It wasn’t every day, but it was often enough to scare me. I told my mom, she definitely took it very seriously. I started to see a therapist, which helped. Eventually.
Chris acted very gentlemanly all evening, opening doors and such. He offered me his arm as we walked across the parking lot — I definitely was not used to wearing heels.
Then suddenly, he stopped.
“Hey, so this is going to be a nice meal. Are you going to throw up?”
I said no, of course not. I’m wearing a formal dress. And I’d planned ahead so I could eat dinner tonight.
And that was that. We walked in and had a nice dinner. We went to prom and had a lot of fun. It was a great night. Definitely best prom ever.
“Do you remember that you drove us to Chapel Hill for dinner before prom, instead of eating at a restaurant in Raleigh?”
“Oh that’s right.” he says. “I didn’t remember, but now that you say it, we did. I wanted it to be special, and I also really didn’t want to be seen with you.”
I say something brief and unprintable, before launching into how he was the lucky one, to been seen with me. We go back and forth like that for a couple of minutes. Very mature of us.
Then I get back to the reason I called.
“When we were walking into the restaurant, do you remember asking me if I was going to throw-up my dinner?”
There is a pause. But not a long one.
“I do remember, yeah I do.”
“Why did I ask you that?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I know you have to get off the phone. I’m sorry, but I gotta get this blog post in tomorrow….”
“Not, it’s OK. I can talk until they get here. You had issues with bulimia then, right?”
“Yeah, I did. ”
I hear a pan crash. Water running into the sink.
“We were always really honest with each other. And irreverent,” he continues. “Things that were hard, we laughed about. Made them funny.”
I do remember it being funny. His question, my indignant response. It was part of our schtick, back and forth.
“It was a loving thing to say.”
I burst out laughing — I can’t help it — but he’s being serious, I can tell.
“No—wait,” he says. “I thought it would help you not to do it, if I said something. Like, I’m your friend, and I don’t look down on you. You know, that Billy Joel song? ‘Just the Way You Are’?”
Yes, I say. I do.
I think I’m actually quiet, taking it in. I’m impressed, because I never would have put it together the way he just did, explaining it to me. And I know that’s how I felt, pretty in my fancy dress, wobbly on my high heels, hair spray holding my bangs and feathered hair in place. Accepted. Loved. Just the way I was. That’s kinda how I feel now, on the phone.
Then I’m too quiet. For more than a couple of beats.
“That, and the restaurant was expensive,” he says. “I didn’t want my money going to waste.”
I replied with something equally ridiculous, but much more clever. We are so grown up.
I can hear his kids’ voices filling the room, and he’s gotta go.
I still had a long way to go before I could make any kind of peace with my body. But I got there, gradually. Now I focus on being healthy and moving my body in fun ways (swimming, hiking, dancing, walking my dog) instead of tearing myself up trying to lose weight. I spend more time being grateful about what my body can do than angsting about what I look like. I actually like what I look like, most of the time.
"I knew you were smart, that you didn't want to do it," Chris said to me, reflecting back. "But you were struggling. I wanted to help."
Having a friend like Chris is a big deal. I didn't take it for granted then, and I don't now. I couldn't have begun to offer myself anything like that level of acceptance and compassion when I was seventeen.
I believe the people around us are mirrors. I've learned to be careful about where I look. To avoid fun house mirrors, distorted and unkind.
But there are also people who reflect back not only who we are, but who we could be. And those mirrors can act as portals to self-acceptance.
I believe self-acceptance is a big part of healing. It didn't happen for me all at once, or once and for all, but each step forward made me stronger and more able to be kind to myself. To see myself more clearly. Just the way I am.
To Learn More...
Though eating disorders are more complicated than body dissatisfaction, the National Eating Disorders Association provides information on issues like bullying and weight stigma that impact how all our kids see their bodies.
Below are two of the best resources I've found to start a conversation.