There’s got to be a way to change this narrative.
That’s what I’m thinking when the door swings shut with bang so loud it startles me. Already on edge, I do that thing where I scream in my head. Fuuuuccckkkkkkk.
I take a deep breath and introduce myself to the four walls. “I’m Christie. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” To the mirror, I mustered a smile as a truce: Let’s leave the past behind us, ‘kay?
Outside the door, I hear a young girl call after her mother. “Grab the extra-small,” she says. “The small is too big.”
Deep breaths. We’re doing this differently, remember?
I start with the easy stuff. Black. Then navy. I work my way up to actual spring-colored clothes. I think about my rule for looking at pictures of myself: If I can’t look with love, then I stop looking until I can. I rarely look at recent pictures of myself. It’s safer to go back in time– graduations, honeymoons, four months after my first baby. Something about the here-and-nowness of my body makes me want to look with something darker and more acrid than love.
Two years from now, I’ll look back at a picture of this time– oh, Easter 2014– and I’ll think of myself, not bad. Not bad at all. But in the moment, my eye scans for flesh. Then magnifies . Distorts. I can’t breathe. This is my eating disorder at 40 years old. It’s not furtive heaves over a toilet after dinner or skipping meals before a long run. It’s a steady picking, picking, picking at my physical appearance, a stash of shame and misery so potent I consider it my “nuclear option”. It’s guaranteed to ruin my mood; all I have to do is push the red button.
I pull a dress over my head. A multi-colored shift– Banana-Republic-does-Pucci. I take a deep breath. I do the full-body scan. I step back from the edge of disgust and the accumulated debris from all my bad habits in small spaces like this. I’m desperate for distance, thirsty for a larger room without a mirror.
If this is going to be different, I have to do something different.
I smile at myself with compassion because even though this whole process erases my entire IQ, I never lose sight of my gnawing need for compassion. I dare to check the side view. I keep smiling, even though I’ve gone too far. I’m ready for side angles. Not with the substandard bra I’m wearing.
“How’s everything going in there?” A chirpy sales woman asks, still shiny on this holiday weekend. I mumble that I am great and hope she never ever comes back.
We were going to change the narrative, right? After all, what happens to me in those moments is that I fall under the spell of a story. A story that yanks down my serenity with such force that it leaves scratch marks, deep grooves that sting to the touch. The story is worn and frayed, like a library book that hundreds of kids have taken home and tried to feed to their feral pets. But I’ve memorized it: You should be skinnier because then you would be prettier, more in control, more loveable, more secure. Just somehow better and, however illogically, smarter and more successful.
I take off the Pucci-esque dress, because, honestly, where am I wearing that? To swim lessons and to the grand opening of the new grocery store down the street? I put on something that doesn’t trigger me quite so thoroughly– a colorful blouse with black pants. I opt against the full-body scan. I look myself in the eyes and stand up a little taller. My mind, unable to spit out some soothing new narrative like you’re a beautiful woman, remains blank. But that’s a miracle considering all the negative things that have marched through it over my lifetime.
It’s not a new narrative, but it’s a start.