Sunday, October 7, 2012

I'm Still Fighting This War

In addition to being my new favorite gif ever, I'm wanting to avoid having the below pictures being the first thing you freaking see on Facebook. Ugh. Also: Starbuck, I love you.
I'm not doing anything that someone hasn't done before. Hell, Jamie Lee Curtis did it in a magazine a while ago. Lady Gaga recently did it via the internet. But here it is: me.

I'm not looking for validation here, guys, so you don't need to comment that ZOMG YOU LOOK GREAT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?? or YEAH YOU COULD TOTALLY STAND TO LOSE A FEW POUNDS. But you do need to know that this right here? One of the hardest things I've ever done. And I've done a lot of shit. So. Anyway, moving on.

Like so many girls and women, I have been struggling with anorexia since I was 13. There are multiple origin stories, and all of them seem simultaneous. At the beginning of my middle school years, a very thin girl told all of her friends that a girl with a figure should be the only one wearing the shirt I was wearing. My parents reinforced that exercise was not fun by forcing me to go on long runs with them at the park, when I'd rather be frolicking in the back yard or exploring, Calvin and Hobbes style, the woods at the top of the hill. Cosmo and Marie Claire magazines were everywhere: doctor's offices, our mailbox, friend's coffee tables, so I got to see what I was supposed to look like. I started noticing how other girls looked in comparison to me; in particular, I was noticing the girls that were getting attention from boys. I did not look like them at all. And then, the for the first time, I started to cry myself to sleep, thinking that I was worthless.

It all started out so innocently. I would eat smaller portions at dinner; I would only eat one cookie for dessert. Food became an adversary, determined to make me stay alone and unhappy until my dying day. Other girls became my enemies, competing with me because ... that's what girls do? My own body was my tormentor, constantly reminding me of how inadequate I was. I kept it under wraps as best I could as I went through the remainder of junior high and through high school graduation. But it would only get worse from there.

When I was in college, I also was in the gym about three or four hours a day: running on the treadmill, lifting hand weights, taking an hour yoga class, pushing myself on the weight machines, etc. I had no one looking over my shoulder, telling me I should eat something or say, "Shit, dude, you can't have eaten enough calories today to warrant that type of workout." But I felt great. I wore a size six for the first time in my young adult life. Boys and girls were noticing me. I was getting invited to parties (that I didn't want to go to, anyway, but whatever). My confidence was soaring. Until I looked in the mirror. I still wasn't thin enough. I didn't have the flat abs that I was promised by the magazines describing Britney Spears' workout routine. I had cellulite on my thighs. My ass wasn't as perky as I thought it should be. So I'd add on time at the gym, cut a few more highly-nutritious foods (also they have calories OH NO!!!) from my diet, and this cycle would just repeat itself.

Once I graduated from college, the fact that I was poor actually kind of helped with my eating habits staying the same. I couldn't afford a lot of food, so I subsisted on cereal, bagels, V8, and salads. And I'd just been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, so some of the fattiest foods were automatically no longer a part of my eating regimen. It did explain a lot of the digestive issues I'd had for most of my life. Then, I found out that I also had a mild gluten allergy (no more breads) and that I had an autoimmune disorder (one of the symptoms is psoriasis yay), which was the reason I got sick so often. Now, all of these conditions existed for my entire life, as far as I knew*, but it seems that my not eating anything exasperated them. Oh, and also add in smoking: another super healthy habit I picked up to keep my weight down. Ultimately, I was feeling physically well for such a small portion of my life that I didn't really know what being not-sick was like.

But here's a dark secret: I actually liked getting sick. I liked knowing that, because I was ill, I would only be eating soup and drinking water, if that, and at the end of it all, I'd be at least five pounds thinner. I'd find myself hoping that I'd be sick just a few days longer or that I'd actually fall ill so I could be sure that I'd be at my goal weight, which coincidentally, kept getting lower and lower.

This hurts to write, not just because it was in the past, but because it is very much my present, even though I don't always recognize it as such. I declared war on myself when I was 13 and haven't stopped. I make strides, sure; I wore a bikini on the beach in Biloxi, although I spent a lot of my time trying to hide my stomach. I've found parts of my body that I do like and focus on those. I look myself in the eye in our bathroom mirror and say, "I love you," even though I don't necessarily mean it yet. I have a wonderful partner who has done more than any other to help me find acceptance of myself, and he's had to take a strong position when he discovered that I wasn't eating again. I exercise in moderation and make myself stop after an hour. But I fear that this is something that I will always struggle with, that I will always fall back on loathing my body, my temple.

If I have a daughter, I don't ever want her to hate herself for any reason. I don't want her to look in the mirror and start crying because she doesn't like what she sees. I don't want her to embrace whatever asshole tells her she's pretty because she doesn't fully believe it herself.

I watched the above video, posted by Amy Poehler on her Youtube channel Smart Girls at the Party, and started crying because, you know what, all the things that I said above about myself, my story, everything? They are not things that I want my future-possible daughter to think. So maybe acceptance of myself is more than just about me. Maybe it's about all women: current and not-yet-in-existence ones alike. If I can look myself in the eye and actually believe me when I say, "I love you," maybe that will be one step into making this a better place for women. Hell, a better place for people, regardless of who you are.

This is my goal, even if it is a seemingly insignificant (in comparison to a lot of problems around the world) one. I expect to have setbacks, but I want to succeed, even if it's on my deathbed. When I'm 85, I want to be able to look back on my choices, my actions, and say, "You know what? I did okay." I've got a ways to go, but I know I have help on my journey, in the form of a young pre-anorexia Juju, cheering me the whole time.

* Seriously, just ask my parents and they will tell you the many times the word enema was used in my childhood. JUST ASK. You probably won't and that's okay, because ... well, the question would inevitably draw an answer involving poop, and unless you're already a member of my family, it will disgust you.
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