Writing about your personal struggles is scary business. It forces you to release monsters you’d rather leave in the dark. It makes you own up to decisions that maybe weren’t the best for you. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying and liberating all at once.
That’s why I believe real stories about the human experience are so important. By sharing our stories, especially the difficult ones, we throw aside the invisible armor we don every day and render ourselves completely vulnerable. Why do this? To make connections with strangers. To show others they are not alone. To try to make sense of this crazy, beautiful life. To practice introspection and better understand ourselves. For me, it’s a reminder of how strong I am and how far I’ve come.
This month, I have a personal essay titled “Shapeless” in Under the Gum Tree’s January issue. As a gorgeous nonfiction magazine, Under the Gum Tree provides writers an avenue to tell stories without shame. I accepted their invitation and wrote something gritty and gorgeous and true. I wrote about my experience with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression, and the healing that comes with true love and acceptance.
My goal in writing “Shapeless” was to share that, in my experience, an eating disorder isn’t an isolated event; it’s a continuum. While the physical manifestations of an eating disorder can heal, psychological scars remain. And those imprints of your past life color your experience with just about everything – food, body image, mental health, relationships. For years.
“Shapeless” guides you through 17 years of my life, from the moment my mental imbalance began at the age of 14 to last year when I turned 31. This essay is an unflinching look at the highs, the lows, and everything in between. It’s full of horror, love, naivete, doubt, and compassion.
Here’s a sneak peek at ages 15, 24, and 26…
…In the mirror, I suck in my stomach, and my bones protrude through pale, papery skin. I stare and stare, unblinking, unflinching, at what I believe is a glimpse of perfection. A mountain climber could hang from my ribs and scale down into nothingness. They’d have to swing to and fro to make contact with my bellybutton. I like the sharpness, the drama of the angles…
I’m dating a man who delights in being able to fit his large palms around my slim waist. “So tiny,” he says on our second date, holding me gently as a coin. I feel exceptionally small in his arms. It becomes a priority to stay trim, to let his hands explore a shallow sea…
As the saxophone trills, I remove a silky, opera length glove with my teeth. The audience alights with applause, and I stand up a little straighter in my silver heels, pushing my chest forward. Blue feather fans shake and ruffle in choreographed movements. Prince sings about controversy, and I bask in it. I split and shimmy to the floor, then unhook the mirrored bra about my breasts. During the big reveal, my Swarovski crystal pasties shimmer, and I feel beautiful. I’m a goddess in this skin. I’ve reclaimed my curves, my muscle, my very being. I’m confident and on display, something that used to terrify me. I wink at everyone.
To see how this story began and how it ends, pick up this month’s issue of Under the Gum Tree.