“She has fat arms.”
This was my response to my friend’s question, “What do you think of so and so?”
We were sitting in our corner of the quad. It was lunch hour, and I was crinkling up the flimsy plastic wrapping from my Linda’s cookie. A cookie for lunch. It was my third that day.
“I don’t understand why all the guys like her,” she said.
I walked a few feet over to the lone trash can in the corner and surveyed my friends. There was “J”*, an exotic woman, and tiny. She was our fashionista. She had these big, blue eyes, these big, brown curls, and these long, waifish legs. She was a size zero. There was “O”*– a size double zero. She had that naturally toned “yoga” look, but chose to hide her figure beneath awkward Led Zeppelin tees. “L”* was the gawky mother hen of the group. She was a custom sized woman, being five foot ten and in fact, thinner than a rail. She leaned against the post, munching away at a frozen lasagna dinner. Over 500 calories, I’m sure. At least. Finally, there was “M”*. Or simply, Blondie. Blondie wasn’t a size zero. Hardly. Not that she was fat or anything, but she definitely lacked that waifish physique that seemed to be a trend amongst my chosen group of friends. She had a perfect hourglass figure, and she was beautiful. But her arms weren’t sticks, her legs far from toothpicks.
As for me, I wasn’t really what you might call “waifish.” I personally enjoyed stuffing my face with Linda’s cookies at any opportunity granted me. I had a bit of a pot belly, but still somehow managed to maintain my size-one jeans. Both food and weight were neither here nor there for me.
At least, not just then. That came a bit later.
“She has fat arms and legs,” I agreed, “You and I might have fat stomachs, but at least we don’t have fat arms.”
J and I had had this conversation before. Many, many times. Realistically, we were both rather small. It was our minds that were dysmorphic. And in our desperation to justify our lack of male attention, our failures to fit in with the “popular group,” our feelings of self-loathing in regards to our appearances, we took it into our own hands to hyperbolize the flaws of those “other girls” around us.
“Dalyce, neither of you have fat stomachs,” Blondie chimed in, “Seriously. You’re stick skinny! Both of you.” She balled up her fist, crunching her own flimsy wrapper between her fingers and her palm. She glanced down at the label: “Linda’s Cookies.” Those big, bubble gum pink letters seemed to taunt her. Her pupils suddenly dilated, forlorn, scared.
“I’m still hungry. See! I’m always hungry,” I whined, considering. “Want to go grab another cookie with me?”
Blondie looked up, the coral returning to her eyes. She smiled, which was always a great thing.
“No, I’m not hungry. I actually have to use the bathroom.”
Whether or not this was the first time my friend “M” forced herself to throw up, I have no way of knowing. I know that it was around this time that it all started. For all of us. At least, for J, Blondie, and me. A relapse in J’s case, an auspicious beginning for both Blondie and me.
I say it started for the three of us, but the thing with me is, I was never even that disordered. I mean, I was always one of those quote unquote “skinny bitches” that ate whatever she wanted, and didn’t get fat. But then, as I said, it was around this time that I watched two of my best friends lose twenty something pounds, when they were already thin, from eating disorders. And as much as I hate to admit this now, I found that to be inspiring.
I was never as good as they were at eating disorders. I actually really sucked at having an eating disorder. At least, I sucked at having what I saw as the “preferred” type of eating disorder. The kind that makes you skinny.
Looking back, I can see that I definitely struggled with compulsive overeating. Stuffing my face with three to four Linda’s cookies a day, in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner — that’s going a bit overboard, as far as food is concerned. And you know, a part of me has always been mad at myself because I’ve never really qualified “medically” as having had an eating disorder.
After watching Blondie drop about 15 pounds, I went through a phase where I would eat a truck ton of food and make myself throw up. I didn’t want to “give up” anything I liked eating, you see. I liked eating nachos, spinach dip, and all kinds of fatty things. Milkshakes were a special favorite. I worked at a burrito joint, so I loved shoving like, seven burritos down my throat every time I was on break.
That bulimic thing, I guess it worked for a while. I mean, I didn’t lose, but I didn’t gain either. Which was fine, until I had this brilliant new idea. I decided that I’d start using cocaine. Because then, I could eat whatever I wanted, and I wouldn’t be hungry after the fact. I thought it would speed up my metabolism, quickly burning off whatever it was I’d decided to shovel down my throat. And the best part about it was, Blondie was right on board with me. Two bulimics turned cokeheads. We were a charming pair, indeed.
At this point, my intake, which was already excessive at two burritos per lunch, turned into– I shudder to think about it, but sometimes, I would eat nearly seven burritos over the course of any given shift. It was really bad. Whenever a customer would “order wrong,” I would take it into my own hands and eat it myself. I would run to the back and just scarf it down. Everyone I worked with just thought it was the cutest damned thing, skinny ole me eating more calories than a whale. But it was terrible. Honestly, awful.
You hear about all of these anorexic girls who live off lettuce leaves and run five miles a day. People are concerned about them, because they’re not eating. In my group of friends, we had the full color palette of eating disorders. “J”, who went through phases of living off diet coke. Blondie, who binged, purged, and eventually limited her intake to diet pills, Rockstars, and cocaine. And me, who binged, binged, binged, before eventually turning to any “upper” narcotic I could get my hands on, desperate for something to nullify my otherwise ravenous appetite.
The scariest part about it is, how completely, utterly oblivious I was to all of it while these things were unfolding. I never really got down to a particularly scary “low weight.” There was one time, at the height of my substance abuse, where I was starting to look a bit alarming. But other than that, I would shove burritos down my throat while sober and fast for a few days while high, maintaining all the while a relatively “normal” weight.
At the same time, I would stay up late into the night with M and J, commenting, completely unawares, about their weights. “How do you guys stay so skinny? How do you stop yourself from eating? I just love food soo much. And I think throwing up is gross.”
“Fat arms. Fat thighs. Fat arms. Fat thighs.” “You’re skinny. You have no stomach. I hate my stomach. I want your stomach.” The comments were relentless, the comparisons never-ending. It was terrible, the things that came out of my mouth. I was perpetuating the disordered eating habits in the minds of both of my best friends. And unintentionally on their parts, they were doing the same thing for me.
“Dalyce, you don’t want an eating disorder. It’s hell,” they would tell me. “All you’ll think about is food. Weight. Food. Weight. Food.” What they didn’t know was, food was all I’d thought about anyway. Weight was a close second. The worst part about it, for me, was that I wasn’t even “thin”, like they were. I had nothing to show for my own fucked up habits.
M eventually got down to that elusive “size zero”. J, for the most part, found recovery through her dedication to her work — she was going to be an actress. As for me, well, I’m still trying to come to terms. The shame I feel for knowing that I triggered an eating disorder in one or more of my best friends — that doesn’t just go away. The shame I feel for barely, finally, after 21 years of existing, having found the path to a forming healthy relationship with food — it’s hard.
I browse the internet, and I find new waves of young girls who are suffering from the same. And you think it’s about “being skinny”. Of course, a part of it is. Honestly, girls want to be thin, and anyone who says it “isn’t about weight” is full of it. On the same token, anyone who says it’s merely “about control” is also, full of it!
I think there a lot of reasons why people develop eating disorders. I know from experience that there are even more reasons why people perpetuate eating disorders. I don’t really know what any of them are but one pattern I’m seeing is — a part of it’s gotta be attention. Love. I feel like eating disorders fill some kind of void in your life. I mean, that sounds crazy, trite, even. But with nicknames like “Ana” or “Mia”, it’s almost like they become a demented variation on the imaginary friend. This, at least, seems to have been true with my friends– I mean, we did have each other. So you’d think, why even bother with death-dancing fiends like “ana” or “mia”? But that’s the thing about being an ephemeral bunch. I’m lucky to say I’ve been graced with knowing and befriending some of the world’s most beautiful and talented people. Yet, these same people with whom I am intimate, are some of the world’s saddest, most lonely souls. I can’t quite describe it, and I fear I’m digressing. I just hope this essay doesn’t trigger anything for you. I don’t want to trigger anyone, to do anything. Never, ever again.