It was supper and we were seated and Mum was dishing, dishing, dishing the macaroni and cheese piled orange and white as she handed them, plates plunking against old wood table, and I’d already decided it tasted like straw, even before I took a bite.
Tonight I would eat only half, and she’d threaten me with no dessert and I’d tell her point blank, that’s fine. Maybe it would make her worn sweaters unravel and her straight-lined school schedule smear and maybe then she’d take me into her arms and tell me she was sorry.
Sorry for praying that prayer when I was in her womb, the one I learned of later on, the one she said with good intentions not knowing how it would hurt me, the prayer which uttered God, don’t make my baby beautiful, in case she becomes vain. (I can see Mum’s hands trembling on her abdomen in the night as she offered her baby like Hannah did with Samuel, and it makes me love her; yet, despise).
In my own dark nights, I worked to reverse that prayer. I’d train as though for war, to see food as nothing but a trap. I’d lie there feeling ribs, measuring wrists, planning the next day’s meals. And if there was to be a party somewhere, I’d eat less in preparation, allowing myself the freedom to snack, for then no one would know the difference.
By day, I’d peer into the mirror as if into my soul and imagine myself skinnier, beautiful. I’d creak onto the toilet seat after bath, spend half an hour turning this way and that, analyzing naked bones, sucking in and pulling skin, and strategizing how to become invisible.
Salvation came through imagination.
The apple grew a face which mocked me, and so I didn’t finish it, for every time I defeated the food, I gained points against Mum, and maybe God, and I was winning. The food had nothing on me. Sometimes I’d trick it, making the piece of bread think it would fill me up then rip it into halves and eat only one, and there was a thrill in leaving food on the plate, as though I could disappoint it. Even the raisins in the tapioca seemed to stare holes, and I would push it away, feigning fullness.
But food was everywhere, and it never slept. It would win in my dreams—the cakes, the pies, the sandwiches. In my mind there would be a buffet, high-calorie. I’d gorge, drool, and crumbs would spill over into daytime and I’d wake feeling bloated, spend the next day getting back at food by eating less.
I’d suck in my cheeks in the mirror; I’d suck them in for photos; and I’d try not to talk so I could suck them in day-long. It was tiring, this looking like a model, but I was determined to be beautiful. I would weigh myself every time I ate, every time I went to the bathroom; I’d take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, just to see the numbers drop.
And I wept through the pain, wept behind closed doors with my arms wrapped tight, but I couldn't stop.
Artwork and post by Emily Wierenga.
Do you or your loved-ones struggle with issues around food?
Go to Intuitive Eating, and click "What is Intuitive Eating?" for ideas on how to develop a healthy relationship to food.