Huebner: Marshmallows and Self-Hatred

“So I wiped my eyes and rinsed out my mouth and went outside and laughed...”

by Julia Huebner | 2/2/17 12:35am

illustration_lucyli_huebner
by Lucy Li / The Dartmouth

I met an exceptionally brave Dartmouth woman. Her friends describe her as wicked smart, amicable, bubbly and generous. She knows herself as a woman of color who struggles with eating disorders and negative body image.

Despite national body positivity campaigns, an expansive grey area exists between normal body image and diagnosed eating and body image disorders. I followed up with this woman — who will remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the topic — after speaking with her for hours over lunch about her personal struggles. Her words were raw, uncensored and vulnerable.

JH: Can you start by listing instances of body negativity when you later thought, “that was dumb” or “that was unhealthy” or “that wasn’t good” … but you still did it.

A: I have an unhealthy relationship with food … At home, I was an emotional eater — especially when I was stressed … I would eat ice cream and sometimes I would hate myself for it but would never really do anything about it: just be like, “Next time, I won’t eat it.” It was in high school when I put myself on my “super diet.” It was 500 calories per day. I thought that was a great amount; I thought it was just the right amount to make myself not fat. I thought it was a healthy amount to eat. I insisted on walking or running three miles a day — on 500 calories a day.

JH: What was your experience like during that time?

A: Awful … I have a notebook where I logged what I ate. And it was things like, “three peanuts: 10 calories” … and I would also do this awful thing where I would round up a lot. I’m pretty sure a bagel is like 300 calories but I would be like, “half a bagel: 350 calories.” So I would eat even less than my expected goal, because I wanted weight loss. We don’t have a good scale in my house, but I would surreptitiously weigh myself without telling my parents. I would take off my clothes and weigh myself to see if I weighed less or if it were just my clothes that were heavy. Or I would be like, “Oh, it’s my hair that’s weighing that five pounds that I wanted to lose,” which always isn’t true.

There was one day that I remember distinctly. After eating ice cream, I was like, “I hate myself. I’m disgusting. I’m always going to be fat. I’m never going to be tall or beautiful. Or skinny.” And being skinny was beautiful — or at least that’s what I thought. So I basically tried to make myself throw up. I tried really, really hard. I did the whole “sticking your hand down your throat.” And I couldn’t make it come up. It was awful. And I tried so hard. Obviously, because my body was like, “[Stop] that, that’s disgusting.” But I kept trying.

And I remember one time at a party when I ate this giant marshmallow. And it tasted bad, so for some reason I was like, “I ate something that tasted bad and I got calories from it. It wasn’t even good.” So I threw it up … I came out, and my eyes were watering because I was throwing up. So I wiped my eyes and rinsed out my mouth and went outside and laughed and talked with my friends.

I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I’m at a weight now where I’m not skinny. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be skinny. I look at myself in the mirror and am like, “I hate how fat my face is. I hate how fat my legs are. I hate how fat my arms are …”

JH: You do realize that you’re at a regular, healthy weight?

A: I objectively am — kind of. I have flabby arms and I hate my face so I do this horrible thing where I suck in my cheeks and then I imagine if I got plastic surgery that would cut off the inside of my cheeks so that my cheeks lay flat. You know?

JH: You told me last time about your nose.

A: That was more of a race thing. When I was little I used to put clips [clothespins] on my nose to try to make it pointy, because I always saw white people on television. I’m an Asian woman. I never saw Asian people on TV, so I was like, “Oh, it’s because white people are better. White people are more attractive. Asian people aren’t worth looking at. Asian people aren’t as valuable.” So I tried to make my nose pointy so I would look more like a white person.

And now I’ve realized that, basically, [screw] society if they think that white people are better or more beautiful than any other race. I’m a woman of color and that’s nothing to be ashamed about. I don’t need to change the way my nose looks just because it’s not nice and pointy. I can have a nose that lies flat and live with myself and know that the media might be the one that’s [screwed] up and not me.

Oh! At home, what I did: took the mirrors down … and lightbulbs out so I wouldn’t have to see myself. Because I hated seeing myself. I still do this thing that when I go into bathrooms, I don’t look at myself in the mirror — because I’m afraid.

JH: Afraid of what?

A: Of seeing what I look like. And being disappointed … My entire life, I’ve wanted to be pretty. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. And all my life I’ve been the smart girl … I never had a guy notice me because I was smart. I had a guy in high school who noticed me because it was annoying to have a girl show them up. That’s what I remember being seen as: the girl who couldn’t know her place.

JH: How do you think your life would be different if you were seen as the pretty girl and not the smart girl who would one-up the guys?

A: I don’t know. I just think I’d feel a lot happier. I look at people who are tall and beautiful and skinny and white and think, “You seem like you are so much happier.”

JH: Would you trade how smart you are for being gorgeous?

A: See, part of the problem is that you meet people who are gorgeous who are also much smarter than you.

JH: So you want it all?

A: I guess so. Don’t we all?

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.