When recovering from disordered eating behavior, we often feel ashamed and alone. In hope of fighting shame for myself and others, I’ve decided to slowly start sharing My Body Story. This is another chapter in that story.
Initially my plan was to tell my story chronologically, start at my birth and end somewhere around today. This past week, however, this one chapter in my life keeps popping back into my head, so I’m going to start there and see where my mind takes me.
FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE
If I had to guess, I’d say my freshman year of college was probably pretty normal. Going to school I was nervous about being away from home, meeting new people, and succeeding in my classes. I was especially excited and nervous about the guys.
In high school, the guy situation for my small group of friends was null. Though we each had our crushes, none of them seemed to be reciprocated. It just didn’t seem like any guys were interested in us as anything more than friends. Our senior year, we agreed to do a girls’ limo so we wouldn’t ruin our fun worrying about guys asking us.
But leaving high school I was sure that there was no way I would graduate college as failed and ignorant in the boy arena as I was upon graduating high school.
Even though I was far from the only virgin in my freshman group of friends, my virginity really bothered me. It seemed to me that I was often ridiculed for my complete lack of experience. Even my family seemed kind of amused at how prudish I appeared about the whole thing.
I quickly got my first kiss out of the way, thankfully with a guy I really liked. That was pretty much the only redeeming quality of that kiss. It was a drunken tongue fight and I left with more saliva on my chin than anywhere else.
After an awkward recovery, I moved on. The next guy wasn’t so much in my sights but I guess maybe I was in his. Or maybe it was just a convenience thing. We found ourselves next to each other on a friend’s couch one evening and we ended up making out. This guy is the reason I’ve never seen the entirety of The Big Lebowski. After that, we’d continue to meet up under the guise of watching a movie we’d never finish.
I was very naïve at this point, but in a way I was also naïve about my naiveté. As in: a part of me still thought that if I guy initiated a make out session with me it meant he wanted to be my boyfriend. And when that didn’t happen, I wasn’t hardened or scared enough not to ask him about it. He, of course, said he wasn’t looking for a relationship. We settled on being monogamous. And by we. I mean I did since apparently he was having sex with a girl on my floor all along. So yeah…pretty dang naïve.
By the second half of my freshman year I was still a virgin, but at least I had some solid make out time stashed under my belt. By this point, this guy and I started talking about sex. He knew I was a virgin. In a weird way we were pretty close. I was comfortable sharing things with him. We actually talked about it a lot before I was ever comfortable with putting sex on the table. I want to say our conversations were valuable, educational, mind opening, but a lot of them consisted of him saying that he couldn’t believe I was still a virgin. According to him no one left high school with their virginity in tact.
Suffice it to say, I felt a lot of pressure to just get rid of my virginity my freshman year. Looking back I can easily say I was ashamed of being a virgin. I just didn’t want that label. And though I have no regrets about the way everything went down, I have cautioned a lot of my friends to not approach their virginity this way. It may not be something sacred to everyone, but I also don’t think it should just be thrown away like a piece of trash. It’s not something to just get rid of.
One night I had enough alcohol in me to finally make it happen. It was entirely my decision. I texted him. I told him I was ready. I provided the condom. It took place in my room. It was completely consensual. The sex itself was entirely unmemorable. I didn’t bleed excessively. I don’t really remember it hurting too much. I didn’t even come close to reaching an orgasm. That guy was there for himself, not to make sure I had a good first experience.
We did have sex one more time, and this is the part of the story that keeps coming up. Before I went home for the summer, I invited this guy to my room to watch Ocean’s Eleven, under a guise we both knew. We never once finished a movie together. When I opened the door to let him into my room I was wearing PJ shorts and a cut off t-shirt. I was trying to be effortlessly cute. He took one look at me and told me I had huge thighs and that I shouldn’t wear shorts.
I still let him in.
I still let him have sex with me.
I just swallowed it, accepted it as true, and knew I wasn’t enough. I knew that if I wanted a boyfriend and not just a guy to have sub-par sex with me, I would have to lose the thighs.
That was my last day as a freshman. I had gained the freshman 15, but not until the last few weeks of the year. Somewhere between the stress of losing my virginity in a way I never imagined and the stress of passing what was supposed to be one of the hardest classes at my university, I ate myself to bliss. Every night I would go down to the eatery in my dorm and eat an order of cheese fries and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. And every day I would go back to my room a little fuller, a little calmer, and a little happier.
That is, until that night.
That summer I was anorexic. I was never diagnosed. But I can tell you I was eating about 750 calories a day. I was exercising for 30 minutes to an hour every day. I was so tired that I spent several hours each afternoon in bed reading and sleeping.
I went undiagnosed (as so many do) because I never appeared anorexic. My legs, though leaner, were still huge. And my little lower belly pooch was as apparent as ever. I was the thinnest I had ever been that decade and it still wasn’t enough. I still found those things, my thunder thighs and my belly pooch, repugnant. I spent some time every day, after weighing myself of course, pinching and prodding myself in the mirror trying to figure out how to make that pooch go away. That was the first time in my semi-adult life that I was not overweight according to BMI scale.
Now that I’m gaining weight again, these “problem” areas haunt me daily. I cry about my belly pooch. Now that I’m not thin or fit everywhere else, it’s no longer a cute asterisk on an acceptable body. It makes me feel monstrous. When I look at my thighs, they’re not solid muscle anymore, they wiggle, and for the first time I can remember, they’re covered in cellulite. I see these things, and I draw back from the mirror in agony.
People say to just love yourself.
People say you have to show society that beauty comes in every shape and size.
But I’d guess most of us struggle, or have struggled, with finding that beauty in ourselves.
We, like all our critics, grew up in a society that values thinness and fitness. We have to be retaught and rewired as well. So know, if you’re struggling, if you’re stuck in this stage, don’t let it deter you. It’s hard. I’m not past it. I’m right in the middle of it. But I’ve seen people who are. And I believe it is worth it.
Because now, unlike then, I feel my feelings and I allow myself to eat what I want. I have an ease around food that I haven’t had in ages. After almost four years of agonizing over what and why I was putting in my mouth, of planning and plotting and cooking and boxing and running and lifting and jumping and sweating and counting and recounting and reading and calculating, I enjoy food again.
Because if this succeeds, I will have only spent 15 years of my life at war with my body instead of all of my life at war with my body.
“Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marke ‘female’.
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.”