Battle for Beauty: A Memoir

*This story is may be unacceptable for young padawans as the content is mildly disturbing.

Please don’t go,” I plead under my breath while I attempt to concentrate on the lines in front of me. The papers crinkle in my hand as Cindy warns the kids they only have five minutes to go. Nicole asks me in her mousy, three-year old voice, “awre you coming wif us Befferny?” Part of me tries to resist staying in. I entertain the idea, but I know deep down the battle is already over. I force a smile and say no. Jakob rushes by, his gi and white belt in tow. I wave goodbye and wish the kids good luck at practice. The door slams shut, and I peek through the mesh curtain until I see the minivan clear the driveway. I sit back on the futon for a moment and pretend to read my sides again. Ten seconds later I’m standing by the cupboard. My actions are mechanic now, as I reach in with mixed feelings of guilt and excitement.

I don’t recall the exact moment my thought process became unhealthy. I was a skeptical, but happy, girl with little to no concern about my image. It was a slow fade into oblivion, something so gradual and blurred that by the time I came to my senses, I could no longer see the shore. My mom foresaw the warning signs, and whether her approach was brash or not, I would have been wise to heed her insight. Instead, I found a way to better mask the truth, deceiving myself and others. I recall little moments leading up to the climax, such as deep yearnings for perfection and an overwhelming desire to be anything but unwanted. The beauty pageant that took place the summer after my high school graduation planted the first official seed, for making top-ten overall in the competition was nothing short of failure in my eyes. Something was wrong, but I wasn’t aware what aspect of my being I needed to correct. Nothing seemed feasible at first, but one day it occurred to me that I had the utmost control over my food intake, and therefore my looks and body.

The Fall after my pageant I began restricting my daily meal consumption. I started creating forbidden foods like cookies, chips, and soda, and lowered my daily calorie intake significantly. Standing a few inches over five feet, and weighing a little over one hundred pounds, I had absolutely no need to take such drastic measures. This illness, though, if one can call it that, is anything but logical. Since the absence of daily meals is somewhat hard to conceal, I conjured up what I believed to be clever tricks that convinced others I was eating normally. This would entail pushing food around on my plate to make it appear less in volume, sneaking bites into a napkin that I kept hidden between my legs at meal time, and taking my food to eat somewhere secret so I could throw it away or flush it down the toilet. It all sounds rather morbid, but I convinced myself of quite the opposite more often than not. It was the only feasible way to gain an ideal image while appeasing society’s standards of food intake.

I vividly remember a day a few months into my restriction period when my mom’s suspicions could no longer be silenced. We had ordered pizza for dinner, a longtime favorite of mine, but I was quite traumatized at the thought of consuming those horrid fats and calories. I crept off with a little piece up to my room, and then promptly threw it away. I went to great lengths to disguise the slice by wrapping it in napkins. I went to the mall briefly and returned to my room later that evening only to be met with shock and anxiety. My bare toes curled and tugged at the beige carpet as I hugged my arms closer to my body. The sun had already set on that brisk November evening, but I didn’t feel the chill as my eyes drilled into the stale piece of pizza resting atop some papers that were spread across my silk purple comforter. I slammed my bedroom door, which caused my picture frames to shake. A pencil fell silently to the floor. I dropped my Aeropostale bag on the ground and reluctantly stepped towards the out of place conglomeration.

My mom had googled pages burdened with eating disorder warnings and descriptions -all pointing to anorexia- and left the printed sheets under the piece of pizza. In addition, there was a hand written note filled with a mother’s angst and concern about my habits as of late. I rushed downstairs and told her she was making a big deal and that I just wasn’t feeling well. She stood her ground, adamant that I was too skinny. Our anxious words turned into a huge fight, and the subject became moot for a period of time. I don’t blame my mom, or anyone else for that matter because a full-blown eating disorder was bound to follow my obsessive compulsions. However, in some way, direct or not, the realization that others noticed my skimpy eating habits was partly what steered me towards bulimia. Purging became my ticket to eat food in front of people, a lot of it, and still remain the weight I wanted. I could even lose weight this way. Before I knew it, I was spiraling downwards, out of alignment with the control I ironically desired in the first place.

After the encounter with my mom, I was mortified at the chance of being caught. It would devastate my family and friends, and worse, put a halt to my successful weight loss program. I managed to fend onlookers off for a while by utilizing my normal tricks, but knew is was only a matter of time before I was confronted again. The body can only tolerate so many limitations as well, and without die-hard dedication, one can easily lose heart. One evening while my family and I were watching J.J. Abrams’ new rendition of Star Trek, I was again tempted by my arch-nemesis: pizza. My morale didn’t fare as well this time around. I gave in and consumed the calories my body had been desperately needing. Satiety didn’t sit well with me, and I started having panic attacks. I kept myself composed and excused myself from the family film, feigning ill. My bedroom door closed and I frantically searched around the room. Operating solely on emotions, I grabbed my trash can and stuck my fingers down my throat. The experience was humiliating, painful, and practically unsuccessful the first time around. Yet, the process hooked me like a drug and left me feeling far better about myself afterward. I finally had control.

I started getting to a point where I would purge after nearly every meal because I was paranoid about weight gain. Once I learned the food could be emptied immediately afterward consumption, I started eating larger portions to satisfy my cravings and trick my body into thinking it was full. I pretended the term bulimia didn’t exist for quite some time, but curiosity eventually got the best of me. I found myself poring over websites laden with life-threatening conditions related to the addiction. It was enough to frighten me into submission, and I managed to quit cold turkey for roughly two weeks before my Los Angeles journey where I had aspirations of studying acting. I thought I was cured. As expected, however, bulimia returned with a vengeance. I would have a day off every once in a while -usually due to circumstance, not choice- but I binged and purged most of the time.

I would begin my morning with an extremely healthy, yet meager, meal, only to binge and purge that afternoon and evening. The binges grew in both volume and time frame. I went from a binge consisting of  a dozen cookies, all the way to a binge session containing three bowls of cereal, a quesadilla, two sandwiches, half a jar of peanut butter, as many cookies as I could get my hands on, a couple slices of pizza, six cereal or protein bars, half a gallon of milk, mac and cheese, pudding, chicken, and loads of chocolate. Unfortunately, that list is not exaggerated in any way.  A binge flipped a switch in my head that made me consume anything within reach. I became careless and absent-minded mere minutes into the process. The food would stop tasting like food, and I’d enter a numb state of mind. My binges would typically start with a trigger food, like cake, but halfway through I’d eat healthy food, items recently thrown in the trash, even food I didn’t like if nothing else was available. My bank account suffered too, for I would often make special trips for guilty pleasure items that would never sit in my body longer than a few hours.

 I pull out a bag of mini Oreos and savor the first few bites. Perhaps it will be enough this time around. Just in case, though, I need to drink some milk because it makes the vomit come up easier and semi-coats my throat and teeth from the bile. I grab some peanut butter, eating spoonfuls at a time. There’s a large pancake wrapped up in the corner. Why not? I locate another package of cookies. I eat over ten, dipping some of them in peanut butter. Then I munch on some snack bars. Cereal. Some macaroni and cheese. I don’t bother heating it up. I make two sandwiches, chugging milk in between. I pull out a bag of my special purchased food. I begin inhaling the donuts: chocolate iced and apple fritters. I rotate the flavors in case I can’t finish them all. I normally eat until I reach the point where I’m in so much pain, I can barely move and already feel on the verge of throwing up. Sometimes I stop sooner because of lack of food or time. Sadly, today is not one of those cases. I enjoy my apathy and the bliss of the binge; the taste of the food in my mouth.

            Realizing I can’t physically hold anymore, I slink down to the floor, contemplating what to do as if I have a choice. I try to postpone the purge as long as possible, but finally, realize I need to get it over with. I grab the plastic bag from my shopping trip and set it in the bathroom trash can. I layer four more to prevent leaking. I prefer to purge in a toilet, but lately, I have been causing clogs and I don’t want to raise suspicions. Even though I’m home alone, I lock the door to the bathroom. I pin up my hair, make sure paper towels are nearby, turn on some quiet music in case someone walks into the apartment, and pop my retainers in; a pathetic attempt to protect my teeth. I check my stomach in the mirror so I can keep track of how much it deflates. I then stand and bend down, or occasionally kneel. I take two fingers, or three, depending on my gag reflexes that day, and stroke the back of my throat until I feel something come up. It’s a nasty, painful process that worsens with time. I hate this part, but I’m almost robotic as I do it.

I am satisfied as I see the pile of vomit growing bigger, watching and checking each item food off mentally as it comes back up. I don’t stop unless nothing more comes up, my stomach looks thin enough to me, or I physically can’t do it anymore. Then I wipe off my face and hands and let my hair down. Wash my hands and arms. Adjust my make up. Tie off the bag. Rinse my mouth out with water. Clean my retainers and soak them. I learned along the way that brushing right after is bad, so I rub toothpaste on my teeth with my finger and swish it around. I then rinse with either mouthwash or baking soda and water. I drink lots of water to restore all that I lost. Put on some chapstick. I check to see if anyone came home, and then I tiptoe out to the dumpster with my vomit sack. The whole process takes anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours depending on the size of the binge. Today it took an hour and a half. Now I’m physically exhausted and somewhat high on the empty feeling. I always tell myself it is the last time. It never is.

Recovery was not an easy path to walk down. I tried for nearly a year and a half to correct my eating habits on my own. I purchased countless books, created meal plans, and joined online support groups. I utilized every method but the one I needed most: talking directly to another human being about my problem. Assured of my capabilities, I strove to overcome bulimia alone. More-so, I was petrified and ashamed of someone finding out my secret. People would never view me the same again. I prayed about and hoped for recovery on a daily basis. Time transpired, and I had my little victory moments where I would make it through a few days without a relapse. I never made it more than a week, though. Eventually, Los Angeles became too much of a financial and emotional burden for my taxed body, and I reluctantly returned home, hoping the familiarity of family and friends would be enough to cure me. My condition only continued to worsen, though, and I was running out of options at an accelerating rate. I tried to scare myself into change by remembering dangerous side effects. My voice was getting ruined. My teeth could fall out and rot. My stomach was getting torn up. My esophagus could erupt. Heart failure. Yet, all those dangerous side effects weren’t enough to stop me, not even the possibility of death.

The following spring I sat on the corner of my mom’s bed and mentioned I wanted to talk about something. At a loss for words, I shoved my edition of Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery awkwardly at her. She said she already knew, and that counseling was probably going to be the best option. Four years and many relapses later, I’m ninety-nine percent free of my eating disorder. It will always by my Achilles heel to an extent, but I no longer live in fear of food, nor do I let weight control my life. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was created to be more than a number, a look, or a like on Facebook. My self-confidence doesn’t need to spawn from external factors, including labels I place on myself.

I don’t know the exact reason I went through years of pain, whimsically chasing unrealistic beauty goals. I also don’t understand how I survived, and with so little damage to my body. I do believe there’s a purpose in it all. I’ve experienced tremendous growth and wisdom due to my burden. Control is an illusion, and mankind, myself most assuredly, would be wise to understand that. External beauty is fleeting, therefore time spent bettering one’s heart and soul is the only sound investment. Finally, food is sustenance; nothing more, nothing less. I anticipate helping others one day. Eating disorders are an epidemic in modern society, and many don’t escape the grip of bulimia or anorexia without support and assistance from another human being. If the story of one broken and confused girl can help another, I will be satisfied. I want to whisper to her and let her know weight and looks do not echo in eternity.


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