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What the Cashier Didn't Know When She Commented on My Dress

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

It’s been years since my last bulimic episode, but I spent last night trying not to binge and purge. The evening actually started off well. I was still patting myself on the back for making good food choices for me during the day, and I’d run to the drugstore to pick up a few things. The cashier smiled as I approached the register and complimented me. I felt pretty!

Clerk: “I love your dress!”

Me: “Thank you!”

Clerk (leans forward, whispering): “Where did you get it?”

Me: “GAP!”

Clerk (looking shocked): “Really? I didn’t think they sold large sizes.”

Didn’t think they sold large sizes.

My face flushed and I felt that familiar churn of acid in the pit of my stomach. I took a beat, registering the discomfort of the people behind me in line. Then I left the items on the counter and walked out of the store. I began sobbing as soon as I hit the parking lot.

Rationally, I know that her words were a throwaway line, not meant to offend. She might know my appearance, but there’s a lot she doesn’t know about me.

She doesn’t know that my simple GAP dress was one of two dresses in my closet that actually fit right now. She doesn’t know I’ve struggled with my weight for 37 years and I began to binge and purge in high school. She doesn’t know I could hardly breathe as I choked back sobs in my car and that I drove straight to McDonald’s, ready to order a meal I intended to throw up. And she doesn’t know when I heard her words, one of my first thoughts was, “I want to die.”

I want to die.

The next thoughts were: you’re not enough, you’re disgusting, you should stay hidden, you’ll never be loved.

All because a stranger complimented my dress.

This is the mental loop I, and so many others, battle. Eating disorders are not driven by vanity. They’re driven by a deep-rooted pain. By shame.

I didn’t order anything at McDonald’s. I turned the car around and drove home. I cursed myself for cleaning out the refrigerator a few days before. I had nothing in my house to binge. And I knew the numbing a binge provided would be temporary compared to the shame that would follow.

So I did what I really, really didn’t want to do. I made myself sit with and work through the pain. And that was the most painful thing of all.

“Not throwing up” does not normally qualify as an extraordinary night. But when it’s what preoccupies your mind for hours, it’s a huge win. What I wanted to do was bury the shame. What I needed to do was reach out to a friend and put voice to my feelings. To lessen their power.

It didn’t help right away, but it did help.

And this morning, I went for a walk, ate breakfast and braced myself for the day.

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.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 27, 2017
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