It used to be such a big secret – I didn’t speak about it for so many years. But once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. I must have a sign on my head, a Mia tattoo, an Ana stamp, because now women and girls and even men find me and open up, too. It’s like we were in a war together, but fought in different battles and need to share. It feels good to remember, like picking a scab. Me too, Me too, Me too. We have so much to say, we could talk Mia and Ana for hours. “I’m so lucky I recovered when I did,” I always admit at some point because it’s true. By recovered I mean, I quit the bad behaviors. And I was still young enough for my body to heal. Today it was the instructor at Pop Physique. We sat on the floor after class. She’s much younger than I am and only a few years past her worst lows. “You’ll be okay,” I reassured her. (Our common bond came up last week when I mentioned that my daughter had quit dancing. I can tell from her feet and legs and the way she holds her arms that she was a dancer, too. (That’s a whole other secret society)) She was worried about being a mother – what if she has a girl, like I do? Will she pass it on? “It’s hard,” I said. “You can’t diet in front of them ever. You have to eat what they eat. You have to like, eat the bun. And you can’t have a scale or ever say, ‘Do I look fat in these jeans?’And you can’t tell them not to have another cookie, even though they shouldn’t have another cookie. It’s hard.”
When you’re in it, of course, there are those few partners you team up with – driving each other, exchanging tricks like drug addicts. They were not my allies – they were the enemy – and we were twice as lethal combined. I had one in particular – she was the evilest freinemy I’ve ever had. She taught me things I wish I’d never known. We were dancers together, but she was better. A year older. On scholarship before I was. “You’ll never be a dancer,” she would say mid-binge. They told her to lose weight, but then she lost so much, she grew fur. And her bones broke. (mine did, too) So they sent her back to Minnesota. I was relieved, but I wasn’t free. Not for awhile. She wrote me years later to apologize for those cruel insults she’d used to keep me tethered. But it was too late, I’d already quit.
I can spot winter girls in the throws if it: the chipmunk cheeks, the orange palms, the way they turn sideways and disappear. Sometimes it’s just the way she chews, or how she picks at her food, or it’s the way she walks, burning extra calories, counting steps. I’m too scared to talk to them. I want to. I want to say: I see you. I want to say: you have to stop now, or you will die. But I don’t. I can’t really, who am I to get involved? I imagine myself slipping her a card with a hotline on it or a really good doctor’s number. Sometimes mothers ask me about their daughters and I share and warn and commiserate. It’s been years, but I can talk Mia and Ana for hours.
Writing Beautiful Girl so many years later was like digging up a time capsule. There are details in the book – which is fiction, but includes a lot of my truths – that I’d never spoken. And then there they were, on the page, staring back at me. Now they are published, available for anyone to read. It takes place in the months after I’d sought help. It’s the beginning of my life after Mia. My doctor told me when I was in treatment that I must get something out of the eating disorder, something really powerful, or I would be able to stop. I wasn’t even skinny at that point, so what was it? It was gross and I hated it, so why? Mia was like having a whole secret life – a bad one – but still, it was mine and it was an excuse to not participate, it was a constant out. If my head was full of binging and counting – there wasn’t room left to think. I didn’t have to feel the real pain of life because I had a giant monster chasing me. Always.
Maybe when we recovered Mias and Anas connect with confessions and stories and me toos, we’re really just confirming that the monster was there and that it was real. It chased us. But we got away. We got away.
#beautiful girl#eating disoder recovery#mia#ana