One step away.
I wrote a personal essay in my english class when I was in London. I hope you can connect with me on some level & have some kind of take away from these thoughts.
I have realized throughout my life that beauty, body image, confidence, and love all tie together into one big knot. That knot being entwined completely with food; at least for me. Food has been a part of my life since the moment I was born. I eat food every day merely to stay alive. Some days I do not even appreciate that important fact; food keeps me alive. Let me say it one more time. Food keeps me alive. It keeps me breathing. I am able to do what I want with my life because food sustains me. I am sometimes ungrateful for the blessing of being able to eat every day. Maybe I have even gone far enough to hate what food is doing to me. I realize I have had a very long healthy and unhealthy relationship with food. I would not say I have been anorexic, or experienced throwing up my pizza I had for dinner. But maybe I was just one step away from doing that. Maybe I was just one step away from becoming that person.
When I think of food, I think of many other things that come into action because of it. Sometimes I look back on my childhood years. I remember them well. I was the kind of girl full of adventure. I would find myself with my friends riding bikes for hours, digging for gold in the sandbox, or pretending to be a monkey in the biggest tree I could find with them. After playing, we would always find ourselves next to some kind of food. I have two very fond memories of food as a child. I remember sitting with my friends on top of their fence, and eating ripe red cherries off of the tree. We ate these cherries for hours. These were not our cherries, but they had plenty to spare, so the branches that draped over to my friends yard, we ate carelessly. We would sit and eat the juicy cherries, staining our lips and fingers red while enjoying every last bite. Summer days were full of eating cherries until we felt sick to our stomachs. I also remember my friend Kami and I would always lie on my trampoline soaking up the sun. Before we went outside, we would fill bowls of crushed ice for us to enjoy. We ate the crushed ice while basking in the sun, and after that, we would go for the purple plums found on the tree next to my trampoline. I never held back, if I wanted another cherry or plum, I went ahead and had one just because I wanted to. I remember those days. I loved those plums, and every time I see a purple plum, I think back to those days. I was happy while eating those cherries and plums. I was a completely normal child during that time. I did not have any sort of tendency in thinking that if I had one plum too many, I might have eaten too many calories that day. My mind was free from the filthiness of those thoughts, and inevitably my childhood was filled with doing exactly what I wanted. My childhood days were wonderfully simple. It was about enjoying each day, enjoying the food I was given, and loving the relationships I had with others.
What happened between my childhood days and now is not so simple. In fact, it is a bit complicated. It all started at a very young age. I first think back to the time of watching movies and adapting to the media in this world. I grew up watching princess movies, Beauty and the Beast being my favorite. I memorized every line, and made my family play the parts with me. The fact that “Beauty” is in its title is kind of ironic. The media in itself shows us everywhere what beauty really is in this world. Since I was little, I saw that being skinny was beautiful. None of the characters in my movies were overweight; none of the people in advertisements were overweight, so being skinny was what they wanted. I didn’t take much thought for my body image then. I did realize that Belle would never be fat in that movie. She was beautiful, and she was someone I wanted to be. I was not fat. I had long brown, thick hair. I had big blue eyes the color of the deep ocean. I knew I was beautiful. Everyone told me so. I was filled with being the pretty little girl in my family. I knew when I was talking, or singing, they all soaked up my entertaining, and afterward prodded me on how adorable I was up there. At least that is what I took from part of my childhood. I am not sure whether it was good or bad I knew I was beautiful. Perhaps, the only bad part about knowing I was pretty was only being complimented on my beauty. I heard too seldom how smart or witty I was. The fact that I was so gentle and loved animals with all my heart was not something anyone mentioned. I am afraid most of us growing up hear about our appearances too often. Even when I see a little girl now, I compliment her hair, or how she has the cutest dress. It is an easy thing for anyone to do, as appearances are what we see first. When I was little, I am afraid I received that message all too often. And I am afraid almost every girl in the world has been receiving the same message as a child.
Even though I knew I was beautiful as a child, I still felt as if I was not affected then. I was still ready to take on the world in any way I saw fit. I was still enjoying eating my Halloween candy as much as I wanted. I still had no thoughts that maybe I should not eat this. Maybe this would not make me pretty. Until one day. I am not sure what made these thoughts enter into my little girl head. I was driving home with my sister Sabrina, and we were talking as usual. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I do remember I was drinking a slushy like we always did from seven eleven. I remember the look of concern on her face when she asked me if I thought I was overweight. I remember saying I just wanted to be skinnier, I did not think it was a big deal. I told her how I still felt as if I was beautiful, but I just wanted to be skinnier than I was. Maybe it was the movies I was watching, seeing all the beautiful skinny women being glamorized. Every year I had more of a realization what beautiful was, and that beauty was all that mattered. Barbie’s might have had a role in this thinking. I would sit around with my friends playing with Barbie’s. The impossible proportions were being adored by us for hours. Their skinny long legs, small hands, and hour glass figure. Not to mention that their feet were way too small to even be remotely possible to actually walk in real life. I never once played with a doll, Barbie, Polly pocket that was overweight even by just five or ten pounds. Think about that for a minute. They were perfectly skinny. Nothing was wrong with them, and that was beautiful to the world. It was displayed with my toys, movies, magazines, etc. Maybe all of these things accustomed me to how I knew deep down I wanted to look. How I should look. That was one of my first steps to becoming someone with an eating disorder.
As I started to get a little older, I realized that knot of relationship with food was a very complex one. It is one that I think every person has a hard time grasping. I knew the world took most importance in beauty and appearance, but I wanted to be above it all. My ideas on body image and food were now merging together. As I started to get into middle school I noticed girls who would not even grab a second pizza in front of a boy, but I knew that secretly they wanted to. I realized that now having an extra piece of pizza could make me gain weight. I hated the idea. Loathed it. I actually tried to erase the idea from my mind by never being afraid to eat a large portion of food. I look back on memories remembering having eating contests at parties. We would see who could eat the most pizza, and I always won. I thought I was conquering my relationship with food. I would think to myself, should I grab another piece of pizza? I want one, but no one else is grabbing one. No other girl is eating another piece. They are even dabbing the oil of the piece they first grabbed in order to lessen the fat and calories of just one slice. I thought to myself, I want to stay a really pretty girl. When did I register inside that not eating so much food made me prettier? Only eating one slice of pizza in front of the boys said it all; I should do the same. I found myself taking a step back.
I realized food was tricking me when my dad started commenting on how I always ate a lot of food. I remember someone fixing me a plate for dinner and my dad said I could eat more than that. I actually liked that at first. Yes! I was not afraid to eat food. I am not fat, I am not overweight, let me enjoy my food! But somewhere, somehow my feelings changed. These things did not mean I was conquering my food. I found myself in a bit of a conflict. My dad still thought I would always eat a lot of food, but even on thanksgiving I decided to eat a normal portion. Why? Because for a few years I was utterly sick on Thanksgiving Day from eating way too much food. I actually prefer to have a normal portion at every meal now (excluding Café Rio of course. Who can ever stop eating that?). As a young girl it is hard coming into the world with the media bombarding you with sickly thin ads. Everything in society almost points to girls of all ages saying, “Go to extremes, look at the impossible, but become as thin and beautiful as you can. That is what matters here.” I was a perfectly normal girl, with an average body, and yet I started to become unhappy with my body. I have never been anorexic or had big enough problems that anyone noticed, but I feel that every person has had little subtle thoughts or feelings such as these at some point in their life to become close to having an eating disorder. It is not a bad thing to have these thoughts. I remember wanting to be thin. I wanted to be thinner than I already was. I didn’t even think to myself that it was impossible to become one of them. It is impossible to remove these thoughts when they are being spread like an infectious disease to every girl that is in this world. I wanted to enjoy food, and I still did, but I found I was restricting myself. I was throwing myself into another spectrum of thinking. I used to eat as much as I could in order to control food, and now I was embarrassed to grab another piece of something even when I wanted more. None of these thoughts occurred to me then, but thinking back I really was a little bit embarrassed. I was trying to be the girl that everyone liked. I found myself wanting another pizza, but none of the girls ate any more than one, and I wanted to be like all the other girls. It was silly. I was that much closer to becoming anorexic.
I found myself growing up in and out of high school. I found that I watched what I would eat, but luckily it did not turn into any kind of anorexia. I started to work out more. That was a positive experience sometimes. In high school, I still had it in my mind that I wanted to be thin. I wanted to be one of them. I found myself working out every day. I took an aerobics class every year, and had great results from that. I learned how to eat nutritiously, but also not to go over the top. I was a little too excited with the idea of working out, and found myself doing it a little too much. I was eating and I had an aerobics class at school. It was weird, because one side of me loved my body, and said so while the other side of me wanted to be more thin. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but there was a battle like this happening. Life was great, and I thought my body image and confidence was improving. I found myself running outside, I found myself going to recreational classes. I sometimes worked out twelve times a week! I soon realized that I was not a sickly thin girl. I did not love my body yet. I did not know that I was in the best shape of my life then, and to just truly love and embrace myself. Food was still involved in almost a reverse way of only eating one slice of pizza. I started to not eat any kind of junk food at all. I just wanted to eat carrots, salads, and eat as little calories as possible while still eating how a healthy person should. I knew I was pretty, but I was still jealous of the girls who could be so confident in a bikini because they did not have an ounce of fat in whatever way they were moving. So I controlled what I could. That being food. I found myself only caring about being popular and looking good. All of this happened because I solely wanted to become who I have been told to be my whole life. Beautiful. I was trying to become as beautiful as I could. I was not enjoying food or my body at this point. None of it was ever enough in that time of my life.
Now I know what you must be thinking. I am thinking the same thing as I am reading this. This girl definitely had an eating disorder. Maybe I was getting closer to that, but I will tell you this. I am someone people think loves their body, and has full confidence in themselves. I am someone that nobody would think could become anorexic. I am just an average girl, who has the same insecurities most girls have. I was not going to extremes in my life. All of these were very subtle thoughts and actions. Most of which could have gone unnoticed in my life, if I had not written it down. I am lucky enough to have realized these subtleties in my life. Lucky enough to avoid what could have been the hardest challenge to overcome.
My sophomore year is another story. This was the year I was on the verge of thinking about having an eating disorder. It was a very busy semester. I was on campus a lot of the time for at least eight hours a day. Sometimes I was on campus for sixteen hours, and I came home exhausted those days. I couldn’t be late for my eight o’ clock class and would find myself eating just a granola bar for breakfast, or skipping breakfast altogether. I sometimes did not find the time for lunch either. On good days, I went over to Jamba Juice and bought a smoothie for lunch. That filled me up pretty good. At least a few times a week I had a good meal, either with my sister, my boyfriend Taylor, or at home I would eat something. But I was getting used to not eating so much. I found that I was used to just eating a granola bar and then a smoothie for lunch. I would be with Taylor sometimes at night, and realize that I had basically not eaten anything that day. He would quickly fix the situation, and feed me dinner. I did make dinner a lot when I had the time for it, and when I did I ate a healthy and normal portioned meal. I was eating just fine, but in my head I would just forget or be too busy and not eat food. One day, Taylor asked me if I was anorexic. I quickly told him no, and laughed it off. That got me thinking though. I do have a weird eating routine. Whether my routine was on purpose or not, it was happening. I was not eating how I should have. And I did not realize that a shift like this could create an eating disorder.
Taylor and I went to California on a trip to see his brother in February. It was one of the best weekends we had, and I will never say no to the California sun. We had really good food every day as well. While I was there, I of course had time and willingly ate three meals a day. I quickly realized how much my body was not used to that. I was so full every day, but I was eating normal portions. When I returned back from my trip, I knew immediately that I needed to consciously make sure I was eating three meals a day. I knew I needed to continue on this path even more, when my sister Marietta (who is a therapist) was overly worried about me. She acted as if I already had an eating disorder. I assured her I did not, and I have been actively eating three meals a day since then. I was just one step away from becoming someone with an eating disorder.
Overcoming these subtle thoughts, feelings, and actions in my life—I have been able to pinpoint where all of this came from. My whole relationship with food and body image is stemmed from my self- worth. In just the past few years, I was able to understand the value I am to my family, and the value I can attribute in this world. I realized in so many ways how I am beautiful. I started to love myself, because I realized the worth I have. I realized that by being myself, someone will still love me. If I eat an entire box of Little Caesar’s Taylor will still want to marry me. If I gain ten pounds, he will still love me. If I wear no makeup, people have still told me I look stunning. Stunning. I have developed a love for myself, and have been loved for being my true self in return.
I have also found the beautiful art of creating food and people eating something I created with genuine enthusiasm. I have found my relationship with food. I make food and enjoy the good and the bad of food. I have found that creating dishes gives me something to love about it. I love the process of creating something delicious. I love it because it relaxes and it is something I can escape to when other things are not going as planned. I love the smell of fresh cut cilantro, squeezed lemons, and fresh cinnamon rolls in the oven. I have now learned to appreciate the wonderful way my body can feel when eating all servings of my fruits and vegetables every day. I have also learned to enjoy the pizza or doughnut I decide I want to eat. To not take much thought for it, but to love the food and hold my own responsibility for what food does to me. I can have a healthy relationship with food by not controlling it or it controlling me, but by being aware and listening to my body so it is in control in the way it should be. I want to let my body become healthy from food. I want to have the relationship where food is delicious and creates an environment where I am able to spend quality time with my family. Even just enjoying the taste of food every time I eat creates that healthy relationship. All of us can have a healthy relationship with food. All you need to do is find your worth. Every day, I am one more step away from becoming anorexic and one step closer to becoming the woman of confidence I hope to be.