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How I Wish I'd Responded to the Words, 'But She's Not Skinny'

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“But she’s not skinny,” I hear inside the fluorescent lit doctor’s office. At this time, I am 17 years old, a senior in high school, a varsity athlete, and a 4.0 student. I’m also a bulimic. I was brought to the doctor because the cat was out of the bag, the jig was up, and my secret eating disorder wasn’t so secret anymore.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I heard the words, and I wanted to disappear into nothing. I felt my cheeks go red from the embarrassment of not being your “stereotypical” girl with an eating disorder. I wasn’t skinny. You wouldn’t pass me on the street and think, “That girl starves herself” or “She definitely makes herself throw up.” My clothes didn’t hang from my body like drooping dandelions desperate for a summer rain, and there wasn’t a space in between my thighs. I was your average looking teenage girl, and that is what dragged me down further into the hole I was already digging.

When you struggle with an eating disorder and you hear things like, “but you’re not skinny” or “you don’t look bulimic,” there’s really nothing to feel aside from invalidation. It feels like the insidious voices inside your head that have been telling you you’re not good enough and you need to try harder and you’re failing have just received a standing ovation.

On that winter day six years ago, when I saw just how much my parents didn’t understand my eating disorder, I didn’t respond the way I should have. In fact, I didn’t respond at all. I sat there in silence, with a fogged mind and a hurt heart while the doctor and my parents discussed the “next step” for someone who doesn’t look like they have a problem but maybe does. I wish I had stood up for myself. I wish I would have been able to say, “You have no idea how much that hurt, how much all of this hurts.” I wish I could have educated. I wish I had asked them to just be there for me instead of trying to calculate the “bulimic things” I was doing and how I looked while they struggled to comprehend how they possibly added up. My younger self just desperately needed to know they believed me, that they knew I was hurting, that my body and soul felt colder than the stethoscope the doctor had pressed to my skin just 10 minutes prior. I felt like a failure. I wish I had been able to say, “You don’t have to look sick to be sick” and “There is no right way to hurt.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo by David De Lossy

Originally published: April 18, 2017
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