A few months back, Miss D. was at a swanky birthday party (snark about parents who have stinking PONIES at their kids' parties is forthcoming). A ginormous cake was brought out, the ice cream followed, and portions were doled out to eager partygoers. Miss D., who doesn't have a subtle bone in her body, dug into her piece with ferocity. And then a girl, adorable in her frilly dress, looked askance at my child and said, in a sing-song voice..."Eww. That's going to make you fat."
That little bitch. Yeah, I just called a little girl a bitch. In fact, I wanted to punch her in her pretty freckled face. And sure, it's wrong to want to deck a 2nd grader, but when I saw Miss D., formerly so enthusiastic about her cake, take in what this girl had said, stricken, and hesitate....
Fuck. Why, why, why did I wish for girls?
Because get this. That little girl at the party? The Future President of the Bulimic Club in high school? I hate her. But I hate her Mommy more.
Yeppers. I blame that girl's Mommy. Without hesitation. Because, let's face it, that's what Mommies do. We fuck up our daughters about food.
Which, as I write this, makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Because if Miss D. or Miss M. gets fucked up about food, I will slit my throat.
Because once, I was fucked up about food, and it almost killed me. And even though it was ME bent over the toilet, puking up my dinner, was ME exercising until my muscles screamed, was ME who fainted in the college dorm shower after three days without food, was ME who came home for Christmas break weighing 85 pounds Freshman year of college...everyone blamed my mother.
Because that's who people blame when a daughter runs amok.
But I will tell you with utmost certainty that my mother did not fuck me up about food. She was slender but didn't seem to work at it, nor did she ever utter the phrase, "I feel/look fat." Our family sat down together for dinner every night of the week. My sister and I were neither praised nor berated if we cleaned our plates. Everyone ate the same meal; there was no spaghetti-for-the-family-while-Mommy-eats-a-lettuce-leaf bullshit going on. We kept candy and cookies in the house, openly and always. My sister and I were loved and told that we were beautiful and had good brains. My mother and father never, not once, snidely commented on my body.
And yet I got fucked up--dangerously fucked up--about food.
And I will tell you how easy, how mind-numbingly easy it is to start being fucked up about food. Because I remember the exact moment I started.
February 23, 1984. It is my birthday. I am in the 8th grade. The week before, I'd injured my knee skiing, so I was on crutches and rocking a glamorous leg brace. As per family tradition, we were eating at the restaurant of my choice. I can't remember the name of the place, but I do remember my order: Fried Shrimp. Which I loved.(I mean, shit, who doesn't?)
I was happy. My parents had given me my first pair of diamond earrings; little chips of things, but in my eyes, they signified that I was growing up, and cherished, and trusted to have such nice things. The waiter was charming and teased me gently about my injury. My dinner was delicious and the banter at the table lively.
And then halfway through dinner, my sister, almost four years my senior, looked at my plate and said sotto vocce, "You keep eating like that and you're going to get fat. Especially on crutches."
I don't think she really meant much by it. Although, knowing her, it is possible. But the reason I remember this moment so clearly is that there was, for me, a complete seismic shift. You think I exaggerate, but I don't. My dinner, my Happy Birthday to Me plate of exactly the food that I wanted, turned traitor, blurred in a swell of tears. I am 14. I have boys who flirt with me and I am a thin 5'7 and 110 pounds, but suddenly, things are different, newly clear.
I bow my head, mutter an excuse, grab my crutches and limp to the bathroom, where I stick my finger down my throat for the first time. The bile burns and my eyes leak and I keep gagging clumsily, but after I am emptied, I feel clean.
I was 14 years old. It took one moment. Just one thoughtless comment. And my life is de-railed for 10 years.
So who, caterpillars, is to blame?
Not Mama. Not Daddy. Not my sister, although she was an asshole. Not the fashion magazines. Not my peers.
I am to blame.
There are plenty of excuses out there: It's about control issues. It's about depression. It's about perfectionism. It's about society's focus on appearance...
Well, pardon me, but fuck those excuses and the horse they rode in on.
I am to blame.
Deep down, I didn't trust myself to be enough. Of anything. All my life I'd been told that I was good and sweet and smart and beautiful, but I'd never once believed it.
Instead, I chose to believe the bully who told me I had ugly legs. I chose to believe the sister, who in moments of anger said she hated me. I chose to believe the gym teacher who said I was weak. I chose to believe the math test that screamed--Moron! I chose to believe the boys who never asked me to dance.
You know what's amazing about those 10 years I spent being immensely fucked up about food?
Somehow, I functioned quite well. I aced tests, graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I wore baggy clothes and had boys willing to kiss me. I rarely got sick and had amazing stamina. I got into graduate school.
And I remember almost zero of it.
That's right. I don't remember books I read, lectures I attended, concepts I studied, conversations I had, places I went. Damn near zero.
Being fucked up about food cost me 10 years of my life. And I am to blame. Because I was given everything a girl could ask for but I still had this thing--a fault line running through me--deep and wicked and shrieking that I was no good. And that was what I chose to believe.
I don't know why some girls have fault lines and others escape. That's what keeps me up at night, now that I'm the mother of girls.
I do what my Mama did. I cuddle them and tell them to try again, because it's rare that someone succeeds on the first try. I tell them that they have quick minds and gentle hearts. I laugh as they help me in the kitchen, offer up a spoon to a willing mouth.
But part of me is standing in the shadows, waiting. Wringing her hands.