Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Introduction to Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders 101: I'm Fat?

Spring 1988, Suburbs of New York

"Girls, raise your hand if you think you are thin," Dr. M said to her seventh-grade science class, or, more accurately, the female half of the class.

Photo credit: sattva
I do not recall what this question had to do with science, what lesson she was trying to impart. I do remember, though, that the class, in the midst of self-loathing puberty, went deadly silent.

I was sitting at a lab table in the second row. I raised my hand without thinking about it too much.

"You?" she said to me incredulous. "You think you're thin?"

I looked around bewildered. No one else was raising her hand. I had made a terrible mistake. I slowly lowered my hand.

"She's tall," one girl said, breaking the silence, trying to save me from my humiliation, deflecting the suffocating spotlight. (I wonder if she remembers who she is. I do. I am still thankful, although I don't ever think I thanked her.)

I slouched down in my chair, utterly mortified in a way that is almost impossible to describe. In a way that only a 13-year-old girl would feel, humiliated by an adult in front of the entire class.

At the same time, someone else was forcing up the reluctant hand of another girl.

"Okay, now you are thin," Dr. M said to her. The girl reddened. Then Dr. M went on to make whatever point she had set out to make, aside from deflating the delicate egos of her afternoon charges.

I don't think she asked the boys the same question, although I can't be sure, utterly destroyed as I was at that moment. The thin girl looked mortified. I looked at her. She was thin. Questions cycled through my head. Did she not think she was thin? Was she uncomfortable admitting she was thin? Was I fat? I didn't think so, but for the first time in my young life, I wondered.

Eating Disorders 201: Yes, You Are.

Fall 1988, Suburbs of New York

Eighth grade. I was horsing around in the halls after school, as is the wont of the kings and queens of middle school. I remember it being rather late, because the halls were empty except for the few of us being loud.

I was wearing a pair of white jeans. I don't know why I remember that detail, but I do.

I saw Dr. M down the hall. Or maybe she saw me first.

I said hello. Or maybe she said hello first.

Then she said: "Have you lost weight, Debra? You look good."

I gaped at her. I didn't know how to respond. I'm not sure I did respond.

I was 13 years old. I had never dieted. My mom, at least to my knowledge, had never dieted.

I supposed, at that moment, that I had been fat the prior spring. Maybe I had thinned out over the summer? I didn't feel any different. But she had specifically stopped me to highlight this detail, so it must have been salient.


I hated her in that moment. So very, very much. I hated her with as much wrath as a 13-year-old girl could conjure.

I wasn't sure why I was so angry.

Now I know. Do I ever.

Eating Disorders 501: You Can't Unring That Bell

1988-Present, Suburbs of New York, Hanover NH, Stamford CT, Italy, Bolivia, Ghana, New York, Brooklyn

Long before I realized, in retrospect, that a friend of mine during those pre-teen years did have an eating disorder, that her tearing up a soft pretzel every day but not ever eating it was not, in fact, normal behavior...

Long before I happened, my sophomore year in college, upon a friend's dorm room filled with nothing but a treadmill and cases of canned vegetables...

Long before our running coach told my anorexic and bulimic friend she could run a marathon, even though her doctor said she might have a heart attack, weakened as she was by the ravages of her disease...

Long before I watched a brilliant woman with whom I worked slowly wither away to nothing, physically and then actually...

Long before any of that, my science teacher had taught me a lesson. One I wish I had never learned.

I barely remember dissecting my first frog, but the memory of the first time someone made me question my worth, my beauty... I remember that. Thanks, Dr. M. Thanks a lot.

Photo credit: cjansuesbri


This post was born of the stories that have poured forth following my original guest post for the Our Land series at Kristi's Finding Ninee. In "The Greatest Gift," I wrote about self-compassion and how I might teach my son to love himself.

Afterwards, I was inspired to write an article for my health and fitness blog at Today's Mama called "Five Ways to Promote a Positive Body Image." In my research for that piece, I happened upon a wonderful example of positive role modeling from Kim Bongiorno over at In the Powder Room. It's called "Her Future Fat Thighs." Please read it.

Finally, Jane at Nothing By the Book, one of my very favorite bloggers, wrote a personal piece called "Please Don't Give My Daughter an Eating Disorder" about the time her 6-year-old daughter was told to stop eating an ice cream cone by man who said she was going to get fat. Really? And you wonder why I was relieved when I had a son? I cried and shook with rage as I read her post.

So I decided to share my own introduction to eating disorders here. Apparently, I should count myself lucky to have only been introduced to such despicable filth at the age of 13 instead of 6.

Incidentally, this is what I looked like in middle school:

What is your first recollection of being judged for your body? When was your introduction to Eating Disorders?

This post is dedicated to my dear friend K. May you continue to fight the good fight. I love you.