"Tell us your secret," the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
The YA book Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson has been recommended to me by friends, but I kept putting it off reading because I knew the subject matter a little too well and quite frankly, I was scared. I finally got a hold of a copy last week and spent two days immersed in the world of anorexia, hoping the main character Lia would be able to pull herself from the tight grasp of the illness in time.
Girls are a fickle bunch. I know this personally. It doesn't get any easier the older you get. Anderson's tale of Lia and Cassie illustrates this well. The two girls were childhood friends, but they also fed off each other's insecurities, secretly competing with the help of anorexia and bulimia until Cassie's body couldn't hold out any longer.
The imagery in this book will haunt you. You will find yourself wondering if the things Lia describes are real or the result of Lia's starvation:
Gray faces crowd the red leaves. The ghosts want to taste me. Their hands snake out, fingers open wide. I walk quickly, moving out of the reach of their sticky shadows. As I pass under a streetlight, the bulb pops and I smell burnt sugar. Her.
Fortunately for me, I never got to that point. Today, I have a healthy relationship with food and exercise, and I'm committed to making sure my daughter does too, especially as she gets older. I don't remember much about the lowest number on the scale, except that it was about 85 or 90 pounds at the age of 19. It could have been so much worse. I'm lucky I had people who cared about me and made sure I knew I was loved. I'm lucky I made the decision not to shut everyone out and keep starving, as much as I wanted to.
One thing I've learned is this. It's difficult, impossible almost, to recover from an eating disorder until you are ready. For me, I had to ultimately make the decision that I wanted to live, even if it meant feeling pain, as Lia describes:
I breathe in slowly. Food is life. I exhale, take another breath. Food is life. And that's the problem. When you're alive, people can hurt you. It's easier to crawl into a bone cage or a snowdrift of confusion. It's easier to lock everybody out. But it's a lie.
I hope one day I can write a compelling story that tackles an issue as important as this one. Don't we all?