I have struggled with eating disorders for almost a decade now. It started when I was twelve and, at the age of twenty, I still haven’t managed to wriggle free. The poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird has touched me even though I was always thin. It is a collection of punch-packing snapshots of what an eating disorder is. I admire her gift with language, but even more than that, I admire her strength and unflinching honesty. The slam poem inspired me to write my own poem as a response. I am still in recovery but I am striving to be recovered. I highly suggest that you listen to her piece before even starting to read mine. It is phenomenal.
“When the Skinny Girl Stays Skinny”
It was the year of High School Musical and Camp Rock,
we ushered food around trays at lunch like bumper cars,
giggling nervously like the dainty waifs in diet tea ads.
Lamenting expanding tushes and sucking in stomachs,
cursing baby fat in the confessional of locker rooms
comparing numbers after the yearly height-and-weight check,
and I soaked in every digit.
It started with a “religious fast,”
attaining nirvana despite my Catholic roots.
I was never fed but always full.
And when the other girls stopped,
I opted to go on.
Reels of memories are marked by
what I did and did not consume,
the excuses jammed between empty plates.
“I had lunch earlier”
“I had a big breakfast”
“I don’t normally eat a lot of food at once—I just graze.”
Saying “eat” has felt more scandalous than saying “fuck” in front of a priest,
A clean plate has the same sheen as a fun house mirror.
For eight years, the compulsion to resist has left me
approaching the refrigerator only to shut it and
occupy my time with superior endeavors,
such as rewriting a tally of calories for the day more neatly
or checking my BMI for the third time in two hours.
I have learned that weighing oneself naked is not the norm,
and that 700 calories is not considered overmuch.
When the fat girl gets skinny,
her chops for dying are celebrated.
When the skinny girl stays skinny,
she is dubbed “naturally thin.”
Both dodge the radar in their own way.
I can remember my highest and lowest weights to the decimal.
My periods give rain in the Sahara a run for its money.
Hunger pangs feel more nostalgic than my grandmother’s potato salad.
It was said that if you aren’t recovering, you are dying,
I wish I could say picking one or the other
was an obvious choice.