I decided not to finish the Diet Dr. Pepper sitting in my car’s cup holder.
In my back seat sat an extra-small leotard, waist-sucking tights and almost-dead pointe shoes. Later I would return to the ballet barre and try to finish plies without getting dizzy. But in that moment, I took my first steps toward freedom.
On Nov. 3, 2015, I walked into Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders to complete intake paperwork. Sitting at that old tabletop computer, I cried like it understood how I felt.
“I like ___ about myself.” Disagree. “I am happy with the way I look.” Disagree. “I am terrified of gaining weight.” Agree. “I feel guilty after eating.” Agree.
I was a normal girl. I had a privileged life. But there was the eating disorder. And the depression. And I was a hostage.
When I think of privilege, I think of immediate and tangible. I think of that category, the privileged — the one percent in their gated neighborhoods. I don’t think of 75th percentile weight. I don’t think of enjoying cookies before bed. I don’t think of size six. And when I think of oppression, I think of that category, the oppressed — the Little Rock Nine and the refugees in my hometown. I don’t think of an addiction to gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. I don’t think of chronic dieting. I don’t think of post-meal bathroom rituals.
“I have lost interest in activities I used to enjoy.” Agree. “I find myself preoccupied with food.” Agree. “I often feel disappointed in myself.” Agree.
That was oppression. That was being trapped. That was insecurity so paralyzing, so restrictive, so life-sucking that I could have died. So I began the long and painful process of regaining my own power.
I used to have the fatal tendency to value others’ voices above my own. My ballet teacher once told me, “When you want a slice of pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, just imagine the taste and texture in your mouth. It’s just as satisfying.”
The nutrition facts on the back of a candy bar once told me that a waste of calories might as well be a waste of life. A Weight Watchers commercial once told me that you can judge a person’s character based on her appearance. These voices were my oppressors.
My own voice became my freedom. I found new voices of freedom, too. I found in my mom a beloved confidante who had also struggled through an eating disorder. I found friends who love me when my goal was no longer that they love me. I found Jesus, whose grace is the only reason I am satisfied with myself.
I tell this story because it feels relevant. Because all around me I see girls crying for help without knowing they need it, because my act of resistance is telling a story that wants not to be told.
I tell this story because one day I will have a daughter. And I long to raise her in a world where she is free.
I dream of a world where not only do these oppressive voices fall silent, but they cease to exist altogether. In this world of my dreams, no one is ‘supposed to be’ any way at all. There, people are not skinny or fat or lazy or disciplined. I dream of a world where we are simply ourselves.
“I like ____ about myself.” Agree. “I feel in control of my life.” Agree. “I am satisfied with myself.” Agree.