't about numbers, it's about possibilities. And while every day is a struggle, I'm learning.
This isn't to say I'm better, not when I still equate how I feel with the number, but I have realized that skinniness and sickness are twins in disguise, and that in order to be healthy, I need to fail this eating disorder.
Bit by bit, I'm healing. I tell myself every day that I am beautiful and worth it. A post-it remains on my mirror that I put up the first day I left the hospital. It's a constant reminder of what I'm trying to teach myself, and I see it every morning while getting ready for work.
"Smile, you're beautiful."
January 1st, 2010
You are my New Year's resolution. I will love you. I will care for you. I'm not saying it will be easy, or that I will always be able to feel good about filling you, but I will. I will no longer neglect you or hurt you because there is nothing poetic about killing you slowly. We have a second chance, and I will not waste it. I will not waste you. You are a gift and I have realized that. We need not be empty when we are a thousand times more beautiful full. I'm leaving today, and I'm taking you with me.
Twenty-eight days later, I step out into the new year and sunlight with a body ten pounds heavier and a heart a hundred times lighter. The brightness assaults my eyes, sending me blinking it away. I am not used to such natural light, in stark contrast from the sterile hospital fluorescence. I run my fingers through my newly cropped hair, an inch of dandelion fuzz swathing my scalp, sparse protection from the cold, clean air. Mom says it suits me well. She tells me every day how beautiful I am, how healthy I'm starting to look. When she holds me in a tight embrace, I feel the full weight of her love, her acceptance. It is more than thinness could ever give me. It is more than enough.
My father is picking us up to take us to dinner. To celebrate, he tells me. Where would you like to go, Olivia? I tell him to choose, I'll eat anything. There's an appetite in me, and it is hungry for more than just food. I want to make up for everything I lost while starving away. I want to taste everything.
"Are you ready?" Mom asks, me hesitating at the front doors, triggered open by my weight. I nod, reaching for her hand and holding it in my own. The first step comes naturally, as do the rest. I walk out of the hospital of my own accord. I feel wonderful.
December 20th, 2011
I have written you a thousand letters. I could write a thousand more. We both know, though, that there is no you to write to anymore. There is only you and I. We are finally one entity of limbs, love, and a small, sure smile. We are beautiful times ten. I love us. Goodbye, Body. Hello you and I.
"I've got all I need for right now. Lunch break, ladies!"
The photographer's words send a scurry of matchstick legs hustling for the dressing rooms. The girls retrieve their jackets and bags and, while still in full makeup and hair, make a mad dash for the back door to go chain smoke for the fifteen minutes they have until the shoot recommences. Rena catches my eye and winks, but I cannot smile back. I only see her wasted body and it is enough to take away any joy I feel from seeing her.
The girls run between us on their way out the door, breaking our eye contact. Some grab black coffee, diluted with a dash of artificial sweetener. Others just sip at their bottled water, ever-present in the battle to stay hydrated. Two girls have brought actual food; lettuce and an egg white with a splash of vinegar. Rabbit food, but the only solid nourishment in sight for miles. It is generally discouraged for models to eat while shooting, but in spite of this, there is always a full banquet spread over several tables, provided by the director of the agency. Perhaps this is a test of their willpower, or simply an oversight on the director's part, but nevertheless, not a single bite is taken from the pies and sandwiches and crackers neatly displayed.
I watch the seconds tick by on the clock, as the pile of cigarette butts grows tumultuously high beside the girls. Sometimes they talk, but most stay silent, trapped in a fog of uppers and starvation, a constant cloud hanging overhead. It reminds me of my Intro to Psychology class, taken freshman year, of Pavlov's dog. The first example of operant conditioning, the dog was shocked every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Eventually, he learned not to move, instead staying perfectly still where Pavlov wanted him, terrified to eat.
Though I know now from Kate that nothing anyone says or does can really cause an ED, But I've watched my fair share of stick-thin girls come in, bright-eyed and eager to work, only to get told they need to lose ten, fifteen pounds before anyone will hire them. I've watched them become walking mannequins draped in high fashion and smiles from the agency heads who call them 'hot' or 'gorgeous.' I do not blame them, though, because I now know that they are empty, lost, pitiful.
The photographer calls them in, whisking them away from their smoke fixes and back to the harsh flashbulbs and stiff poses. I watch as they breeze in, light as feathers, and resume their work with ease. The camera clicks, and ten pretty mouths smile back. Ten beautiful girls, flawed with perfection. I take a bite of my sandwich and make myself swallow, because I no longer want to be one of them.