It was the day after my twentieth birthday. I lay in bed, still groggy from the festivities the night before. I reached over to grab my phone charging on the bedside table and checked Facebook. A little red flag appeared, indicating I’d gotten a message. Assuming it was a belated birthday wish, I opened it eagerly:
“Sara, I know we don’t know each other but I’ve looked through your pictures and you are a beautiful girl. You have a lot of potential to be a model but you’ve gained a lot of weight. I’d suggest working out more and eating less. You could try making yourself throw up. You have such a pretty face, and it will just go to waste if you’re fat. Don’t worry though; I believe things will fall into place for you. Best of luck.”
Word. For. Word. Needless to say, it was anything BUT a happy birthday.
I spent most of high school dieting, spending hours on the treadmill, and recording my weight daily. Standing in the kitchen one day with my mom, she grabbed my hips playfully exclaiming, “You are so tiny!” I felt triumphant. False pride swelled in my chest as I assured myself I was worthy, I had made it.
Four years later, that rigid lifestyle had proved itself impossible to maintain. College brought with it new experiences, new relationships, new anxieties and pressures. My eating habits spiraled out of control, resulting in a full-blown eating disorder.
Before I knew it, I was making 1am trips (alone) to “The Cookie Man,” assuring the employees I was ordering for my friends and I. The insanity of this disease had me either starving myself daily, or stealing two month expired cookies out of a display case – embarrassing, but true. I prayed that God would give me the willpower to stop; yet every night I found myself in the bathroom, doing exactly what I swore I wouldn’t. Bulimia was only something I’d seen in a scarring health class documentary, or glamorized in movies. I never thought I would be that sick girl; yet somehow I had become her.
I had reached my breaking point. I was at absolute rock bottom, the lowest of the lows. I was becoming more isolative and it became harder with each passing day to put on a good face.
Have you ever made a decision that would change your life forever, then wondered “how the hell did I manage to get myself here?” I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I said goodbye to my school, my family, my friends, and my home and admitted myself to a treatment center for women in Tampa, Florida. I was, at this point, willing to do whatever it would take. This meant living in a house for women with anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction, self-harm, and alcoholism. Everything I thought I knew about people with addictions, every preconceived notion and snap judgment was diminished. They were mothers, wives, children and even grandmothers. My roommates were all shapes and sizes – some overweight, others so emaciated they were treated for osteoporosis in their twenties. One thing we had in common: we were entangled in the lies of a cunning and deceitful disease. For that reason alone I treated them as my family.
Countless hours of group therapy proved to be exhausting, especially with the strict “no caffeine” rule – the bane of my existence. I remember sitting in body image group, watching my friend stand in front of a full-length mirror with silent tears streaming down her cheeks. It broke my heart as she pinched skin that clung tightly to her bones. I was faced with the harsh yet comforting reality that I was not alone; I never really was.
It was, during those three months, that I found freedom. I am fighting to keep that freedom every day.
I think of a quote by CS Lewis, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all the beauty came from.” How sweet it is, my friends, to recognize my worth as far more than a number on a scale or a reflection in the mirror. Of course, I still have my days when my hair is going in seven different directions and nothing in my closet is working and (oh dear God!) a pimple. And that’s okay. Even the most seemingly flawless girl does not have it all together. We are all under the same pressure. We do not all have to fall prey to it. Let’s encourage each other. Compliment one another and truly mean it. Let the slow poison of jealousy and comparison slip away. Let’s be women of humble confidence and security. Women who cultivate beauty that radiates from the inside out. Let’s be so lovely, so free.
I know I am.
– image of: Sara Dreier, by Donna Irene