A Joke This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 5, 2008
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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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 30 comments. Post your own now!

KateKlosterman said...
Apr. 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm
Great writing! I know first hand about how weight can affect a person. Thanks. Inspiring.
tashy66 said...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm
This was really well written I understand what you mean about that guy he was probably just trying to look cool but i wish People like him would get that "jokes"can hurt.
Aspiringauhor said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm
My aunt - who is 36 - has had an eating disorder ever since she was in fifth grade. She is anorexic, and although I am barely five and a half feet, and weigh only a little bit over 100 pounds, I can still fit into her clothes. She is almost six feet tall, and weighs probably 130 pounds, max. She has had two babies, and yet she is still anorexic. It's not healthy for her, and it's especially dangerous for the twins she is pregnant with. Thank you for making us aware of these terrible disorders.
Eielen A. said...
Dec. 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm
its hard to understand unless youve been their i hope your sisters desire to be skinny never develops into an eeating disorder
Belizabeth said...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 11:06 am
Eating disorders are very real and I know that first hand. My sister is one of thoes girls who wants to be thinner and she is already very skinny. I really do not get it.
lovelei This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 8:03 pm

This is beautifully written, and your self-confidence is admirable.

I wish teens would focus on being healthier instead of being thinner, though. If people are at an unhealthy weight, dieting shouldn't be their objective; it's the simple things like choosing more nutritious and wholesome foods as well as normal exercise that make a difference.

SpringRayyn replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm
Sometimes people who try to eat healthier end up developing eating disorders too. That's actually how most of them start.
cmb302 said...
Nov. 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm
This was a awesome article. teenagers worry about there appearances so much they put there bodies through so much to fit in with the normal size person. Whats a normal size person??????... you do not know what goes through a persons mind. We need to learn happiness over acceptance
madmadie22 said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm
First off, I think you did an amazing job with this artice :)  A friend of mine is recently recovering from an eating disorder, and I've actually been thinking of not eating a couple times a day.  This article has really helped me see how that might affect me.  I especially like the line "they are the vines that sneak up and grab you", because I've been feeling those vines reaching for my feet lately.  Thank you for this article and good job! :)
TheMaisinator said...
Mar. 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm
I don't think it's as simple as one comment changing the way a person lives their life. That may be enough to send someone over the edge into the decision to do something as drastic as to stop eating but eating disorders are deeper than just being told you're fat, but I think you understand that. Discussing any problem you cannot relate to is tough in writing because there are going to be people out there who have and who are going to cut you down, but I don't think you hav... (more »)
Jacksprak said...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 3:16 pm
You know what, Fat is NOT the worst thing to be called. Being over weight can mean two things. 1 You are very muscluar 2 you have ecsess food stored on your body that means you don't have to take in all of your daily nutrients.(Note: I said not all, but you still must get most) Fat is in no-way an insult, because you are better off that an anerexic. That's just my opinion on the subject.
sunnyhunny This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 16, 2011 at 9:54 am
That may be how you feel, but I think that the purpose of this article was to discuss that for whatever reason, most women do not want to be fat.  You may not care if you are, but many people do not find that look desireable, and are willing to go to extremes to escape it.  Not saying this is the right way to think, but that's the way eating disordered people think, and that was the reason for this article.
wintergirlx said...
Jan. 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm
i have an eating disorder, and your article is good. but i don't think you really understand until you go through it. your two moments of "almost" going anorexic is nothing compared to what i feel everyday.
WhisperingWind replied...
Sept. 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I agree. You can't understand what it feels like until you are/have been there. But I like your articl, it was vary well writen:) I Like your analigy of vines grabing you. I read a study of kids grades 3 to 6 in Canada: it said 45% of them said that they would rather have cancer, loose a parent, or survive a nucler war then be fat.

Like I said, good article:)   

sunnyhunny This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 16, 2011 at 10:00 am
I agree, the article was very well- written, but as having experienced an eating disorder myself, one comment does not cause you to all of a sudden turn anorexic.  It's usually a change in eating habits and an increase in compulsive behaviors (such as being secretive, exercising more, and picking your food apart, etc.) that turn into a full-blown ed over time.  It's not usually one incident that causes a long-term problem like this.  It's usually a result of poor self esteem built... (more »)
b-rae said...
Dec. 8, 2009 at 5:58 pm
This was really amazing to me. I think because i know what it's like to be called fat because i hear it a lot even my bet guy friend calls me a fat a**. It makes me sooo mad. Last year I got so mad I worked myself until i couldn't anymore, i lost 30lbs(never made myself throw up tho) and its just annoying because no matter what I do it's jus never enough to pleas everyone. n yes i have had guys fall inlove with me and tell me im amazing and beautiful the way i am but i know they k... (more »)
yea. i push limits. said...
Nov. 24, 2009 at 8:15 pm
i have an eating disorder, i like your article. the relation to vines is extremely accurate my dear.
Peanutt said...
Nov. 24, 2009 at 5:29 pm
I went through something just like that the other day... you writing really spoke to me, thanks.
gonewiththeocen said...
Nov. 2, 2009 at 5:57 pm
i've had that mind set before. this article really spoke to me and i will be sure to remember it.
fairyfreak said...
Nov. 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm
Good article, but it definitely doesn't have the power that comes with actually having been in that bad place. Careful with your word choice as well.
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