If you haven’t heard me express it verbally, you probably wouldn’t know. I’ve been having memory issues for the past year and a half, and admittedly, I’ve shrugged it off like other people have when I’ve told them my concerns. To explain, everything is somewhat fuzzy and my day goes by like a blur. Trickles do come back to me from time to time, and more so now. I was working out at the gym the other day when a memory from my elementary school days hit me. And then another. Followed by several more. I strung them together and realized the roots to two of the issues which have consumed my life at one point or another: body image (which I will focus on in this entry) and overcompetitiveness.
I suppose that it’s always been peculiar of me to limit my research topics and interests to body image and eating disorders, especially considering that I’ve been known to make jokes about “fat people” and have an attitude similar to that of Meme Roth of the National Action Against Obesity. Truth be told, I’m most of the time kidding when I make these comments. The root of me wanting to know or to write more on these issues stems from the fact that I haven’t ever been able to grasp an idea of what became years of turmoil for me.
I wish that it could be so easy to diagnose the root of it all by saying that because I was called “fat” at the age of nine that I was scarred and therefore constantly looked at my reflection and measured my waist, in which case I would have to be quite oblivious not to have realized sooner that that was the cause of my problems. But being called fat at that age didn’t hurt me; in fact, I managed to deduce that the kid had believed me to be fat because of my large winter jacket.
What was not so easily dismissed, though, was my first day at a new school. I don’t even remember what I was wearing, but I do recall that it was raining heavily and that we sat in a circle on the blue-grey carpet, strangers to one another. We were introducing ourselves when this boy jerked forward and asked me if I was a boy. I shyly replied “no.” He didn’t seem to believe me and asked if I was sure. What more could I do than to assert that I knew I was a girl. I surely couldn’t pull down my pants to prove him so. That particular incident stuck with me; I begged my mother to allow me to grow my hair out when I was twelve (I gave her no reason other than that “I wanted to”), and later, I became incredibly conscious of whenever I put my hair up into a pony tail . Apparently, this day comes back years later as a great anecdote for others to tell; of course I do concede that it is funny, but I squirm in my seat uncomfortably every time that it’s told.
To be a tom boy was considered to be cool by my group of friends; after all, there were only eight or so girls matched to our twenty-five guys in the fifth grade. Playing foot hockey (that’s just playing hockey with a tennis ball and using your feet to guide it) was our year-round activity at recess, and in the winter, we would tackle one another in the freshly fallen snow. And as frequently as the snowflakes trickled onto the pavement that year, I cried on that asphalt ground. The affection of all the boys in my class was focused on this one girl, my best friend at the time. We had many things in common; we wore glasses, had short hair, similar height, and we always played together at recess. For some reason, the boys always “liked” her, and never me. I keyed in on this quickly and felt dejected. The outwardly differences were few (the only coming to mind was that I wore a retainer at the time), if any, so I began on trying to pick up on the personality differences. She seemed so much more vulnerable and emotional whenever she got hurt on the pavement. I thought that that was the key, and so I cried whenever I fell. I attracted the attention of the boys, but it was more so negative than positive. If I learned anything from that time period, it was that there was more that had to be done to make me more “attractive” to the boys.
The concept of body image disturbance was foreign to me at that time, but it was apparent that I was becoming familiar with modifying my body starting in the sixth grade. I vividly remember hating my voice for someone had once mentioned that it sounded like a guy’s. Perhaps it was because I had grown up with boys and my tone of voice was just poignant, but I took it to mean that my vocal range seemed lower than most girls. So while most boys’ voices cracked at that time, I took to raising the range of my voice so that it would be higher and more “feminine.” Well, it just became more nasal, if anything, and did little attract boys to me.
Nothing body image wise, aside from the aforementioned, surfaced until the eighth grade. I had spent seventh grade learning about eating disorders and self-mutilation because of my friends undergoing their own personal issues. With the hate that I had for myself, My annual physical was the added cherry; I had gained twenty pounds that year because I was undergoing puberty. I was told that I was needing to watch my weight and what I ate, which were accompanied by my parents’ comments of what I should eat and not eat. I played sports with the boys, but I wasn’t considered to be one of them anymore (even though the then best friend was), and I wasn’t considered girly enough to hang out with the other girls. In effect, I belonged no where.
There was one boy who liked me since we were eleven, but even he was falling for the other girls. It felt as though I was my right to be a girl was being taken away from me; in some way, you could say that I was being castrated. I felt as though that I was invisible. And I believed at that time that I had to make myself visible, which was only possible by changing my physical appearance. I began to skip my lunches, and there was a sense of empowerment in doing so. But that empowerment had to be concealed, and I went to great lengths to hide what I was doing. I sought to change my bus routes at times so that I could get rid of my lunch, and there were times when I would nibble on my lunch to provide the illusion that nothing was wrong.
This self-destructive behavior of mine continued onward into high school. I would look in the mirror and notice all the things that were wrong with me and count how many pounds I would have to lose to feel worthy of myself. I was at war with myself. My anorexic self would dominate the lines from when I woke up until lunch time which would be when red cherry tomatoes would supply my body with some fuel to struggle against the anorexia. I ate dinners at home to carry on the illusion. I ate each piece of food with disdain, hearing cries of disgust echo in my mind. These were the daily accounts of the war between my body and anorexia. Ever so often, the battle field that was my stomach quieted down to take note of the outside world to see if anyone would intrude. No one ever said anything and we all went about our lives as was, and the war within me continued.
And someone finally did impinge on my suffering, but not in a way that I had wanted. I kept a Xanga, in which some people had found but with whom I was not close, that detailed my day-to-day struggles. Those that read this blog of mine did not know me and I expected nothing of them aside from their readership, which pushed me to put things down in writing. Mind you, I’m not referring to a pro-ana webring. But there was one person who, after cross-referencing IP addresses and Xanga accounts, turned out to be someone that I talked to on a day-to-basis and that I considered to be a good friend of mine. The idea of being spied upon left me feeling ridiculed; it seemed as though the battle that I was facing within myself was nothing more than a round of Age of Empires being watched and commented on in the sidelines. My self-worth imploded on itself (which would contribute to my constant need to achieve); it seemed as though that what I was doing to my body was not making progress in improving my opinion of myself, but rather, was seemingly a farce to everyone else.
The starving eventually stopped late into my sophomore year, but it was only because the heart palpitations began. The issues with my body image lingered and held tightly around my waists. At some point in my high school years, though, it began to loosen its grip. I started to better understand what had affected me and admit to myself that I had had an eating disorder through reading literature. But when asked, I could never say the words “I suffered from anorexia.” The issue has always been a tender one for me. Whenever someone broached the topic, my ears would sharpen to hear what others thought. The associations with how an eating disorder started were considerably different from mine. They were different in the idea that there was a defining reason behind such. I could never determine why it started, but I could always pinpoint that it lost its hold on my life when I focused my attention on college applications. I never realized, until now, that there were still some elements of all these events scattered in my decisions.
It’s funny, really, how long these instances have held their effects over me. I didn’t start wearing contacts until last spring, and when asked why, I would just shrug. The truth is that my best friend in the fifth grade began wearing contacts in the sixth/seventh grade. It seemed to me that I would copying her again (even though contact lenses are such a commodity now) in an attempt to make my image similar to hers because she had been the successful one in terms of grades and dates. To have to face that consideration that contacts would not make me more attractive and that I would “fail” again was horrifying to me.
What had been the problem was that my failure to recognize my eating disorder and body image disturbance was that I had considered my situation not to be of importance because I never had to be hospitalized for my condition. The admitting that I had a problem was complicated by the fact that I could not pinpoint a moment of causation. The truth is, though, is that there was no particular point in time – it was a collective of memories of me not understanding what I had been missing (physically) and that lack of attention from the opposite sex. But now, I am able to concede to the fact that I have had issues with my body image and that the memories were traumatic to me, which is all that matters in better understanding myself.
Of course, I will admit that I’m still taken aback whenever someone complements me. I always awkwardly accept it and wait for the punchline, thinking that it is a set-up for a good joke. This weariness is something that I will be able to overcome with time and re-establishing how I ought to think of myself.
Images via dietsinreview.com, life123.com and mygtv.net