When I knew that weight doesn’t matter
This is an anonymous submission to the ongoing series “When did you know?”, an examination of the intersection of labels and identity. Information on how to submit your piece to the series can be found on the Join Us page. To see all posts in this series, click here.
Even people who watched me go through it don’t really understand that I used to be anorexic.
Scene: I am a white, upper-middle-class American with a PhD mother and a successful father. Good-girl control freak, stubborn as hell—but I have never been thin.
Oh, I was not a “fat kid”. But puberty did as puberty does. Ample bust and wide hips at 5’3” meant that my doctor, with a conventional—in other words, BMI-based—concept of what a fifteen-year-old girl ought to weigh, gave me a carefully laid out speech about it, because as we all know, Fat Is Dangerous.
My mother, herself a recovered victim of a teenage eating disorder, had raised me with few food judgments, let me eat what and when and how I wanted for the most part. But she couldn’t shield me from the blaring headlines in the grocery store tabloids or the little judgments you hear every day directed towards others (and, you must wonder, yourself), or from that diet-happy aunt everyone has to have.
And we never talked about it. I never heard that my weight was unacceptable, but I never heard that it was acceptable, either. And so, not fat but too fat for the standard to which I held myself, I embarked on a quiet quest to stop eating.
Four months and four sizes later, I was depressed, obsessed, and lonely, in the midst of a consuming eating disorder—always cold, skipping periods, with hair that had once been a naturally massive mop of ringlets now flat and dull.
But my weight was still in the middle of the “normal” range. And no one but my mum ever demonstrated concern about whether I was eating enough. And even she was assuaged when I stood on the scale and showed her that I weighed fifteen pounds more than I looked.
My body was falling apart, too thin for itself, but because I was “normal-sized”, no one cared.
I know this isn’t a unique story. I know that there’s a huge category of eating disordered people who are ignored because they do not fit the standard. They say it’s a thin, educated, white woman’s disease; that I fit all these but one doesn’t matter as long as that one is missing. I knew I had a problem, but I couldn’t believe that it was legitimate.
But I tried, and my parents tried to help me, because they at least—after the initial denial—knew that something was wrong. I spent my senior year in high school battling the weight gain that crept up on me despite the fact that I was essentially on a starvation diet. My body refused to stay “normal”. It wanted those big hips and flabby thighs and I had damn well better be grateful for it because, just as surely as diets fail, so do eating disorders.
And this was, ultimately, what let me get better. The moment came two years after I began recovery—I realized: No matter what I do, how many miles I run and how few calories I eat, my body wants to be the size it wants to be—the same size as my aunt and my grandmother and probably all the women back to who-knows-when. To hell with society, to hell with what you want, my body says. I’m this way and you’ll accept me whether you like it or not.
I stopped exercising except when I really wanted to, because it was a trigger for renewed calorie restriction.
I stopped counting calories. Completely. Bam. Done.
Because it didn’t matter. I will look how I look whether or not I eat that decadently delicious dessert that’s sitting on the countertop. My body knows what it wants; I never eat till I’m overfull, but I don’t go hungry, either. I’ve learned, almost against my will.
Am I fat? I don’t know.
Do I care? Yes. Yes, I care. But it’s no longer the kind of caring that leads to throwing away half my food uneaten. It’s the kind of caring that drives me to make my own clothes in styles that flatter me, because I CAN, the caring that leads me to the kind of moment where I remember how much it doesn’t matter.
The eating disorder took so much time for me. From the end of my sophomore year of high school to the end of my first year of college, I dealt with the initial descent, recovery, relapse after relapse, because my body healed itself before my mind was ready.
But I’m done with it now. Because I know what I’ve been telling myself for years:
I have my hair back, my hips back, my warmth back, and I haven’t stood on a scale since I was seventeen. I’m going to a college that I love with friends I adore and a family that is wonderful. And I have those things no matter what I weigh, and I refuse to let insecurity take them away from me.
Because weight doesn’t matter.