All that time spent in elementary school, the careful arrangement in rank and file, the endless slideshow of what it might look like, the inadequate explanation of what it might feel like, wasted. No one attended the parade. Yet as my classmates traipsed bravely forward in their new bodies, I tripped, relieved as I was trampled.
Not eating retarded an already slow march through puberty and then reversed it. This slow campaign against myself left my body with no resources to contribute to potential reproduction. My barely developed breasts deflated then diminished, my nipples receding back into my rib cage. The monthly hemorrhaging from between my legs stopped. When my friends all complained about having to buy new jeans when their hips grew, I laughed. I was invincible to biology’s cruelest joke. Avoiding puberty, I knew, would help me reach perfection.
Of course I read about the damage I was doing to myself – increased risk of osteoporosis possible infertility, a whole host of digestive issues, heart damage, death. Of course I felt the damage – withdrawal, damaged relationships, fatigue, OCD, the weight of all my lies, and so fitting and reflective of everything else, a coldness that would not leave. My lips and fingertips maintained that bluish hue. I shivered as the sun shone on me in 80F weather. I had nothing to say to anyone and everyone had nothing to say to me.
I was not consciously trying to avoid my sexuality through my eating disorder, albeit this was another change I did not know how to cope with. Your whole life you just get to be a person and then one day you grow breasts and hips and you’re suddenly both more than a person and not even a person. We are cruel.
I distinctly remember being sexually harassed in 8th grade in my shop class. One of two girls, we received a lot of attention. The other girl, bizarrely ample, showed her body off and seemed to welcome being grabbed and pinched, to revel in the salacious rumors of after school blow jobs behind the building. I wonder now how she actually felt. Was it an act, an attempt to regain control over a treacherous body? I’ll never now. I shyly completed my projects, trying not to make too much eye contact or talk to much.
This was also the year I had my first boyfriend. It was one of those odd, we only go out in a big group with other middle school couples, we got pushed together since we thought the other was cute situations. I wouldn’t let him kiss me. I thought I was too ugly and didn’t want him to go through with that. So after the movie this big ground attended, when we all made our way to the top level of the parking garage to clumsily kiss, he’d try, and I’d dodge and dodge. He finally asked what was wrong and I admitted the situation, my unbearable ugliness. Dumbfounded, he pried further until I explained that I had stopped eating and that perhaps at some point in the future I’d be up for it. He was very sweet and tried to help, but I wouldn’t budge, eventually breaking up with him as I pushed away anyone attempting to fix me.
I continued awkwardly through high school. As a freshmen, more than a few upperclassmen boys felt bold enough to inform me that I’d be hot once I filled out. I did not have the know-how or spirit at that time to respond appropriately: as ferociously as possible. Instead I’d giggle an awkward thanks, briefly lament the state of things, then remind myself of how perfect I was going to be one day. I was terrified if I ever recovered that I would not fill out “correctly” and that in this worst case scenario (of recovery) even this mysterious hotness I was promised would be forfeited.
An echo of the terrible boldness of those upperclassmen reverberates each time I am made uncomfortably aware of my sexuality, each time I am made into both less and more than what I am, a person.
Through my college, I took two week summer trip to the Middle East. The fact that I can be seen as meat to be fucked was most prominently made there. Men in the streets harassed my travel group constantly, asking us how much, shouting pretty, sexy, beautiful at us. Two men ever argued over how much they would pay to be with us. One of the guys in my group tried to laugh it off, telling us we’d been offer six months of their salaries. A tour guide who took us through a certain area had to be dismissed for creeping out myself and other women in our group. We all wore baggy pants or shorts that fell to below our knees and t-shirts with sleeves covering our upper arms, if not something more conservative. I envied the native women who walked, protected, by force or by choice, in their obfuscating clouds. With even just our hair covered we might be harassed less. But then our ankles might have been emphasized…..
When we returned to the US I was extraordinarily self-conscious at first when I wore my usual short shorts. I re-acclimated to my native land eventually, but I was enlightened. Every bit of me was vile, dripping with taunting feminine charm. Every bit of me and every female.
No, I am just a person, I am just being. No one has the right to make me feel like any less or any more. But I will always be guarded, just a little. When I am dumb enough to let that guard down, I find myself sitting on the steps outside a party, someone I barely know pushing forcefully on my leg as I try to leave. I do not want to sit and talk. And I have this braveness to leave and yell, but still I have to call a friend, because I am just not sure how it will turn out if I do not. When I am dumb enough to let that guard down, I find myself stuck in a room multiple nights a week trying to pretend I’m not being stared at until I am crying at 2am on the phone, feeling unsafe. When I am dumb enough to let that guard down, I find myself noticing the stares and catcalls as I walk innocently, dressed conservatively down the street with a female friend.
I have had many wonderful, amazing, respectful male friends and boyfriends. But there is this arsenal of memories of being helpless to my sexuality body ready to erupt at a moment’s notice.
Just yesterday, a male friend and I walked through a shopping center passed a restaurant. He informed me a bunch of men had given me some really intense stares, looking me up and down to see what carnal pleasures they might derive from my carcass. As my guard was up, I had not seen it myself. I do not want to see it. I do not want to know, this is the best way to be. Upperclassmen, I would say, when I fill out, you will not hear about it. This is how it works, my humanity is stolen, so I dissolve that of the onlookers as well. Together we can stop existing.
I did not start my eating disorder with a need to be thin, beauty was not in my initial musing of perfection. It just fit so naturally. The dehumanization furthered my drive to rid myself of my flesh. Avoiding puberty was in a way a bonus, but I knew well enough to realize this was can added incentive to approach for some.
When girls and women are universally not forced to be more or less than they are, then the force of body image will recede.Our bodies will not being something to drag around shamefully or with pride due to some outside reaction. Our bodies will be for ourselves and to the world we will be so much more than flesh.