It started out as a whisper. Nothing more, nothing less. A whisper as quiet and unassuming as a stream in the woods. No one expects anything of it, merely letting it run its course as it benignly winds along. We add our own tiny trickles of water to the flow, unaware of the effect it will have. And when the creek inevitably turns into a cascade that runs amok, destroying everything in its path, we scratch our heads in wonder.
In my case, the whisper was always close to me. Constantly circling, like a wolf in for the kill. The whisper handed me a low calorie menu, pointed out how fat my thighs were and compared me to my slim sisters. The whispers denied me things my sisters ate without restraint. The whisper delighted in making me cry in the bathroom and wish to be thin. It loved to make me go on benders of only 100 calories a day. It was constantly there, in the waiting room at restaurants, on the ride back home as I regretted every bite I took, on the bathroom floor, wishing I could throw up. It would slyly compare me to all of my thin friends, making cruel observations every day I saw them.
The whisper was in the offhand remarks I heard about women, cruelly picking apart every extra inch of fat on her body, twisting my perception of how metabolism and growth was supposed to work. I heard women critique themselves and chatter about how the brownies were “delicious, but it would go straight to my thighs, darling,” the way that we were constantly being told that we are too big, too fat, too wide, too ugly made me believe that the only way to be free of criticism was to be thin. It made me feel too big for this world, and taught me that only slender girls were truly beautiful.
The whisper greedily indulged in the negative things I said to myself, when I was trapped in a net of self hate. My friends, who were already thin, kept saying how they were fat and that they needed to slim down or they would be ugly, all while I wondered that if they, thinner than I would ever be, were fat, then what was I? My older sister and I weigh the same, a fact that brought me so much shame. I thought I was heavier than everyone in my grade.
I could never escape the whisper. It was in every magazine, every television show, every movie I saw. It was in every insipid makeover movie, where the girl magically becomes beautiful by losing weight and changing herself. Every music video would feature girls who were extremely thin, and rather than taking that as a sign of how different all our bodies are, I took it as a personal failure and shortcoming. The whisper constantly told me I was fat, as if fat was the worst insult anyone could be called.
I started skipping dinner and eating less to appease the whisper, started reading online forums about weight loss, started wishing to be anorexic, wishing a mental disorder upon myself , wishing months of pain upon myself if only to be thin. It was a parasitic wish. I used to count the calories of everything I ate. I used to stand in the mirror every day and pick out all my flaws. The whisper grew louder and louder until it was a piercing scream that never stopped.
The whisper was everywhere, and it made me feel insecure in my own body – and it affects me to this day. I am still insecure about what I eat, and how I look, and how clothes fit and why I don’t look like the models on magazines. I still fall into the current of the whisper, am still swept away, and still have to realize that every body functions differently, and not one will work exactly like mine.
And now, what I am learning about body image is that it’s okay to not have what society champions as the perfect body, because your body is yours… and that is perfect.