Overall, things are good. Really, really good.Read More
This is not just a story. This is my story. This is relaxation, transcending discomfort and becoming one with the body, the vessel that will propel me towards my dreams, my goals, the only thing I will own all my life, that no man can ever take away from me no matter how hard he tries. This is violence and diamond-studded teeth sinking into jagged fingers. This is love and softness, holding hands on the beach and peach-blushed, sunburned skin skin. This is housekeeping, picking up trash on the floor of my heart and putting everything back in its place so that I can heal, and that the garden of my heart will flourish. This is admitting, accepting, embracing, and screaming that I am not broken, that I have always been as cratered and glowing as the moon herself. This is no bra and stiff sandals on the way love in home, all the way to body love and letting her in. This is amazement and feminine magic, hair out of place, and being seen, loved, and deemed beautiful without makeup. This is cheap lipstick and men’s deodorant, all the random beads I strung together the year it happened to me and all the little girls in the world, and how their discordance hummed and throbbed and glowed with all the magic of the first time I saw a firefly at summer camp. This is healing, and loving, and letting myself grow. This is admitting, accepting, enjoying, annd loving that I have a body and knowing that I am.
I spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. It’s about five minutes away from my college, so it’s easy to head to the food court between classes, get a bite to eat, and hit up my favorite stores before going back to my lectures. Plus, there’s not a whole lot do to do in my town, so when I’m looking for a way to kill a few hours with some friends, we make our way over to the mall.
In the countless hours I’ve spent looking at jewelry that will surely turn my skin green and drooling over band t-shirts at Hot Topic, I’ve noticed that there is a common language of body-bashing that girls especially seem to share. It starts innocuously– we’ll be looking at an item of clothing and debating whether or not we want to try it on. But more often than not, one of us will decide that it wouldn’t look right on us, not because the clothing is flawed, but because our bodies are. Then, the “fat talk” starts. I’ve watched my friends, whose good qualities like humor, intelligence, and honesty make them beautiful, pick apart every aspect of their bodies, from their hairlines to their calves. I’m guilty of this too. All too often have I stood in a fitting room and wished my stomach weren’t so big, that my thighs didn’t touch, and so on. But when I’m with another female friend, who has her own insecurities about her body, we can spend the entire shopping trip criticizing ourselves until we’re out of the notion to buy anything because we feel so ugly and unattractive.
I think it’s sad that girls bond over hating their bodies, but on Monday, I got a breath of fresh air. My friends in my college’s GSA are getting ready to go to a local university’s Pride Prom, a dance for LGBT+ students, and on Monday we went to the mall to look at formal wear. We’re a range of different sizes; some of us are more plus-sized, while some of us are rail-thin, and some of us are in between. We tried the most ridiculous, expensive dresses we could find, and then some that were more appropriate for the event.
Dress shopping has always been challenging for me because the sizes vary by brand and store. My anorexia likes absolutes. It likes to know that I am as small as I can be, that there is no room for “improvement.” But when I’m buying a dress, I might be four sizes bigger in one store than I am in another. It drives my anorexia up the wall. For this reason, I typically avoid dress shopping at all costs, and I give up very easily. If I don’t fit into my desired size, the trip is a failure, and I feel like a failure. This time was different. I grabbed dresses off the rack in any size I thought might have even a chance of fitting, and I tried them on without even glancing at the tags. Sometimes, I had to get my friends to help me zip a dress, and even then, the zipper wouldn’t stay up. In the past, this would have sent me spiraling into self-loathing, but this time, it was no big deal. I simply put the dress back and tried on another one.
But even more amazing than my personal victories was the fact that throughout the whole shopping trip, no one said a negative word about their bodies. There was no fat talk, no body-shaming, and no comparisons. We told each other that we looked beautiful. We looked for dresses that would match each other’s eyes, and we laughed when we looked silly in an ill-fitting dress. It was so refreshing to be around people who accept their bodies for all their uniquenesses. I’m realizing that I’m not so different from my confident friends that I can look in the mirror and actually like what I see. I used to believe I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough to “deserve” that privilege, but I know now that everyone deserves to love their body, regardless of their weight or size. It’s been a long road to self-acceptance, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
I am fifteen, and the tech rudely asks me “How did you start self-harming?” as I sit huddled in a chair in the adolescent psychiatric hospital. She is looking at the healed scratches on my legs and arms that I made with a thumbtack weeks before. I don’t answer her, and she cranes her neck trying to make eye contact with me as I stare at the floor. “I have a daughter about your age. I don’t want her to start. Did you read about it? See it on TV?”
“No. I just did it,” I mumble.
“But what made you? Were your friends doing it?”
She gives up and walks over to another patient, leaving me to trace the pink and white lines on my skin with my bitten-down fingernails. I know I will do it again.
I started self-harming just before I turned fourteen. I was being bullied in school, and not being treated for depression, which I didn’t know I had. I remember the night clearly: I was in the shower, and I scratched my chest and wrists until they bled. It was the beginning of an addiction that would follow me for the next five years. I graduated to needles, thumbtacks, nails, knives, and finally, razors. I hoarded band-aids, gauze pads, medical tape. My rituals were obsessive and painstaking. My bathroom became a sanctuary. It was easy to clean up the copious amounts of blood if I cut in the shower; I was already naked, so I didn’t have to worry about getting blood on my clothes, and I could flush the band-aid wrappers down the toilet so as not to leave evidence in the wastebasket. I started cutting on a daily basis, and soon, my life revolved around self-injury.
I defended my habit profusely, ignoring the fact that it was detracting from my life. I missed out on pool parties, beach dates, being outside in the summer, tank tops, shorts, sex… It wasn’t that bad, right? I’d just wear a cardigan in the ninety degree weather. I’d replace my bloodstained clothes. I’d skip that date, just in case there was intimacy. I was fine.
“I’ve been bleeding for three days,” I tell the therapist running the women’s eating disorder support group. “Do you think I need stitches?”
“Yes,” she says. “You need to go to an emergency clinic as soon as you can.”
The bleeding stops, and I don’t go. I slice up the opposite leg the next weekend. I’m fine.
“I’m six months self-harm free!” I announce, and the small room bursts into applause. My IOP is proud of me, but I’m not proud of myself. It’s just a matter of time until I cut again. I still have razors stashed in my dresser, a few gauze pads in the bathroom, and half a roll of medical tape. They ask me how I did it, and one girl rolls her eyes when I tell her my secret is chain-smoking.
A boy hits me.
I quit smoking.
I cut again.
It hasn’t been six months, but two weeks is still something to celebrate. Today, I threw out the bloody razors in my bathroom cabinet. I dumped the gauze pads, the tape, the band-aids, everything into a trash bag and took it out to the garage. I want to eradicate self-harm from my life. Cutting has brought me nothing but pain, literally and figuratively, and it’s time to give it up. My body is not a war zone–it is a vehicle for life. My scars are a road map that show me where I’ve been, and yes, they show me where I could go. Every day, I make the choice not to return to self-harm. Today, I am balanced, healthy, and safe. These are my scars. Although my body tells a story of pain, I am love, I am life, I am joy.
I’ve put you through a lot, and I want to apologize for that. Thank you for sticking by me even when I said I hated you. Thank you for doing your best to heal me when I cut you and starved you. Thank you for not giving out on me all those afternoons I spent hunched over the toilet. Thank you for keeping me alive even though I did everything to destroy you.
I love your hands. Not only are they beautiful and delicate, but they are skilled at typing, and help me get stories and poems out of my head as quickly as I think of them. That’s no easy task. I know sometimes your hands shake with anxiety, but that’s okay. You have choir girl lungs to help you take a deep breath and calm down.
I’m grateful for your legs, and I’m sorry for covering them with scars. I’ll do my best not to let it happen again. I love how they’re strong enough to help me ride a bike across campus and stand tall during choir practice. You have my mom’s legs, which are as beautiful as they are powerful. Thanks for helping me take walks through the woods at the Creek, and through my neighborhood with my dogs. Thanks for helping me stand during long periods of time at work, and making it easy to pass the swim test at Eckerd, and for looking great in almost any pair of jeans. Thanks for getting me where I need to go.
Body, you have a beautiful face, and I love how your eyes crinkle up when I smile genuinely. Even your big Jewish nose is beautiful. It fits your face.
Your tummy us cute. You were not meant to have a flat stomach, but that’s okay because your tummy holds so many healthy organs, which keep me feeling good. And you also look cute in a bathing suit, even your little pink polka-dot bikini. I promise to take you to the beach this summer and get sand all over your beautiful curves, and enjoy a real lunch–not just just the diet energy drinks that make you feel sick and wired. Sorry about how I subjected you to not one, but two unsuccessful bellybutton piercings, but I appreciate the little purple scar you bear. I think it’s kind of cute.
I love your strong arms and how they have the faintest hint of a bicep from pulling my weight forward on the swing set. I promise not to call you fat anymore. I love how your arms let me hold my baby cousin, carry lots of groceries to people’s cars, and open doors for people who can’t do it themselves. Thanks for helping me steer blind customers’ carts through the store without them bumping into things.
Thanks for having a cute butt that doesn’t hurt to sit on anymore. Thanks for looking good in your clothes that finally fit you properly. Thanks for your curves and all the soft parts of you. Thanks for always being there for me. I look forward to many more adventures to come.