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A Joke MAG
Statistics blanket the Internet about eating disorders, dieting, and desires to be skinny. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of becoming fat. Forty-two percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner. Twenty-five percent of American men and 45 percent of women are trying to lose weight on any given day. Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year. Diets used to be the exception to the rule, but it seems lately they have become the rule.
One day, I almost became one of those statistics. I was talking with a few boys in my class. I gave the conversation only half a mind, as they veered off about bands and movies. When they mentioned sumo wrestlers, I glanced at the clock to see how much longer class would be, but then I paid attention again. One of the boys felt my eyes on him and blurted, “You look like you could be obese when you grow up!”
Hmm … lunch is in a little while … I wonder what we’ll do in math class … obese?! My brain sputtered from its train of thought, and my mouth dropped open. I muttered an indignant “What?” and he had the gall to repeat himself. I cussed at him, not caring that the teacher was only a few feet away. His friends called him a moron and told me to ignore him as he laughed at the shock on my face. I tried to transform my expression into that of a good sport. Someone with thick skin. But inside, a little piece of my confidence crumbled and died.
In the United States, as many as 10 million females and a million males are battling an eating disorder. There are many generalizations associated with those who suffer from eating disorders. We think of the cheerleading captain who looks like she weighs less than 100 pounds, despite being tall. We think of the skinny perfectionist who picks at a salad every lunch. The boy on the wrestling team who is dropping weight classes at a ridiculous rate also comes to mind. But at that instant, I understood that it’s not always the popular ones or the athletes. It could be the girl who hates sports and has a brownie stashed away for lunch. For a moment, it could have been me.
What has our society become? Why is weight the greatest insult? Someone can call me a liar, a thief, or a horrible person, and I would brush it off, but when someone wants to cause real pain, they mention weight, and the conversation is over. When they want not only to stab, but to twist the knife, they sling the f-word – “fat” – around, and the conversation screeches to a halt. There’s no comeback, because weight is such a sensitive topic. As a society, we are at a point where many of us define ourselves by our weight.
In that moment, I was not a smart brunette who loved to write. I was an ugly girl who looked like she would be obese as an adult. I know that’s not true. I know the definition of me is so much deeper, but I can’t help wondering what that boy was thinking when he insulted me. He laughed, like it was a joke, but he said it with a sincerity that frightened me.
As I walked out of class that day, my mind raced to analyze his words. If I looked like I was going to be obese when I grew up, that meant I looked fat now. Fat. Fat. Fat. Am I fat?
For a split second, I considered throwing away my lunch. I debated trashing my snack and beginning a diet. The thought left my mind as quickly as it entered, but in that moment, I felt horrible. I felt ugly and fat. I felt like less, while this boy felt like more. I believed I would be a better person if I was skinnier. I wanted to be skinny.
This moment of self-hatred could have lasted a lifetime and could have changed my life. Two paths stood in front of me. One was snarled with green vines wrapped around trees and undergrowth. The other was wide open with sun spilling in through the tree tops. I took a step back. The moment the soles of my shoes had touched that overgrown path, it would have been too late to go the other way.
That’s what eating disorders are. They are the vines that sneak up and grab you, and you only see them after it’s too late. I was lucky to see it in advance, but many don’t, and by the time they do, no freedom remains.
Luckily I never developed an eating disorder, just a blow to my self-confidence. I was fortunate. I went to lunch and ate my brownie with a vigor as I told my friends what the boy had said. My self-confidence returned. However, because I acted like a good sport and a girl with thick skin, the boy never apologized.
If, because of his comment, I had become one of the 10 million women suffering from an eating disorder, I wonder if he would have been sorry. But it’s not worth walking the other path to discover his reaction, so now I simply glare when I see him. He still laughs, just like he did that day. He tells me to get over it and stop holding a grudge.
He spoke in jest that day. It was a comment made in passing. A joke, he later told me. Time has passed, my anger has cooled, but I am still not laughing.