By: Lena Twichell
I never thought I’d be the girl that needed a guy to tell her she’s beautiful. To make her feel socially capable. To clarify that she’s a good person. That she’s worth knowing. I also never thought that I had an eating disorder. I truly believed that my agonizing, insurmountable battle against food came as a side effect of womanhood. The never-ending diet, the extreme guilt of a binge. It all made my feel like I was hanging off the edge with my knuckles turning white.
Freshman year was a roller coaster of the highest highs and the lowest lows I had ever experienced. Each moment allowed me to discover more and more of who I was, and I loved the girl that was emerging. The struggle made me stronger. But an element of self-doubt also made itself a home in my inner dialogue, proving to be a new and unanticipated stumbling block as I wandered through my new environment.
Then there was you.
You took me into your whirlwind tornado forces and you spun me around before I could even figure out what I’d signed up for. Your presence in the foggy reality of my self-doubt confused me. It challenged the way I saw myself. I couldn’t figure out what I was expected to do, how far I was expected to go, or the risk of holding back. I felt transparent. Like you could see through my strong gaze and half-feigned confidence to the insecurities crawling beneath the surface of my skin. I feared you could see me for what I was, an inexperienced little girl in scary, new, erotic world who still had naivety flowing through her veins.
But much to my surprise, you became a source of strength and comfort as you made it clear that I was more to you than a pretty face. You reminded me of the things I loved about myself. “I don’t want anyone else but you,” you said, the night you asked me to be your girlfriend. “I didn’t want a relationship. But I want you.” And I knew you meant it. But I still felt a pressure from you. In brief moments, I felt I was being evaluated, especially my body. There was a tone, an implication in a handful of your comments making me feel that, despite you were mine, I still had to prove to you that I was a worthy catch. I wanted to warn you of my body image sensitivity and the harm your comments were bringing to our relationship, but I feared revealing yet another insecurity would weaken me in your eyes. I wanted back my old confidence and to deny this foreign vulnerability from claiming any more of me. So I resigned to force my emotions into captivity, remaining silent as your comments piled up incrementally.
Then you inadvertently hit my self-destruct button: “I’m just surprised you don’t want to improv your body.” In your defense, it sounds ten times worse out of context but, in any context, you’re a fucking idiot if you didn’t think that was going to have an effect on me. I exploded. “What is wrong with you?” I pleaded. “You act like I don’t try, like I don’t care about my appearance. You have no idea how fucking hard I have to try to look the way I do already. The anxiety I feel around food. The hours I spend at the gym. The helplessness I feel to the number on the scale. You are oblivious to the pressure I put on myself to look perfect for you, for everybody. For this whole fucking world I feel like I have to prove myself to. Why is there always more I need to give? Why can’t I just be enough? Just take me as I fucking AM.”
Then came those damn tears… They fall so freely when all I want is to appear strong. And your face, your whole being looked broken. Horrified by the response you had brought on, you apologized profusely, “Those word came out wrong, I had just… I mean you make all these little comments about your body and I thought that…” You reached out your heavy arms to encompass me and I entered the protected vault of your sturdy chest as you pulled me closer. Sobs made my whole body shake as confessions of my disordered eating were coughed up between gasps. I actually said them out loud for the first time, and in that act I was enlightened to full extent of their harmfulness. I wish I could say it all ended there, but you and I both know it was just the beginning.
Terrified of giving up the mind frame that had kept me skinny, I struggled to reinstate the veiled guise of denial. When I failed, I pinned everything on you. The little things you had said, the mistakes you had already made up for- these became the sources of my pain. I did planks with your face in my head. I avoided foods with the thought of your disappointment at a less than flat navel. I tried to villianize you because it was easier to make the culprit something outside of my own skin, so I could attack it. Bitter, angry, and exhausted, I turned into someone I had never seen. But you never once indicated that this was not what you signed up for. You endured the abuse from the monster taking residence within me because you knew the pieces of the girl you loved, the same pieces of myself that I loved, were still in there. You did more than stand by me you actively sought to bring me back.
Your efforts were epitomized in one single moment. Skin on skin in a dim room, you whispered in my ear, “This is what I think of your body.” And you kissed every piece of me: my neck, my collarbone, my chest, my ribcage, my stomach, my hip, the inside of my thighs… And in that act you made me whole. As you passionately traced my silhouette, you tied the pieces of me back together. Each part I had so thoroughly nitpicked, this set of breasts, this patch of stomach was all a part of the beautiful body that encapsulated my beautiful being. I never thought I would be one of those girls who needed a boy to tell her she’s beautiful. But I was. I was, I was, I was. You supported me as I regained the ability to love my flesh without the input of anyone else, and for that I will always love you.
About Lena: I believe that, in life, we need to show enough of our own vulnerabilities that others do not feel the need to hide their own. My hope is to share personal narratives that others can connect with, grow from, and feel comforted by. Follow my blog "College Outside the Classroom: As Told By an Undergrad" at www.tumblr.com/blog/thetwenty-something for more pieces/posts on body image, as well as identity, social life, relationships, life lessons, advocacy, and gender issues.