Hurriedly pulling at the belt loops of my favorite pair of jeans, I noticed something—they didn’t fit. I turned towards the mirror to identify the culprit: a pair of skeleton legs, no longer able to be hugged by my staple skinny jeans. The high–waisted style jolted out from where it should have been holding my waist. Rather than muster an outfit change, I pulled them to stay up and continued to tug from Rodin College House to Fisher Bennett Hall.
These weren’t my first pair of these jeans. My first year of college, I had owned the same ones. But, the transition from athlete to NARP, from home–cooked meals to dining halls, and homework–filled Saturday nights to Moscato–fueled adventures resulted in what I jokingly referred to as my “freshman fifty.” That first pair was ripped in the similar “I–am–late–to–class” jean tug, swiftly replaced with a rationalization of wear and tear.
When Googling the “symptoms” of an eating disorder, the search engine informed me people with eating disorders tend to wear baggy clothes to conceal their body. But I championed my changing body with a changing wardrobe. Purposefully, I’d bring a size too big to the dressing room so I could ask the sales workers for a size down. When returning home over winter break, I asked my mom where my clothes from high school were. I offered my old clothes to friends, replacing gratitude with replies of, "Oh, it just doesn’t fit me anymore."
The inability to fit into my clothes coincided with my inability to fit into the other symptoms. Two months later, sitting in a therapist’s office as she read me the DSM definition of anorexia nervosa, one thing stood out to me: I wasn’t underweight. In my mind, if I wasn’t underweight, then I didn’t have an eating disorder.
Perhaps it was the constant hunger pains, the growing visibility of my collarbone, or the omnipresent voice telling me that I was only a few more pounds away from being happy, being beautiful, being loved that told me something was wrong. But, that one category of the DSM told me the opposite: I was fine, and, by BMI guidelines, healthy. Forget the calorie counting, forget the newly purchased but untouched food in my refrigerator, forget the time I fainted in Huntsman and then again in Williams. The validity of my experience was based on the thing that controlled it—numbers.
But, most importantly, I liked my new wardrobe.
The numbers never reached what would have made my eating disorder real in my eyes. I knew something was wrong, but it was never real for me. It became real for my dad, my new relationship, and my friends long before it resonated personally. They loved me before I loved myself. To me, I began losing weight on accident: skipping meals for an extra two hours in the library, substituting breakfast for black coffee, and exchanging my Chipotle habit for the next–door Sweetgreen. But, as I watched my body transform into a new one, I became fixated: each new shopping bag masked as a reward.
I wish I could say that I had a turning point. I wish I could say that one morning I woke up and wanted to eat. I wish I could say I believed in what the other symptoms on the DSM were telling me—exercising excessively, unrealistic perception of body weight, an extremely strong fear of gaining weight.
Instead, it was those who loved me. It was my dad showing me a BMI chart for women with large body frames, alerting me that I was, in fact underweight. It was my boyfriend splitting meals with me, so that I did not feel like I was eating the entire plate. It was my friends holding me as I had a panic attack after dessert.
A year later, it was the first day of the winter semester, and I was characteristically late to my first class. Digging through a luggage pile of clothes, I reached for my favorite blue skirt. Hurriedly pulling at the belt loops, it ripped in half. I didn’t need to turn to the mirror, but I did need to muster an outfit change. It wasn’t a “freshman fifty” nor a result of wear and tear, but rather a result of the love that surrounded and inspired me.
That night, as I sat spooning chocolate chip cookie dough Ben and Jerry’s from the pint, I browsed shopping websites, and ordered a new pair of jeans—maybe they became my favorite, maybe they remained untouched on my shelf, but they became a part of my new wardrobe.