My life has been a series of self-consciousness.
I was in a dance class when I was four. Our show costume was this bright pink tutu and, even though that bubblegum pink color was my favorite, I dropped out the morning of the show because I looked like a huge bubble in the costume and I was embarrassed, even then. Innocence bubble popped.
My mom tells this funny story about a birthday party, when I was still young enough to count on one hand, where someones mother found me underneath a table eating a bowl of candy by myself. I started hiding food at a very young age, convinced—if no one saw it—I didn’t have to own it. There would be no shame in food that no one else could quantify.
I went from under-tables to behind closed doors. Eating in hiding, not eating at all; binging, purging…people often compare food to control but, for me, it was secrecy. I was proud when I was empty. When my stomach churned and grumbled, it was rerecording the voices in my head. My father’s go-to line, you ate yesterday, when I’d skewer salad onto my fork.
I spent summers throwing up in the bathroom, to feel good in a bathing suit. School years drinking water and sucking on pretzels for food. Or eating a meal a day, only when someone was looking. Wrapping my thumb and middle finger around my wrists—feeling for bones, to feel small enough to be good enough.
In college I only felt beautiful when I was still hungry. I let my eyes dull, my hair unravel, my nails brittle. When I grew jealous or afraid I was not enough, I would exercise harder, eat less. Spend summers watching other people eat. Exercising hours for carrots; burpees until I couldn’t see straight.
I went to dance calls and left in tears, spilling my shame into the toilet; four years old, again, only now I felt like an elephant: clunky, too-big, too-wrong. I modified my life to fit into my mindset. I would never be thin enough or beautiful enough. I would never be able to dance.
I started teaching, tiny. But the more stressed I became the more I turned to food. And the more I saw how my opinion mattered, the more I remembered who I had been in high school and what I had needed to hear. So I bought kale and broccoli and enough vegetables to start a small farm. I decided, if I was going to teach by example, I couldn’t just teach kindness and passion and words—I had to live by them. I had to treat myself with the kindness I hoped they would; nourish myself to nourish them.
This summer, we’ve been traveling. We spend days exploring new states and people and nights playing shows in bars and coffee shops and places i’ve never heard of but am so grateful exist. I keep reminding myself that food is important. I have decided to eat donuts in every state and compare them. I spend hours making lists of places we have to see, and restaurants we shouldn’t miss. Convincing myself that, if I think it’s fun, I’ll be okay. So I’m eating and letting food anchor me to moments, to people, to life. But that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve started avoiding mirrors—I run in place. I keep food down. And I promise myself I’ll get back to a routine and be fine. We hike and I want to push myself further. I’m always too close to the edge.
This is me in a bathing suit: after bbq in Texas, biscuits in North Carolina, Purple Drank in New Orleans, tacos in Tucson, hummus in Nashville, Eggs Benedict in DC, fried chicken in Atlanta---and donuts everywhere. I’m not comfortable with the way it looks. But I’m learning to be proud of my body. I’m sharing to own it. To beat shame. To turn guilt into gratitude; you ate yesterday into what will you do today?
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.