"Mother, Did You Know?"

“Mother, Did You Know?”


Mother. Did you know?
I knew this was high school. And I knew this was a new school. Before the light-filled apple dropped in Times Square, New York, I asked you with plagues of doubt if you would give me money were I to fix my body.
To be honest, I don’t think you understood the hate that would fill me when you said yes.
We settled on a lump sum of two hundred dollars for me to dump these twenty pounds.
There was so much that I started with: cutting this, cutting those, slowly cutting the skin off of my frame so that I could re-stitch an ideal body.

But Mother, did you know?
You once told me I was fat. You once told me I was ugly. You don’t remember, because to you they were just insignificant pieces in your repertoire of blunt remarks. To me, they were a little deeper. A snag on my self-esteem with a jagged piece of demolition that started to fester into a deeper rot of hate.

Mother, did you know that my friends noticed?
I ate lunch with boys that would retort when I proudly showcased the lowest weight at the table.
“That’s because you starve yourself.”
They gorged themselves on the glops of meatloaf and microwaved shepherd's pie so graciously gifted by the smiling hairnet ladies, and I nibbled timidly at the sandwich bags I had packed in my purse the night before. Mother, did you know that though there may be thirty-five calories in those plentiful stalks of asparagus, a cup of ranch has seventy?

Mother, did you know that it has not been easy to forget the strictured units of energy in each piece of food?
Father asked me why I weighed my food obsessively, you asked me why I stood naked on the scale. But all I saw was this one digit resting on its throne a bit north of my feet, that wouldn’t go down. That was just one more day of hating myself.

Mother, did you know?
I sat in class next to girls whose legs I can see through, and, distracted by the double vision, I forget to not answer when people ponder on how you could possibly know how many calories were in a carrot. Why would you care, how can you even know how to care? There’s thirty-five per average seven inches long, three-fourth inch wide root.

Others don’t know this, do they?

Mother, did you know why I turned my mirror around in my room?
My door was closed so much of the time. You wouldn’t be able to notice the times I cried over my Bible, trying to tell my mind that God created us all in his image. Trying to tell myself that Eve was stunningly beautiful as mere words on the pages of creation. But everyone else - the girls in vivid, detailed image, the ones in shrouds of jealousy, lifted up on thrones of envy in the world I see around me - well, it is clear what they look like.

Mother, did you know how comforting the smoothness of bones can be?
There has always been pride in being able to see and feel the contours of your skeletal parts. Because there is a new person coming up to the surface of your being. There is a newness to the coldness of the chilling cage that becomes uncovered. It is romantic with its whispers of insistence, telling me that they still want more, they want the silhouette of their beautiful, ghostly curves to be silkily closeted by only a mere velvet of skin.

Mother, did you know that your family can be mean?
I went to visit your family overseas. The culture visibly allows the ostracizing of girls that are not stick-thin, doesn’t it? I came back with the ready excuse that I had gotten fat, with the eager apology that I would soon lose it. I told my stomach that the movies on the plane were so intriguing, and that is why it was only allowed the snack and no meals.

Mother, did you know what I saw in my reflection, and why I did what I did to fix it?
I dreaded taking pictures. I must kiss the camera, or I must lean forward with a gasping smile. One will suck in my chubby cheeks and fake factual cheekbones. One will elongate the folds on the sides of my neck to promote the nubs of bone my eyes rest on. Otherwise, I saw a face far too fat to be pretty. In the mirror, the swollen state of my legs alarmed me. Positioning my feet to adapt the disfigured stance of a pigeon, and sucking my stomach in and up so it could be flat, I persevered in finding the elusive angles that would disguise these lingering flaws.

Mother, did you know how easy it was for the hate of myself to invade my health?
There was no patience once I perpetuated myself on the path of self-demolition. There was suddenly no goal I could stop at because what my mind told me to achieve always laid ever just ahead. The thought of suicide only crossed my mind once, but not as if I were to commit the act. I finally understood why others would. It would seem nothing superficial matters in the haze of death. Desperateness blinded my sense. I would covet the privilege of hospitalized anorexic girls. That they were encouraged to eat so much because they needed to gain weight.

I wanted to reach that point. Thank God you stopped me.

Mother, did you know that you would be one to bring me back after throwing me so far out?
Nothing made me love myself more than when someone told me I looked thinner. But not thinner. Better - the word that society has determined and used to mandate the holiness of the ritual of a diet. Weight loss. The methods that work are worshipped, but this industry pays no attention to the naivety of little girls that they destroy. Didn’t you and Dad say you were so proud of me, my disappearing self? What then, were you before?
But you were also the one I called first when I couldn’t stop crying after watching that video. Mr. Professor explained what body dysmorphic disorder was. You soothed me down; you watched the video; you didn’t believe I was afflicted.

Mother, do you remember when I finally let you in?
Remember me yelling my confusion at you. I had stumbled through the mass of tangled emotions in my head to try to reach a translation that you could see. There are not voices in my head, there is only me. There is a me that is ravenous for the thinness I know how to attain, and there is a me that sours with guilt at each enormous bite I steal, and there is a hateful me whenever I can’t stop eating. There is a me that rebukes my hunger as I go to sleep, saying good job. There is a me that runs my hands over my body, searching desperately for the bones that signal the thinness I need. And there is a me that believes every mirror. But every mirror runs on a different commute. One tells me I’m fat, one tells me I’m thin. No matter which one I believe, they will all concur on the fact that I am, the moment I eat, not skinny enough.

Mother, do you understand?
I paused at the realization that I have told you all. The soothing of your words washed over me in compensation; they were the apology that forgave any degradation you had ever caused me. Your prayers awakened a sense of spiritual rest that I had given up looking for. Your calm commanded my torrents to peace. You perfected the ratio of listening and caring in response to every breakdown, you nodded with the embodiment of armor as I painted each spiel with tears. You never had to hug me, because your compassion that I could finally see in your persistence for my happiness was an embrace enough.

Mother, do you know it takes time for a body to heal?
I see the pounds of fat collecting on places that once used to be relievingly dented and shallow. A deprived body is greedy when nutritional excess is received; it will store it in preparation for the period of starvation surely coming. My eyes look at this consistently swelling body, and I am disgusted. I admonish my past self for ever letting go. I know how beautiful that skinniness felt as I carried it around. But then, I remind myself to accept the process. To put a stubborn procrastination on panic, to beat down the thoughts that remind me how appealing it would be to skip dinner. I am healing. I am winning.

Mother, did you know a mind will never completely heal?
I will simply continue to conquer my daily demons.

Mother, I know this.
But I see girls shrinking.
I wouldn’t know to look for it until I had endeavored for it myself.
I see the skeptical glares at cafeteria plates, the tight notches of belts they command their waists to pinch. I can single out the one girl in the group that laughs more unsteadily, running constant comparisons of body, shape, and size. I hear the enforcement of laughter strengthened as they challenge you to believe their appearance is purely coincidental.
It pains me. That those pieces of the cake stay waiting to be taken, eaten on the antidote path to a once again joyful girl. I want to tell them my victory, my freedom. My plunder of strength. I want to tell them to stop being afraid.

Because, mother, did you know?
My story could be anyone’s.

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