38. The Mirror Girl

38. The Mirror Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

The Mirror Girl

Anorexia is an awful thing, but you get yourself into it, and only you can get yourself out of it.

~Celia Imrie

“Ugh. Look at that flab hanging from your arms, and the padded ring circling your hips. Disgusting! And your thighs? You call those muscular? I call it ‘you look like you could use forty minutes on the treadmill and a cup of green juice.’ ”

I muttered insults to the fifteen-year-old girl staring back at me from the mirror. Most of us would never say these comments to another human being, but this mirror girl was hideous. I grabbed a sweatshirt to conceal the uncomely body, inside of which I was stuck.

I reached high school, and self-doubt smacked me every chance that it could. Walking down the dull, blue halls was a nightmare. The pretty girls were getting prettier, the popular girls were radiating with confidence, and the smart girls were just smart. They stood in their groups, confidence pouring from their smiles, laughs, and funny jokes. And there I was, blending in with the lockers. I was a nobody — an unnoticed girl whose body seemed to have undergone an overnight change that left me feeling like a cow. I told myself, You’re not cool enough to hang out with those people. They don’t want to talk to you, why would they? You’re nothing special.

The negative self-talk was crushing me. Until I realized that maybe there was a way I could turn this around. Maybe there was a way that I too, could be beautiful, confident, and popular. I hunted for an answer. What did the pretty girls have that I didn’t have? Slimness. What did the popular girls have that I didn’t have? Slenderness! Skinny was the common thread, the answer to my self-doubt.

At that moment, I put thinness on a pedestal. I idolized every girl, every model, every actress who was smaller than me, and I envied her slim build. My dad always said that our family was big-boned. At that moment, I despised my big bones. So I set out on a quest to satisfy the hunger that I most craved: a thin body. Then I could be happy, confident and beautiful.

At that moment, I saw the price that I was paying for thinness, and I realized that price was much too high.

“Starting today, no more sweets, chips or soda. And you have to exercise, every day.”

The mirror girl looked disappointed, but I was satisfied with my decision to transform her into something worth looking at. I refused to eat junk, and I kept a daily log of my calories. I wrote down everything I ate. It gave me peace of mind to know how many calories I had consumed. It determined whether I could eat a meal, or if I had to skip it. Soon, I saw results, and so did others.

“Mal, you lost weight! You look good,” they said.

I was ecstatic. People noticed. I couldn’t lose my momentum. I had to maintain my strict diet and exercise routine. But soon, things took a downward turn.

It was a Friday night, in February. I could hear the phone ringing. I was hoping in my head that it wasn’t for me. My mom picked it up. It was for me. “Hello?” I mustered up what enthusiasm I could. “Hey Mal! It’s Hayley. Me, Sophie and Riley are going out to grab a pizza tonight. Would you like to come?” Why were my friends inviting me to partake in food-related activities? I didn’t eat pizza anymore.

“I’m sorry Hayley, I told my sister I’d hang out with her tonight. I can’t.” It was an excuse. Truthfully, I didn’t want to tell her that consuming a slice of greasy, cheesy, fattening pizza would be like digging myself into a hole of guilt and regret.

Food had become my enemy.

“That’s okay! Maybe next time. Talk to you later.”

“Talk to you later.” I hung up the phone and went downstairs to my bedroom. I closed the door, and turned to face the mirror girl.

“You could afford to lose some of that belly fat. Your thighs are still huge. If you don’t keep working out, those flabby arms are coming back for you!”

The mirror hung on the back of my bedroom door, and there I stayed, locked away from the temptation of food, so that I could reach my ideal of thinness.

One afternoon, my mother took me to a clinic where I met with a doctor, then a dietician. At 92 pounds, I was about 30 pounds underweight. At some point, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I had never felt more accomplished. My clothes were loose-fitting, my arms were sticks, my stomach was concave, my cheekbones were jagged. I didn’t care about the self-starvation; I had molded myself into society’s definition of beauty. I looked like the models and the skinny girls; I was there.

But what had I truly accomplished? Was I confident? Beautiful? Happy?

One afternoon, I walked down to my bedroom and caught a glance of the mirror girl. The girl I saw, the reflection, was someone I didn’t recognize. She looked hollow, exhausted, and angry. She looked lifeless. Her image made me stop. Was this my idea of perfection? Was this beauty, confidence and happiness? At that moment, I saw the price that I was paying for thinness, and I realized that price was much too high.

I was slipping away as a student, a friend, a sibling, and a daughter. I no longer figure skated — I had given up my passion. I stopped living life because I was too cold, too exhausted, too afraid that I’d miss a workout. I feared food and felt compelled to check the scale every hour to make sure I hadn’t gained a pound. I was living a life of obsessive, fearful misery. And worse than harming myself, I was hurting those who cared.

Luckily, my friends and family never stopped supporting me. I am forever grateful for them because otherwise, I don’t think I ever would have snapped out of this detrimental cycle. In time, they helped me put body image and food back into perspective. I began figure skating again, and I learned that food would not make me fat, but that it would give me the energy I needed to fulfill my passions and to live life.

Since that period of time, I’ve never looked at the mirror girl in the same way. I’ve never insulted her, or hurt her. I decided that from then on, I had to treat this mirror girl with respect. I celebrated her beauty, despite her imperfections; and from this experience I learned one of the most critical lessons about beauty, confidence and happiness. It is that in cherishing our own flaws, imperfections and uniqueness lies our true beauty, and once we embrace ourselves for who we are rather than what we look like, without regard for what others think, do we truly become our most confident and happiest selves.

~Mallory Lavoie

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