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In the summertime, my mom used to pull my older sisters aside- “You girls should be models!”- and leave me sitting alone by the pool, staring at how my hands looked pale and swollen underwater. I didn’t know why it bothered me when this happened, but she did this at least five times that year. She’d have them pose, thirteen and fifteen, still children, snapping pictures and making career promises never to be kept. Food was food back then, and a mirror was an object, no more treasured or hated than a couch or a doorknob.

Four years later at Thanksgiving, I ate 3 spears of asparagus, one boiled potato, and three tablespoons of stuffing. I’d wrinkled my nose at the cranberry sauce, and told my family I was vegan so I didn’t have to eat that slippery brown gravy. I’d instead opted for two pinches of salt, the sharp little flakes scraping my hand. It had been 163 calories of food; the lower the number, the better my mood. Just three months before, I’d been nearly thirty pounds heavier than I was on that Thanksgiving day. My mom watched me skip dessert and clutch my water with white knuckles. I was in control, I was invincible. The compliments from family gave me a high like nothing else. She’d smiled, flush with wine, and breathed into my face,

“I am just so proud of you. You’ve really turned your life around. You know, I never thought you’d come to your senses. You are just so, so beautiful.” I said nothing. It hurt, but I was thirteen, and it also felt good in the most terrible, harmful way; it was a reward, keeping bad ideas smoothly forefront with a seatbelt. It was what I’d wanted all along. I’d wanted my mom, an ex-model, to call me beautiful, and I wanted her to be happy with me if nobody else. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I decided to place myself on a 1000 calorie diet, and on the shallowest of levels I didn’t care. Four years after the pool incidences, food was a dark abuser who kept me up at night, and underneath my potential. If I could only escape the social necessity, maybe I could be more popular, maybe my mom would finally pull me aside and tell me I should model. Just underneath, I knew it was immature, and I knew it was exactly what the world expected from a thirteen year old girl, and that it was just lame to subject to this pressure. But I did it anyways. I liked to use the “societal expectation” part as a justification; it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that I was being dumb, it was just society. Plain, dumb, flawed society that is the umbrella blame for all issues.

After eighth grade, I decided that being hungry and perpetually looking thirteen was not, though I’d thought it would be, a mature thing to do. It could never change anything for the better, and I’d just have to tune my mother out when she reminded me otherwise. When she’d look at herself sideways in the mirror- an old enemy but a neutral evil to me now-I’d squeeze shut my eyes and ears. I thought, at first, that I should talk her out of her “fat pig” complex, but she is 45 and it’s just not possible. All I can do is not feed the fire, and let her go on.
Mine was not a unique problem, nor was it severe as it gets. I’m embarrassed that I decided to go along with what the world says thirteen year old girls are like, and I cringe just thinking about it. But, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t debilitating for an entire year. That does not bring my social life and family trust forward to where it should be. Still, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t record what I ate and how I exercised, summing up calories like a drone until I collapse into sleep, ashamed to be in this cage. Now, I know how to totally shut down the part of my brain telling me that pizza will kill me. This intentional ignorance, it is my shield, it is my black screen over the mirror that keeps me from looking too closely. Most days, I come home from school, routinely looking in the Buzzfeed Food section, deciding to cook something elaborate with quinoa this and sauteed that, only to settle on an apple because I decide I don’t need the calories. To an outsider, I am a health conscious foodie; really, I am struggling to find balance. I have to stop and think about how many times I’ve mentioned food in a conversation, and hope that it hasn’t been an unruly number. I don’t tell my friends about this part of my life, and I hope that the cores and calorie charts which remain of my obsession are nothing more than what many women bear.

Just a week ago, I got into the car on a Thursday to drive home. Mom gave me the up and down of exactly what she’d eaten that day: a bowl of broccoli and a pear, and she was starving. She does this, still, nearly every day I see her, and deep down, I know she is gloating. She is proud of herself. I cannot change her, though. I can only suck the poison from the wound, the one I’d previously neglected my whole life and had refused to watch swell. It’s a test of how well can I listen and nod to her, without screaming out that it’s exactly the opposite of what I need to hear. I physically force myself to not care, to not talk in sick, obsessed circles with her. It is a part of who she is, and it will not be a part of me, because it’s a disease, and I will not pass it on.



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