Perfection isn’t always attainable and the cost may be too high.
Talk to your loved ones:
My sister P has an unrelenting drive to pursue perfection.
In the 70′s, she started working as a file clerk. She worked and worked, harder and harder until she was Vice President of one of the biggest banks in the world. All without a college education. remember as a child, she’d get up at a ridiculous time every morning to iron her clothes so she was perfect for her day. On the weekends, she would wash and detail her car so it was perfect, too. She was meticulous about everything she was involved with.
When someone gave her a gift she liked or someone did something well she exclaimed in a high pitch voice, “PERFECT!!!” I gave up on her level of perfect a long time ago, knowing I was never as driven as either of my sisters to keep up appearances.
She was nicknamed, after Olive Oyl, the character in the Popeye cartoons who was tall and slim with dark hair just like hers. My sister and I always struggled with our weight as children and adults but not P. She vowed as a junior high school student she would never be fat and she never was.
When P discovered she had cancer she fought extremely hard. When she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 20 years ago, the survival rate was much lower. Her treatments were hard but she kept her spirits up. After her bone marrow transplant she got out of the hospital faster than anyone else had before.
Year after year passed and P remained cancer-free against all odds.
Yesterday, my sister K and I drove 3.5 hours each way to see P. It was a tough visit. She’s not breathing on her own, has 5 tubes down her throat, has had a heart attack, and her kidneys are working at 25%. She is being kept alive on machines because of an infection anyone normally could get at home. Part of this is because she had a bone marrow transplant and will forever have a compromised immune system.
After talking to P’s doctors we also discovered she partially did this to herself.
P didn’t eat enough and when she did eat she didn’t eat healthy foods. I can remember for years now if she ate a normal meal she would be in the bathroom with diarrhea or throwing up.
We found out yesterday along with all the medical issues P is facing she is suffering from long-term malnutrition.
This is a woman who has money. She can afford to eat but she chose not to. We know now she didn’t eat enough for a long time. In her search for her version of perfection she is fighting for her life and on life support with an infection that you or I would be in bed with mildly inconvenienced .
She always had Cosmo or Glamor magazines in her home and strove never to be bigger than a size 6. She was forever losing just 8 more pounds.
I hope all the women I know read this and take it to heart.
P will always suffer the effects of her long-term malnutrition. It is not too late for your daughters, it is not too late for anyone reading this who struggles as P does with food. It sickens me that my sister who I love so dearly is malnourished.
Talk to your daughters. Talk to your friends. Before you skip that meal to fit into that new dress think of P and eat something healthy. Trying to be some unreal version of a woman can kill you.
I have no words for the anger I feel about this. I have always hated the unreal images of women and the shapes I will never be, but this event takes my anger to a whole new level. If women as a whole don’t buy into the magazine image of a woman then the image of the size 0 woman as perfection will have to change.
My great-aunt owned our dance studio, so for the girls in my family, dance was non-negotiable.
The first few years of ballet we just had to go for one hour a week, and let’s be honest, you don’t do a whole lot of ballet when you’re 4 and 5 years old. It’s like cat herding. The fact that they were able to keep us all in the same room at the same time was a pretty impressive accomplishment.
My older sister started 3 years before me, so for the first few years, I always went to her class too. I watched her dance with her peers and with one of our cousins, I watched their feet, their new tricks. I would imagine how in 3 years I would look just like her. I would be graceful, balanced, thin and my great-aunt would shower me with the same praise she did my sister and cousin.
But as time passed, I didn’t turn into my sister.
While she grew boobs and a tiny waist, I grew out. I didn’t get the good body or the great balance. I was the chubby girl who couldn’t hold her releve without tipping a little. I was the chubby girl that gave 100%, but always came up short.
My great-aunt began to notice that I was chubby and made it a point to remind me of it regularly. When it was nearly time to start ballet on pointe, she told me that I either needed to lose 10 pounds, or wait a year. I was 10.
I had to wait a year.
I picked up extra ballet classes in hopes of improving my technique, of winning the favor of my great-aunt. The extra classes turned into extra opportunities for her to criticize me. To criticize my size, to remind me that I was not graceful like my sister or my cousin, both of which carried on the family tradition of becoming dance instructors for the younger kids.
Each week I prepared myself, I put on my invisible armor which was dented from the last class’s slightly veiled insults. “Oh Katie, well, I guess that’s better than last time.” Or “Katie, you know that you would be able to do that even easier with less weight.” Sometimes she said it only to me, sometimes she stopped the music and hurled the words at me in front of all the other girls in my class.
I tried to quit, but my mom, who was so well intentioned, told me to keep trying. I kept trying, and to my credit, I did improve. For 14 years I went to ballet, the last few years spending over 8 hours a week in that studio, being told I was not graceful, being denied solos, becoming the first person in my family to not be offered a job to teach there.
At the end of my 14th year, I went away to college.
When I went to watch the dance recital the the next summer I was 60 pounds lighter, I hadn’t had a period in 10 months and I was dangerously underweight. I was out of control.
I was starving myself.
I was anorexic.
I can’t give ballet all the credit for the anorexia, because truthfully it was initiated by a need to control something in my life because I was spiraling into depression I couldn’t climb out of. So I counted calories, and by counted, I mean obsessed over them, I controlled them. I started running. I exercised twice a day.
And the weight fell off.
But when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see a thin girl. I saw the chubby 10 year old who wasn’t allowed to start pointe with her peers. I saw the ungraceful girl who couldn’t keep up, who wasn’t good enough.
It has been 9 years since I quit ballet and 9 years since my first bout with an eating disorder. I say first because eating disorders aren’t like the flu, they don’t just go away. They sit under the surface waiting to re-emerge, to re-devastate your self-confidence.
I am older now, stronger maybe, but I still see a chubby girl in the mirror. When I gain 5 pounds, I can’t see anything besides failure. When my weight goes above 135 pounds, I literally cannot stop the thoughts of starving myself, of going to any length to be thinner.
To be the graceful ballerina that I always imagined I’d grow up to be.
When I was 13, I was bullied, and in response I began my nine year (so far) journey with depression and self-harm, followed by a seven year journey with a restrictive eating disorder.
Until now, The Band I have never written or spoken about my story in complete, honest detail. It’s more important than ever that I come to terms with how that individual made me feel.
I still don’t feel brave enough to open up this much to people who know me, so opening up to you, The Band, is the first step.
I was always a shy child growing up. I first found myself a victim of bullying at the age of five. I can’t remember much, apart from trying to hide from those two boys in my year and their cruel words – even then, I never told anybody about what was happening. Despite that experience (which was thankfully short-lived), I always had a good number of close friendships and grew up as a happy, quiet, attentive, little girl.
I moved through the next eight years of my education without any significant hiccups. During the usual childhood friend tiffs, I’d always find a new handful of friends right around the corner. I enjoyed school. I guess the only problem I had (although I didn’t notice it at the time) was that my family was not particularly open.
My parents had been together throughout my childhood (and are now celebrating their second year of – finally – being married) and I had an older sister. Both of my parents worked full-time throughout my childhood, so my grandmother would often walk me to and from school, and look after my sister and I at home.
I have few memories of spending time with my parents but those I have are happy ones. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the emotional distance between my family and I made me a very closed person.
For the record, I’m beyond the blaming stage – we are all consequences of our experiences and we can’t change the past. Now we just have to try to learn how to move forward.
I made it to secondary school without too many problems. My first year was similarly successful – I was in the top sets for everything and had a close group of friends. About halfway into my second year of secondary school, not long after my thirteenth birthday, the bullying began.
I remember the first time so vividly.
I was walking home from school with a girl who I didn’t usually talk to much, and the boy in question (let’s call him B for “bully” for convenience) was walking with his friends some way behind us. There was nobody between us.
The next thing I knew, I heard him shout “Sarah, get your tits out!”
Instinctively, I turned around, stuck my middle finger up at him and continued walking. The girl I was with asked me what he’d said, but I pretended that I hadn’t heard the exact words.
I still remember my heart dropping a beat when he’d shouted, but I went home and got on with the day, not thinking much of what had happened. I didn’t know that it would change so much.
The next time it happened, I was walking home alone with B walking with his friends behind me. This was the start of countless occasions almost identical in content:
He would, on an near-daily basis, shout three words down the street at me: “Sarah saggy tits.“
I was (and still feel) so ashamed but I didn’t feel I could tell anybody. I’d never even judged my appearance until that point. I hadn’t noticed that I was developing faster than the other girls my age, and it made me feel like I was disgusting.
I hated my body, because (in my head) that was the reason this was happening. It didn’t take long for the self-hate and anger to kick in.
The first time I purposely hurt myself was following one of these incidents. I got my mathematical compass out of my pencil case, took off my trousers, and dragged the tip over my thigh several times. It felt so good to actually DO something, because I’d felt so helpless.
The next day, after B had done exactly the same thing, I tried to self-harm again. Problem was, I didn’t have quite so much anger and self-hatred built up, so had trouble making myself do it.
I was desperate for that release. I started drawing lines on my legs with pen and methodically scratching at them with the compass until all the pen had been scratched away. It didn’t take long before I didn’t need the pen, or before I used more harmful instruments, and moved to other parts of my body.
All the while, I was doing whatever I could to avoid walking in front of B on the way home from school. I would stand around the school gates, until the number of people dwindled so much that I was almost sure that he’d already left (sometimes it succeeded, other times it didn’t). I also started slowing down to the pace of a snail if I saw him ahead of me on the path.
After avoiding B on the way home for a while, he started bullying me in other ways, although he never used those words anywhere but on the walk home.
He began trying to trip me up around school. Having to see him in classes every day was torture. For the first time in my life, I hated going to school. I’d be anxious every morning and would feel sick at the thought of going in.
Then, the bullying started on the Internet, too.
We all had these “websites” and he would use his to bully me further – publicly. He’d post comments on his page, pretending to be me, saying horrible things (the most memorable being that I masturbated at the image of this unpopular guy at school).
Everyone saw it.
Nobody said anything, but I knew they had.
And B was relentless in his bullying, both in person and cyberbullying.
The first time I tried to be more aggressive to stop the bullying was after the online bullying had begun. Apart from what he’d said about me, he’d also followed a young teacher home and posted her address online. I used this to report him to the site host and his account was deleted.
For a short while, the bullying paused. However, my friends told me that B knew I was the one who’d gotten his site taken down, which meant that he was clearly still saying things about me.
After a few weeks, the three word harassment on my walk home began again. The next step I took was to tell my head of year about what he’d put about that teacher online. My friends were called into the head of year’s office and she asked them about what he’d written. They told her about the teacher and that B had written things about me on there, too. This teacher didn’t speak to me again, but B was suspended for a grand total of three days.
He never bullied me again, clearly knowing that that had been his punishment without me mentioning what he’d put me through.
About half a year after it started, the bullying was over.
However, the damage was already done.
I was depressed and self-harming on a daily basis. Self-harm became my way of coping with every negative feeling I had. I tried to stop a number of times, but always ended up self-harming worse when I gave in. It was also around this time that I learned my closest friends were talking about my self-injury behind my back. Everybody knew about my self-harm, but nobody approached me about it. Again, I changed groups of friends and, thankfully, was not alone.
I was 15 and just about to start my last year at that secondary school. My appetite was greatly suppressed by my depression and I’d often only eat one meal a day.
It was just before starting school that I consciously decided to stop eating. I began weighing myself every morning, before putting a few drops of milk into a bowl to make it look like I’d eaten, throwing away my lunch on the way to school, and reluctantly eating dinner with my parents each night. About three months later, I was at a BMI of 16% and my parents had noticed something was wrong.
I spent a few days pretending to be ill so that I didn’t have to eat anything, when my mother told me that they thought I was starving myself. I laughed it off and went back to eating properly. I lasted a week (and a 5 pound weight gain) before my emotions caught up with me.
It was then that I became trapped in the cycle of trying to lose weight and self-harming. Sometimes, I made myself sick, I over-exercising, one or two times of laxative abuse, quite a few minor overdoses, and lots of self-harming and cutting.
Since this started, I’ve seen quite a few different therapists.
The longest I’ve been without cutting is four months, and I’m currently coping better with the eating disorder than ever before. I’m still struggling quite a bit, but without this experience, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
I’m 22 and I’m on my way to my dream career as a researcher. I am just starting my PhD in psychology, with my research topic greatly inspired by what I’ve been through. I’ve come a long way since the first time B shouted at me. I still have problems with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and making myself eat enough, but I’m so much more confident, knowledgeable and open than I was back then.
I have a massive way to go, but I’m encouraged by how far I’ve come.
There were a couple of times that I came really close to telling a teacher what I was going through, but I never had enough courage to do it. I can say now that things may have be a lot easier if I’d been brave enough to say something.
Please, please consider reaching out to someone if you know they are being bullied.