Possible trigger warning with mention of behaviors.
Chapter 11 – The Making of an Anorexic
“The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.” – Quentin Crisp
Because I felt out of place as a child and assumed that nobody liked me or wanted to be around me because I was fat, I became a bit of a loner. In my eyes, people didn’t ever like me, they just tolerated me.
While I was fortunate to have a mother who was always there for me, I ended up relying too heavily on her companionship. In a sense we became enmeshed, and I found it hard to separate from her later. It wasn’t so much that I had any sort of separation anxiety (I actually liked going to friends’ houses to escape the tension in my own house); it was more that I relied on her opinion and approval far too much. I had trouble making up my mind and making decisions alone. At the same time, I feared her criticism. Often she would comment on the weight of neighbors and even strangers. Though she never commented on my weight, she did try to get me to eat slimming foods and, at the suggestion of a doctor, switched me from whole milk to skim milk.
A friend of mine from high school, who developed severe anorexia after she was in college, has a mother who often makes comments about other people’s weight. She has even gone so far as to offer diet tips to people she feels are in need of dropping a few pounds, even if these people haven't asked for her advice. Meanwhile her daughter is terrified of gaining weight and goes running despite the fact that she now looks skeletal. There doesn’t seem to be a definite link between overly critical parents and anorexia, but I can’t help but think that criticism of this nature doesn’t exactly help a girl with anorexic tendencies become a self-confident, healthy adult. Many of the other girls I have met, both in my teens and as an adult, who have suffered from an eating disorder – especially anorexia – were raised in all kinds of different family situations, but the one common thread was that they did appear to be more sensitive to criticism than the average person. I certainly was.
Because I was so sensitive, people’s comments went to my core, and my feelings were often hurt over trivial childhood banter. I took most comments personally instead of being able to brush them off or realize they were not to be taken seriously. (That said, many of the kids in my neighborhood could be quite cruel. I wasn't the only one who endured harsh comments, but, possibly because my peers sensed my lack of confidence, it seems that I was picked on more than most.) Once, when I was just into my teens and beginning to lose weight, my brother made a vocal observation about the large quantity of chocolate ice cream I had heaped into my bowl. I was so offended and angry at his implication that I was fat that I threw the entire glob of ice cream down the drain and stomped out of the room, a perfect example of hurting or denying myself to prove a point. (When I was in the throes of severe anorexia as an adult, my brother would confess to my mom that he would give anything if I would only eat a big bowl of ice cream.) Another time, when I was in my first year of high school, I was in the middle of preparing one of my odd little dinners, and my sister said something minor that I don’t even remember – probably something about my strange eating patterns – that led to us screaming at each other. My sister and the rest of the family were aware that I was sick. I wasn't fooling anyone, even though in my mind I thought I hid my illness well. I immediately threw my plate of food against the wall and stormed out.
It took years for me to learn how to try to communicate in these types of situations rather than walk away in a huff. Even today, my tendency is to flounce, and I have to catch myself to avoid storming out and, instead, face the situation.
I was so overly sensitive that I often feared going out. As much as I loved an opportunity to play as a child, I worried about what the other kids would say or do to me. Years later, even after my self-esteem improved and I was well into my thirties, I still held on to the loner lifestyle by coming up with excuses to decline when invited almost anywhere. This kind of resistant behavior tended to push others away, and some took it personally. Though I had no problem actually being social and making friends when I was growing up, I was still withdrawn. There was gradual improvement as I got older, but in grade school, I rarely made the effort to meet new people or go out unless it was an outing that had been arranged previously by my mom. Even now there are occasional days on which I feel quite unwilling to face the outside world and would rather be by myself. It's as if I need to recharge after spending time being social.
When I was in kindergarten, I always looked forward to lunch despite the fact that I sat alone and had no classmates to hang out with at recess after lunch. Food was my companion at the time. I envied the other kids who could leave uneaten food on their tray, running out to the playground to play rather than finishing their lunch. I was oblivious to satiety but somehow had a sense that I was missing something in not being able to stop eating. I wasn’t oblivious to the comments said and the tricks that the other kids played on me, though, and my feelings got overly hurt when the boys tried to lift up my skirt or called me mean names. I found these tricks hurtful and felt embarrassed by them, even though I wasn’t the only target of their bad behavior. As a result, I became even more withdrawn, sticking closer to the teacher than to the other children in order to feel protected.
Convinced that I would never be the beautiful, thin social butterfly that my sister was, I accepted that I would be a fat social outcast, and I hated myself for it. I was incredibly jealous of my sister – her looks, her popularity, and her long straight hair down to her waist. My hair was wild and wavy and fell only to my shoulders. I assumed others felt the same hatred toward me that I felt toward myself. In some cases, mean comments from other kids at school or around the neighborhood confirmed the harsh view I had of myself and my self-denigrating beliefs. “Fatso” and “Lardo” were common nicknames for me growing up, so I incorporated the idea that I was unacceptable because of my weight into my self-perception. I envied my skinny sister, who was called “String Bean” or “Toothpick,” nicknames that seemed far less harsh than the names I was called. Never did I think about being in a relationship or have dreams of getting married, because I believed that I was too flawed to be attractive to anyone. This belief that I was inadequate carried well into adulthood. I would eventually find that no matter how thin I got or how markedly I changed my outer appearance, I would always feel fat and unaccepted. Deep down, though, far beyond where I had buried all the hurtful comments, I longed to be somebody important.
* * *