Trigger warning: This post vividly describes bulimic behavior.
I sat on the bathroom floor with a gallon of vanilla ice-cream positioned between my thighs. I’d arrived home from school, stripped off my jeans, pulled on gray cotton boxers shorts and headed for the freezer. Outside the temperature was spiking 92. I was hot, uncomfortable.
The cold against my skin reminded me of what I was doing, even once I’d slipped into the coma of dessert spoon to ice-cream tub to lips and tongue to tub to lips and tongue to tub to lips and tongue to tub. The cold reminded me that there was ice-cream. And, if there was ice-cream, I must be eating.
I was already on my knees; resting back on my haunches. Tub-lips-tongue-tub-lips-tongue-tub-lips-tongue-tub-lips-tongue-tub. Empty. The spoons scraped against plastic and came up with creamy, yellow water. I rose from my haunches, lunged over to the porcelain bowl and heaved. I pulled my abs in, sucked my gut up into itself, and vomited. I emptied myself until I could imagine the whole gallon tub relieved into the toilet bowl.
This was my reality. Ice-cream. Oreo cookies. Chocolate. And not just in 8th grade, or 9th grade, but consistently until I was 23. And then periodically afterwards; when I felt inadequate at work, when my wife and I fought, when I was PMS bloated and my trousers were too tight, when I missed my family, when I doubted myself, when I didn’t feel “pretty”.
Bingeing and purging was my reality. Sometimes it was food. Sometimes it was alcohol. Often, as a young adult, it was both.
My weight transitioned from 190lbs at age 15 to 159lbs at age 17, 172lbs freshman year of college to 248.6lbs at age 22, 185lbs at 24 to 163lbs at 28, 185lbs at the ending of my marriage to 225lbs now. It’s a little scary to me that I remember those weights; though it is unsurprising. Numbers ruled my life. I have always hated my weight. I have anguished at the sizes equated with each weight: 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, xs, s, m, l, xl, xxl, 28, 30, 32, 34, 26, 38, 40, 42. At each number I have despaired at the reflection in the mirror and the pictures taken.
Tonight, I looked back through 12 years of photographs on Facebook; twelve years from the middle of college until now. And, while looking at all of them I thought, “Joanne, you are beautiful. You have always been beautiful. Why have you hated yourself, critiqued yourself, and been so unsure of yourself for so many years?”
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I do know that I am not the girl on the bathroom floor anymore. I am not the young woman with the bottle of red wine. I have the potential to be the woman with the bag of chocolate or the store-bought cake, but I don’t want to be because I know that when I was that woman before, I have hated myself.
Today, at 225lbs I am afraid that I am not, will not be, cannot be perceived as pretty. But, dammit, I am beautiful.
I am beautiful because I am learning to listen to my body and to my emotions. I am beautiful because I love my family and friends with all the fibers of my being. I am beautiful because I sing unabashedly in my car, the shower, and in stairwells in random buildings. I am beautiful because I share my story to give others voice. I am beautiful because I can look at the pictures of myself over the past 12 years and realize that I have been hurting for a long, long time. And that, in turn, I have hurt myself for a long, long time. I am beautiful because I can forgive myself for perpetrating that hurt upon my self. I am beautiful because I want to take this life, my love for myself, for people, for laughter and storytelling and be a bright, colorful, positive energy. I am beautiful.
And I may be perceived as overweight and so incapable of being “pretty.” I may not have someone’s dream body. But I have legs and I can run. And I can smile and laugh with my shepherd-pup as we play tag. I can hit some high notes and some throaty alto tones. I can breathe deep into my lungs with measured breaths during meditation. I can give my body and soul up to G-d in the midst of prayer. I can receive deep, long, loving hugs- and give them in return. I can be embodied in this body. I am embodied in my body. And that, that is beauty. That is a far, far journey from the scared, sad little girl that sat on the bathroom floor, eating instead of talking and purging instead of crying.
It’s amazing what 12 years of Facebook pictures, 18 months of therapy and a little gentleness will do for perspective.