58: Searching for Perfection

58: Searching for Perfection

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Searching for Perfection

Self-respect cannot be hunted. It cannot be purchased. It is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations. It comes to us when we are alone, in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it; knowing the beautiful, we have served it; knowing the truth we have spoken it.

~Whitney Griswold

Much of my childhood felt out of my control, as painful events seemed to define my life. My parents were divorced by the time I was nine and my only sibling, my brother, was six years older than I was and left home as soon as he could. My grandpa was often very sick, and my elementary school years were a blur of unhappy events. When I was young, I responded to my anxiety by eating. I ate boxes of cookies and chocolate whenever I could, trying my best to eat away the stress.

By the time I was in seventh grade, I had gained weight. I wasn’t fat, but I was nowhere near the size 2 bodies my closest friends had. Cosette was a dancer, Kylie was a diver, and Olivia was naturally very petite. I felt awkward around them—large, ungraceful, and disgusting by comparison. My weight had bothered me for some time, but I never did anything about it. I was focused on my grades and after-school activities, which were singing and acting. Neither of those provided me with much exercise.

For one reason or another, the summer after eighth grade I decided to try running. I can’t exactly say how it all began, but my drive and determination kept it going. I started going to the gym daily, beginning with less strenuous workouts: run five laps, walk five laps. After a few days, I would switch another lap from walking to running. I started with about three miles a day and as time progressed I noticed slight changes in my body. My hips got smaller, my thighs tightened. I changed my eating habits to fruits and grains and protein bars. I felt myself changing and, for the first time, getting into shape. The feeling was new to me and I was in love with it. I continued to work harder and harder for it. And then it became an obsession.

Eventually, I increased my running to ten miles a day. The pressure on my legs was so unbearable that I developed shin splints that quickly became stress fractures. A trip to the sports doctor told me that I had to stay away from running for about two months. Terrified that my lack of exercise would cause me to gain my weight back, I stopped eating. I counted calories and wrote everything down on a tiny note card that I hid in my bathroom drawer. I researched the number of calories in different amounts of foods. If I went out to eat, I checked the calories for the restaurant’s meals online. I would not allow myself to consume more than 800 calories per day. Swimming and biking replaced my usual running schedule, and pounds were coming off of my body faster than I could believe.

By the time school started again, I received compliments from everyone I knew. I was suddenly fitting into skirts and jeans that had been far out of reach a year earlier. I remember specifically one day at school, one of my teachers said to me “if you lose any more weight you’ll just disappear,” which I took as a compliment.

For the most part, tricking people into believing that I was merely losing weight through exercise was effortless, but fooling my mom required some extra work. She would hand me large platefuls of dinner, and I would tell her that I needed to eat at my desk so that I could do more homework. I would then shovel the entire plate into a plastic baggie. I knew that I could not throw the food away in my own house—my mom would surely find it. Instead, I hid the plastic bags in my backpack and threw the food away at school the next day. I would even go so far as to sneak cookies and other snacks from the pantry just to throw them away. Not only did my mom believe that I was eating normally, sometimes—when she noticed the missing cookies—she accused me of sneaking too much unhealthy food. She was so convinced that I was eating that she took me to the doctor’s office to have several blood tests done to see what was wrong with me.

As I continued to starve myself, I began to love it even more. Feeling empty somehow made me feel purposeful, yet I never felt empty enough. I cut back even more. I stood as I watched television in order to burn more calories. But every time I looked in the mirror, I would cry because I saw myself gaining weight. The more I looked at myself, the more fat I saw.

Often nutritionists say that people starve themselves to have control over something in their lives; my experience with anorexia, though, controlled me more than I could have ever known. I stopped thinking for myself. I stopped caring about being with friends or family, as long as I could exercise. I counted calories in my head over and over again, making sure I had not gone past my limit. I weighed myself several times a day, each time terrified that the number on the scale would go up. Even my dreams were ridden with this disease; I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing over a dream where I had binged on cake or pizza, terrified that the dream would actually become reality.

Eventually, I saw a nutritionist, and the problems I was having were slowly resolved. The majority of the forty pounds I had lost came back, but I was happy with my body. I still run and eat healthily, but I would never go back to starving myself. In the beginning of it all, I convinced myself that I could handle it—that I could maintain control.

I hope that nothing in my life ever takes control of me like that again. I lost who I was to what I looked like, and I think that is a painful lesson many girls learn the hard way. Yes, we all have parts of ourselves that we would like to change. Whether you think you have fat thighs and a big butt, a not-quite-flat stomach, or chubby arms, nobody sees herself as one hundred percent perfect. It isn’t about changing your body until it’s perfect, though. It’s about changing your attitude to learn to love yourself inside and out.

~Samantha Harper

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