a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
[content warning: body dysmorphia, eating disorders]
Twelve jellybeans. One hundred and thirty-one point seven pounds.
Three and a half squares of dark chocolate. One hundred and thirty-one point eight pounds.
(It’s alright. I’ll let myself go to one hundred and thirty-two if it makes you feel better.)
The first time I looked at the scale I gasped, a flashing one hundred and twenty-seven staring me down.
I grabbed rolls of squishy fat, grabbed them until they turned blue, purple, red, picking at the skin until it bled red, purple, blue. It’s still no use.
First it was apple cider vinegar. A woman named Kelly on the internet told me to drink it like a shot, to pour it down my throat, to choke on the pretense of fat-burning. So I snuck into the liquor cabinet, grabbed Daddy’s shot glass, curled my fingers around the little vessel, pressing into the glass indentations.
I mixed the vinegar with honey to sweeten it, cinnamon to coat my throat and choke me on memories of apple pie, breakfast rolls flushing down the bathroom toilet,
two fingers pressed down my throat, two curled around a shot glass, the burning feeling down my chest was almost glorious.
were those butterflies?
Under the Sea
Next it was the weights. I picked up a couple of fifteen-pound dumbbells and lifted them up and down, up and down, up and down until I couldn’t move, my back pressed to the floor, sweat glistening in my eyelashes, mixing with tears,
collecting at the bottom of an empty shot glass.
Then it was running. I fainted once, my head pounding, my face falling on the dirt on a golf course trail. The dirt mixed with sweat and collected on my golden hair.
I tried on outfits with a friend at a Nike shop, a blue sports bra and sweatpants, I pulled the waistband so tight I couldn’t breathe. “How did you get those abs, Lucy?” she wondered, snapping a photo. I wanted nothing more than to chase the brightness of the flash, the comments telling me my body was beautiful, I was beautiful, I was skinny, I was free, I was drowning.
At swim practice I fought the water, begging it to make me go faster, be better, grow stronger, grow taller. I’m always calmest when I’m drowning.
Plants grow with water, right?
We always did these exercises where we wouldn’t breathe for one, two, three pool lengths. We’d hold our breath and swim and arrive at the other side gasping. I always made it the farthest. Coach joked that I didn’t feel the need to breathe.
I wouldn’t feel the need to breathe.
I couldn’t feel the need to breathe.
Quickly it became apparent that my rib cage was too wide from all the air I had been gasping. But I am still gasping for air. My friend hugs me, her arms crush my rib cage and I lean in. Maybe if I break my bones, I will finally dissolve.
Part of Your World
A month later I read on the internet that crying and laughing burn calories. I cried every night, then laughed out loud at the irony of it all. The thing about crying is that the more often you do it, the more often you have to do it, and so begins the frequent “allergy attacks” at school, the worried looks from classmates, the bathroom sessions, clutching your chest, hugging yourself, telling you it’s all going to be okay. You’ve never believed yourself before.
I became allergic to indulgence, allergic to delight, allergic to any pleasure that didn’t stem from the sensual way my stomach moaned when I was hungry, gently caressed by butterflies.
Hunger was the only crush I needed. And, naturally, the hunger crushed me back.
The vinegar keeps burning my esophagus, some days I cannot speak, some I cannot sing: like Ariel, my voice is the first to go. I want to be part of the world of someone, but I can no longer remember who. Instead of legs, I would sell my voice to finally drown.
And it wouldn’t even be for a prince.
“The world is beautiful,” you tell me, “stop staring in the mirror and open your eyes.” But the tears don’t wash away the flecks of dirt, the maggots crawling, burrowing themselves deeper in an ecosystem of blue eyes.
“Beautiful” from Heathers plays in the back of my mind: And you know, you know, you know, life can be beautiful… When you’re beautiful, it’s a beautiful fricking day! You were always the pretty one with a pretty voice. You wouldn’t have to win a man with your waist.
But bubbles have a way of escaping closed lips, of coming up through my stomach, through my throat. I could not tell you I am a mermaid, could not put it in a song, so I wrote it down. Maybe when you read it I’ll have legs again, maybe I won’t have scales dragging me down, condemning me to life under the weight of the sea. I’ll know what fire is and why it burns. And you’ll hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay, and I’ll have someone to thank other than my beloved Hunger. What a twisted fairytale prince.
Kiss the Girl
It’s quite strange - I woke up today and I didn’t take a shot. Not because I read that honey has too many calories or because the taste of cinnamon now makes me sick. This morning I drank water, and for the first time in three years I almost didn’t drown. I am rubbing off the dirt and dust embedded in my eyelashes, tying my hair in a knot tighter than the one in my throat, and I will run and run and
then I will walk.
The daffodils I planted in my room have finally died. You’d probably tell me I’m being careless, forgetting to water the plants. But as I crush a handful of dead petals, crush a shot glass between strong and bloody fingertips, tears pouring onto a keyboard, it’s poetic, it’s musical, and I almost want to sing again.
Maybe Ariel didn’t stab the prince or turn into sea foam. Maybe she didn’t marry the prince at all. And maybe she lived happily - perhaps not ever after, but at least for a little while.
Maybe your world could be worth saving after all.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.