Around the end of eighth grade, my mom caught me with a bottle of some bullshit green tea diet pills. I wove a quick and dirty alibi: my tragically anorexic friend, Perry, left them at our house. I had no idea how they’d danced into my desk drawer. After an abbreviated, inconclusive investigation, she let me off the hook. She was panicked and suspicious, but my excuse was sound-ish. We never spoke of it again. I realize now that she was probably in acute denial about the find. Surely, her 13-year-old wasn’t actually popping off-brand laxatives to shrink her barely pubescent body.
At the time, I was thinner than I’d ever been. We’d moved to Denver that September, and my new school was coed and very athletic. Students were required to play a sport each semester, and during what turned out to be a brief tenure in Colorado, most of my baby fat melted. As I got skinnier, though, I got closer and closer to getting my first period. So, naturally, my first real battles with my body emerged alongside my first pubes ‘n’ boobs. As all the lanky blondies devoured mocha frappuccinos and Einstein’s pizza bagels after practice, I’d sip iced coffee and struggle to tuck my (nonexistent) middle school muffin top into my athletic shorts. I was convinced that until my hip bones protruded as sharply as Molly’s, Caitlin’s, and Chloe’s, no eighth grade flow would flip for me. So I, at maybe 5’2” and 105 pounds, started waking up three hours before school started. That gave me enough time to run a couple of miles, then do a few core exercises, then shower, then weigh myself, then straighten my hair, then do my makeup, then get dressed, then eat “breakfast” (coffee and an apple), and finally, right before I got in the car with my dad, update my weight loss goals:
Stomach: 8 pounds
Thighs: 4 pounds each
Arms: 2 pounds each
I wanted to weigh 80 pounds. I wanted to be so thin that my mom’s friends would ask her if I was OK. To me that would mean I was beautiful. So I drank coffee, ate apples, took diet pills, made lists, and eventually, flirted with bulimia. It never really took. I’d “binge,” feel defeated by that burrito I didn’t finish, and scurry to my bathroom. First, I’d shyly shove my fingers down my throat. When that didn’t work, I’d chug some water and poke at my tonsils with a toothbrush, because I read on some thinspo blog that sometimes worked. Usually, I’d just gag for a minute or two, my eyes would well up, and if I was lucky, I’d regurgitate a little something. It didn’t last long; it wasn’t my “thing.”
I’m not too thin. I’ve never been too thin. I don’t always feel incapacitated by body obsession — by my food thoughts. And I’m not — nor have I really been — anorexic or bulimic. But I know what it feels like, I think. I know what it feels like to be consumed by your consumption. To jitter with paranoia that people are constantly critiquing your body — cheapening it, fattening it. To emphatically believe that your weight and your happiness are perfectly, inversely proportional. I’m still there. I don’t remember the last time I used a toothbrush for something other than toothbrushing, but I’m still there. And so are a very, very significant minority of the all the young women I love. We have long been slaves to that apex of tall, thin, white, blond perfection to which we’ve been climbing since before we could walk. Eating disorders have always been on the table. Even if we didn’t have one, we grew up with them.
Last night, I had an unusual conversation with a guy I’m hooking up with. I’m turning my post about Adderall into my final project for Radio, so I was interviewing him about his experience with the drug. Our conversation led to the sweet relationship between amphetamines and eating disorders. He looked confused.
“Wait… what’s bulimia again? And what’s anorexia? I think one of them makes you boot… right?”
My reaction fell short of professional.
“…are you joking?”
Yeah, one of them makes you boot. Something like that.