About five years ago during Christmas break, I stepped on a scale, looked down and saw the number 85 flash across the screen. 85 pounds. A wave of fear washed over me and the first thought that crossed my mind was, “How did I gain two pounds in the last day? I should go do some sit-ups.” I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.
At 21 years old and 5 feet tall, I weighed a whopping 85 pounds. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was disgusting fat on my thighs and stomach that needed to be removed. Until the second semester of my freshman year in college, I had always been a genuinely happy and healthy girl, oblivious to the harsh realities of how cruel humans can truly be to one another. In college, however, as one traumatizing event after another occurred, my rose-colored view and understanding of the world came crashing down. The sequence of events that eventually led to my fall and crash landing at rock bottom are too numerous and broad ranging to recount here. Just know that all it really took was one tiny pebble to trigger the landslide.
For four years, I scheduled each day around what I would eat and how I would work off the calories (900 calories was the maximum I allowed myself for a day). At one point, I remember eating only two apples a day and doing over 600 sit-ups and running four miles to work it all off. I lost hair, my nails became brittle, my skin turned yellow, and I even stopped having a period for two years. My doctors were worried that I had lost the ability to ever have children. I felt utterly lost and alone.
That same winter that the number 85 disappointed me, one of my very close friends shot himself in the head…two days after I had had lunch with him. At the funeral, as I stood there in the cemetery listening to the gunshots of a 21 gun salute and the melody of “Taps” being played solemnly by a lone trumpet, I watched tears stream down the faces of a platoon of fully uniformed marines. I watched a large, intimidating 6’1 man throw himself over the coffin of his son and cry loud, heart-wrenching sobs. As I grieved along with the friends and family of this boy, I thought to myself, “He did this quickly, I’m doing this slowly. My family and friends are suffering the same pain, but over a much longer period of time. They are helplessly watching me kill myself. This has to stop. This has to stop. This is selfish and ridiculous. I have had nothing but a blessed life and this has to stop.”
It took me another year or two to fully come out of my eating disorder. And if it hadn’t been for the amazing support I had from my family, friends, professors, and coaches, I might not be alive today. The most frustrating and embarrassing part of all of this is that my distorted body image has never left me. I know better. I know how blessed my life is. I know that there are people in the world who don’t have clean water, food, or shelter. I know that I am healthy. I know that my view of my body is distorted and ridiculous. But above all else, while I may never overcome this view of myself, I know that I am not my body image.