I was 13, lying on the pediatrician table for the last time when he made the pronouncement. At 5’6″ with a curvy build, I was the same height I am today, at 46.
“127,” he said before adding the death part of the sentence: “You could stand to lose a few pounds.”
He was an adult, I was a kid. He was a doctor, I was a girl. There was no question who knew best.
After that, I started looking in the mirror. All the time. I was examining my body from all angles, critiquing, criticizing. I was different from my friends. They were mostly small, petite, looking to be protected by boys. I was something of an amazon. I had no protection.
I found a weapon. It was the scale in my mother’s bathroom, the one she used to document the results of her latest fad diet. It was grey, and unemotional. No one knew how many times I tiptoed onto it, gazing at my reflection, watching the numbers, and my curves, shrink, one ugly pound at a time. But though my body changed, my eyes did not. Somehow, if I turned to the side, I could still see flaws.
Losing weight was simple math. All I had to do was count the calories in every food before I ate it. No carbs. For the first time in my life, I had complete control. It was my mouth, and my choice what went into it. I also stepped up my dance routine. I was taking three classes in a row, nibbling on a piece of cheddar cheese for supper.
Six weeks later, I was wearing Jordache jeans in a size 25, bony hips jutting out the sides. I looked like a skeleton with long hair but I was damn proud of the compliments I was receiving every day. How do you do it? my friends would ask. And I’d tell them that Trident gum has fewer calories than Dentyne. But at night, I’d wake sweating from nightmares about gorging on a bagful of Oreos. In those heart-exploding dreams, I understood what it felt like to be bulimic, to give into your body’s natural hunger, to fail, and to punish yourself for it after. Thank God, it never got that far.
Or, more accurately, thank you, Mom. She caught me getting out of the bath and noticed the bones of my spine bulging from my back and got me help. For the next year, I talked with a psychologist about feeling scared to grow up and my urge to control. A nutritionist had me keeping a journal of my food intake. I was a smart kid who had to face the fact that I had a self-induced problem that I needed to address. It had only been a few months of early stage anorexia and already I was eating my way out, trying my best to stop counting, to start loving who I was. I was lucky.
Hearing the beautiful Katie Couric discuss her own battle with bulimia, I wish I could have sat with her in the college lunch room and shared my smoked meat sandwich and my story. I wish I had hugged 3-year-old Demi Lovato as she rubbed her toddler-tummy hoping to flatten it out – before she was bullied in high school, before she started binging and purging and cutting. If I had met Lady Gaga when she was 15, I would have told her that when she plays piano, her soul is in the keys. Her music is that hauntingly beautiful and so is she.
I want the meet the teenage girl who wrote “My Struggle with Bulimia.” She was hiding her eating disorder from her parents even though she says I’m so near death I can brush it with my eyelashes. When I read that she feels betrayed by her younger sister for finally telling her mom, for saving her life, I cry. I cry for her and her sister, for Katie and Demi and Gaga, for myself, for all the girls out there who don’t feel pretty and worthy just the way they are – and for us, their Moms, the women who came before, and know better.
Today, I thank Katie, and Demi and Gaga for telling the truth. Despite their fame and fortune, they had shame that made them hide, but now they know better, too. It’s time for a Body Revolution, according to Lady Gaga, who, in addition to launching her Born This Way Foundation in 2011, added a new Facebook link to her Little Monsters website, inviting fans to share their perceived flaws, to “be brave and post a photo that celebrates your triumph over insecurities.” The site is jammed with hits.
I say as mothers, we have a duty to help. We are the guardians of our girls’ self image, and we’ve been there. We know better. So join the Born This Way Body Revolution and make your daughter feel beautiful by:
*Pointing out her unique beauty – the curves, the freckles, the shape of her eyes
*Admiring different types of beauty in others. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors
*Feeling beautiful yourself – despite what you see as your shortcomings
*Sharing your own battle with self image
*Instilling a healthy pattern of eating early and being aware of changes in her eating habits, especially during puberty
*Letting her develop her own sense of style and refraining from being critical about how she looks or dresses or wears her hair
*Focusing on her inner beauty – intelligence, creativity, sense of humor, interests, talents
*Watching TV shows together and pointing out images that are unhealthy
*Educating her about the dangers and reality of eating disorders – in media and among friends
*Always showing your love – hugging her, praising her, telling her she is beautiful and worthy the way she was born, no matter what her age or size
*Discussing the fact that everyone has insecurities – even celebrities, even Moms