I don’t know when a child typically becomes aware of her body — or even what anorexia means. For me, it was when a neighbor came over and commented on what a big girl I was.
I was seven, and her tone was disapproving.
So I went to the mirror and stared at the face of a girl with a mushroom cut and thrift-store clothes, and I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Then I put my fingers around my wrist, and they just barely reached and that would become the way I measured my value.
For the next six years, I’m not sure why but I began to think sickly was pretty and I tried to become as emaciated as possible.
Anorexia will do that to you.
As one of my friends put it, leave it to the devil to complicate a necessity like food. Because when you don’t have food, you die, and I thought I was invincible.
I watched a video recently in which an African lady laughed as she flexed her arms and said, "Look at how beautiful I am! Look at these arms, how strong they are! They hold up my babies. And my legs, they get me where I need to go."
It was so refreshing, the way she loved herself.
And it’s like when I gave birth to two beautiful boys, when my body split wide so they could swim into the world, it’s like that.
Because our bodies are not ornaments, they’re vessels of the most important kind. They’re vessels bearing life, the kind that dribbles laughter and spit-up and tears all over your made-up face and leaves you spent and fulfilled.
I was told I wouldn’t be able to have children when I was 13 and dying of anorexia. I’d stopped eating for four years, and trying to grasp hope when you’re sad is like trying to eat a sandwich when you’re anorexic. On the outside the solution seems simple ....
But sometimes there’s a mental block, and that block was making my hair fall out and my nails crack and I had no menstrual cycle and my stomach never stopped growling.
And there was a moment, a very distinct moment, when I looked outside my window as my parents drove me to the general hospital where they were going to leave me until I decided to get better. I looked out that window and I saw a woman, running, and she wasn’t skinny. She was strong, and muscular, and beautiful, and she looked so vibrant and alive and here I was, just entering my teens and already an old woman.
And I knew in that moment this wasn’t living. This was hell.
That moment was God, breaking through years of meticulous starvation to reveal a glimpse of the hope I couldn’t grasp on my own.
He picked up the sandwich and held it to my anorexic lips and I bit off some crust and swallowed. And it was painful, but it was nourishing, and all of a sudden I was so very hungry.
The other day my oldest son helped me open a box containing my new book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a loved one battling an eating disorder. It’s a story my family and I wrote to help other families. It’s a book my parents wished they had had, when I was refusing to hug them and throwing plates and 60 pounds.
He helped me unpack them, and then I showed him my photo on the back cover, and my three-year-old made me feel so famous.
“Mommy picture? Mommy write book?”
And I realized in that moment, the trinity of miracles. Myself, being alive. My son, being born. And this book, the pages of a spiritual battle fought, and won.
I love my body.
I love that it housed my two boys.
I love that it belongs to my husband.
I love that even after years of treating it wrongly, it hasn’t let me down.
And slowly, I am learning to walk in that love. One forkful, one gentle embrace, one prayer at a time.
Emily Wierenga (www.emilywierenga.com) is the author of Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder, with Dr. Gregory Jantz, available in paperback and e-book (www.chasingsilhouettes.com).
To win a free Kindle version today, just let her know how you are learning to love yourself in the comments.