Pursuit of Beautiful
I am too young. I walk through hallways hoping to bump into him accidentally. I wait for him to fall in love with me, but he decides I am too skinny.
It is the first time I am aware of my body. I learn to hate myself at thirteen.
I spend the rest of the school year eating beef jerky and drinking fruity sodas at lunch to impress him. The food causes my stomach to gurgle all the way through English, where we sit together. Despite being certain the entire class hears me, I hope he somehow doesn’t.
I do everything to take up more space in the world, to be big enough to catch his eye.
I am no longer skin and bones; I have graduated to awkward limbs and soft breasts. I have no hips; I watch my mother swing hers from side to side and I imitate, tottering behind her. I feel beautiful. I imagine people watch in admiration as I walk by.
This illusion is shattered when my mother sits me down to tell me she is concerned for my health. Without hesitation, I despise the weight I have worked so hard to put on. My mother, always ready, assures me there is a solution to this problem. Together, we go on a diet.
She and I browse grocery store aisles. Our eyes professionally skim over our favorite foods landing on the 80 calorie snacks that are sure to boost our metabolisms. I feel hungry all the time, but I am happy.
We bond over diet sodas and lean meats. We bond over cooking shows with baked goods we will never eat.
I skip breakfast and give away my lunch. I avoid food at all costs. I am sure I will be beautiful.
I am counting the tiles on the hospital ceiling. I get to thirty-four before the nurse asks me a question that I only half hear.
I sit across from the girl with an eating disorder. She is strong and beautiful. I would give anything to be like her. I give everything to be like her. At mealtimes, I follow her example: she is picky, refusing to eat her salad with dressing, refusing to eat her yogurt without granola, refusing to eat. I refuse to eat.
I am discharged without a diagnosis. They do not look at me the way they look at the girl with the eating disorder. I am too fat for one. The hospital is no place for fat girls.
My mother is tired of watching me grow. I am sent to various family members for the summer. At my grandmother’s house I learn the art of uneating.
Upon my return home, my mother catches me purging in my upstairs bathroom. She screams until I tell her I won’t do it again.
I wake up and go downstairs. There is a half eaten red potato on the counter proving I have been sleepwalking again. I am tired of skipping meals; I wonder what will happen if I allow myself to eat. My weight plateaus.
I stare at my naked reflection for long periods of time. I consider my hips, waist, breasts, chin, cheeks. I think I look like Marilyn Monroe. I decide it is time to stop hating myself.
When my mother asks if I love myself, I tell her I do. I realize this was the correct answer all along.
Though I continue growing, I am happy with my body for the first time in years.
Then, I get an offer too good to refuse: my mother’s boyfriend will give me twenty dollars for every pound I lose. He, too, is concerned for my health.
I watch my thighs shrink; my favorite pair of shorts loosen. The world expands around me. I feel invincible. I feel beautiful. I feel small.
My therapist begs me to eat.
I eat. I purge. I repeat.
I have not fully digested a meal in a month and a half. I can barely walk upstairs to my room. I think I am dying. I think I am dying.
I count the tiles of the hospital ceiling. I am the girl with the eating disorder. I am not strong or beautiful, but I am in recovery.
I do not refuse yogurt because there is no granola. I eat three times a day, and try my best to keep it down. My therapists are proud.
When I am discharged, the nurses no longer see me as an illness. I am the girl that recovered. I do not tell them I am still sick.
I am still too young.
About the Author: Alexis Bates, 18, is an upstart poet and writer living in Baltimore, MD. Her poems force us to reflect on how we relate to topics such as self-perception, feminism, and mental illness. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Doll Hospital, White Ash, Rising Phoenix, and others.