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I stood bare-skinned in front of the streaked bathroom mirror, staring fixedly at the chilling reflection before me. My brittle yellow nails traced gently up and down my jutting ribcage, playing a silent, bitter melody on a morbid xylophone of frail bones.
Vacant eyes sat sunken in translucent skin, holding back tears whose release was long delayed. 57 pounds fat. I thought to myself, disgusted by the number being read on the scale below. All I want is to be beautiful.
This night was no different from the rest. I was only 11 years of age, and weighing myself had already become a part of my nightly routine. Locked in my mother’s cold tile bathroom, I would stare at the scale’s pixilated number and review all that I had eaten over the last several days. One half cup of dry bran flakes, 90 calories. A wheat tortilla, 120 calories. An apple which I had barbarically devoured down to half of the core, 80 calories.
Every bite I took made me a failure. Each moved me one swallow further from perfection. Barely emerging into the rocky years of adolescence, my eating disorder had already sent my life spinning out of control. I was physically and emotionally depleted and subjected myself daily to five miles on the treadmill and a diet of only low-calorie, low-fat food.
Growing up I never expected I would wind up as an anorexic pre-teen. I was a carefree young girl who enjoyed anything laden with sugar and was convinced that ‘calorie’ was simply the adult word for some unit of money.
Entering middle school, however, I began to see food as the enemy. Flipping through Teen Vogue magazine, I would compare myself to the slender elegant models whose bodies appeared so beautiful compared to my own 4 foot, 9 inch mass of gangly limbs and baby fat. I began to take note of the calories in the food I consume, swapping out potato chips for fruit and ice cream for low fat yogurt. Each day after school, I would jog around my neighborhood, reminding myself that no amount of physical pain compared to the value of physical perfection.
When the weight began to come off, I remember feeling elated with joy. Three pounds thinner and that much closer to looking like the airbrushed celebrities who pranced around half-naked during television commercials.
Soon, however, I had lost 33 pounds and was slipping into a dark abyss of hopelessness and depression. The nutrition facts label had practically become the logo for my everyday life and no amount of physical activity or food deprivation was able to bestow me with a much-desired sense of control. I was falling fast. The girl who once loved brownie batter and barbecue chips had morphed into a limp, 60 pound pile of bones and scaly skin.
By this time, my eating disorder had hit rock bottom and my family had left me with no choice but to receive the help I needed. I remember the nights of family strain through a blur of dizziness and tears. The sound of my mother’s muffled sobs and the desperate yelling of my father, as he insisted that I eat the food remaining on my dinner plate. Before long, I found myself wallowing in the office of an adolescent specialist, the protruding vertebrae of my spine driving into the back of the plastic chair on which I sat. I felt a lump forming in my throat as the doctor spoke gently of an eating plan, of 4 meals per day and regular high-calorie snacks. I heard something said about the prohibiting of exercise and the dam holding back my tears snapped. Bawling and desperate I trembled with fear, pleading to go home, imploring to return to my quest for beauty and perfection.
Over time, with counseling and support from my parents, sister and team of doctors, I was able to heal not only my body, but my mind as well. I learned to accept that my previous behavior and mindset was not healthy or rational, and that I could never obtain control over my life by starving my body of nourishment.
More than anything, I will forever possess gratitude for realizing that the illusive concept of perfection does not exist. No matter how often we are exposed to its standards, it is vital that we remind one another that beauty does not lie in the number of inches around your waist. Beauty is the ability to stay strong through times of desperation and to hold a middle finger up to society’s ideals, telling the world that you are magnificent just the way you are.
by Anna Wright