For as far back as I can remember into my childhood, starting at age 7 or 8… I’ve always felt strange about food, movement and my body.
You see, for most of my childhood I was the fat kid. I was a mostly self-confident child, I was smart and my favourite thing in the world was pasta. But my issues with over-eating were never just a case of “it tastes good so why can’t I eat an infinite amount of it”… no. They were more complex than that. It was like every meal may be my last. I felt so ashamed about eating for reasons that were unknown to me, but didn’t know how to manage my emotions so I self-medicated with food. Feeling hungry always made me feel a mixture of exhilarated and terrified, and I didn’t know how to process that.
This is how my obsession with food and my weight ruined a decade of my life.
School pictures day, Grade 4:
I lined up behind the other kids in my class waiting to get my individual photo taken. The photographer would use these corny lines to get kids to smile – he told knock knock jokes to the boys and gave compliments to the girls.
“Who’s the prettiest girl in the world?”
“A beautiful girl like you should always be smiling!”
“You look like a princess! Are you a princess?”
The other girls beamed. I remember feeling excited to feel beautiful as I eagerly awaited my turn. When it arrived, the photographer exclaimed “Give us a smile!”. I smiled, he took a breath and said “Good enough.”
No compliments. No building me up. I wasn’t pretty or beautiful or worthy… I was just good enough.
Christmas, Grade 4:
Mum and I went to the shopping centre and had our pictures taken with Santa. He winced as I sat on his knee.
We had pasta for dinner that night – my favourite, with bocconcini and cherry tomatoes and lemon. I told myself that I’d never eat again, and I ate 3 adult-sized servings because it was my “last meal”.
First day of school, Grade 5:
I was feeling super self-conscious about how round my face was. I’d just had a haircut and it came out much shorter than I was used to having it. I loved my long hair, I used it as a sort of security blanket to hide my face from the world and give me the false sense of confidence that comes from feeling like you’re wearing a mask. I knew that I was fat, and having my chubby cheeks and double chin exposed somehow made the weight of my peers’ judgements feel even heavier.
Swimming carnival, Grade 5:
It’s hard enough being the fat, lumpy kid – let alone the fat, lumpy kid in a one-piece bathing suit that’s clinging to every inch of you as you glide through the water in front of your whole class.
I finished last in the freestyle relay, and my self-esteem finished last, too.
It was this point of my life that my issues with self-esteem in relation to the way I treated food and my body were becoming more and more apparent to me. I noticed myself having strange thoughts about food, but pushed them to the back of my mind. I tried to convince myself that they weren’t important and would go away.
Reading ‘Girlfriend’ magazine in my bedroom, Grade 6:
I loved magazines. They made me feel like a sophisticated, well-rounded adult. I read about how to be a good kisser, how to choose colours that made me look thinner and how to make boys like me. It was overwhelming, depressing and exhilarating, all at once. I decided that when I grew up, I’d spend all my money on magazines instead of food.
School pictures day, Grade 6:
Between the awful hair, the braces, the face the size of the moon and the little double chin with the buttons of my shirt all the way up to the top, I’m not surprised I felt awful about myself. Past experience had taught me that having my photo taken was only going to result in despair, and I just wanted to get it over with. I was relieved when the pictures were developed and sent to my parents – I hated my face, but at least my body wasn’t in the picture.
Beach trip with my parents, Grade 6:
I knew that there was no damn way that I could ever wear a bikini at the beach, but my bright, summery tankini top was pretty on-trend, I had a surf brand visor… maybe, just maybe, I was a little bit cool! My board shorts were a Size Medium, and that boosted my confidence. Plus, they hid my cellulite and big thighs. With that disguised, I felt like I could almost get away with looking “normal”. Almost.
(Apart from the fact that I took a Betty Boop handbag to the beach. As you do.)
Holiday with my parents, Grade 7:
There’s a koala in the tree at the top of this photo – I bet you didn’t even notice it because you were too busy judging my pudgy little face… or is that just me doing that?
To this day, this photo fills me with this awful, visceral gut feeling of guilt and shame in my core. I read a “How Embarrassing” section in one of my magazines about a girl who had a friend who used to make herself throw up. When we got home from that trip, it was the first time I tried to make myself vomit. I wasn’t successful, but pledged that one day I’d get better at it.
School pictures day, Grade 7:
I remember this day so vividly, even now. I put on my best shell surf necklace and brushed my hair immaculately. I’d learned from last years’ school photo that my braces made my teeth look gangly, so I decided to rock the “closed mouth smile” look and divert the focus to my hair instead. Sophie, a popular girl in my class, complimented me on my lack of split-ends as we lined up to take the photo in the school library. I felt on cloud nine that one of the popular girls had actually found something nice to say about me for once. I later heard her, Courtney and Tamara (your typical popular, bitchy girl-clique) laughing about my muffin top hanging over my basketball shorts when I sat down to take the picture.
At lunchtime that day, I took my PB&J sandwich and mashed it into the concrete to pretend that I’d eaten it. A teacher, Ms Marapodi, caught me in the act and gave me a detention. I had to sit outside the school office on a green dot all lunchtime and think about what I’d done. She brought me an egg sandwich from the school canteen so that I could have something to eat. I couldn’t do it. I cried.
In Grade 8, I moved to a new school. I was sad about leaving my best friend behind – I shouldn’t have been, as 2 months later, she went on to spread vicious rumours and abuse me online about my weight. My thoughts about starvation, death and disappearing away were incredibly strong by this point, and I knew that starting fresh at a new school with new kids would give me the chance to do this. They didn’t know my history, they didn’t know anything about me. I was determined to make sure they knew me as the girl who made herself disappear.
My birthday, Grade 8:
I loved winter, because it meant that I could cover up my body with layers of warmth and fleece and there was a glimmer of hope that perhaps some people might be fooled into thinking that the jumpers and trackpants were what was adding bulk to my body. I told myself that for my birthday, I’d stop thinking about food and stop trying to starve myself, just for one day. I spent most of the day silently obsessing about my stomach and thighs.
Summer, Grade 8:
I was wearing a bikini top. I was in a pool. I had lost around 10-15 kilograms and was told I looked so much healthier. But it wasn’t enough to me. And to me, it didn’t matter that I had covered my bikini with a tank top because I was so ashamed of the shape of my bellybutton or that I had been secretly throwing all my food away that week – I, the fat girl, was in a bikini. I did it. It was the first step. I was going to be thin if it killed me.
At this time in my life, it was the first time that my peers had actually complimented me on my appearance. I got a boyfriend (who had a penchant for super thin girls) and I was convinced that I needed to continue my great disappearing act in order to get more validation and more popularity from my peers. When I was thin, I’d be funnier, smarter, a better person… and then as I vanished entirely, they’d remember be as the girl I always wanted to be.
My birthday, Grade 9:
By this point, I’d lost about 30 kilograms in total and I was feeling good. People around me praised my dedication and willpower. I maintained the lie that I did it through cutting down my portion sizes and eating less crap. In reality, it was achieved through starvation and soon, laxative abuse. The truth wasn’t so glamorous, and I wanted people to be proud of me. I saw nothing wrong with me, and I felt more powerful than I ever had.
I got in the habit of consuming only a protein bar and a can of Red Bull all day. I considered that to be a ‘heavy’ day of eating. It was torture, and I loved it.
Dress up party, Grade 10:
Dressed as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, I felt powerful and strong… and it had less to do with my costume, and more to do with the fact that I’d barely eaten all week. By this point, I’d lost around 45 kilograms.
Mum commented that I was too thin, but what she didn’t know was that I was wearing multiple tank tops under my shirt to add some bulk around my stomach to make me look bigger. My ribs were entirely exposed and I loved them; I’d tap little patterns on them as I lay in bed each night… but I wanted to keep them my secret. I knew that if those around me knew just how dangerously thin I was, they’d probably stage an intervention. I wanted to carry on, and I wouldn’t let anyone stop me.
The party was a barbecue. I used my vegetarianism as an excuse to not eat meat, but really it was an excuse to not eat anything at all. The party hosts graciously cooked me tofu sausages to have in my hot dogs. I felt so guilty – they went to such effort to cater to me and I didn’t even want to eat. I ate three of them washed down with a can of Fanta, excused myself to the bathroom and tried to make myself throw up. It wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be, and I cried. I felt like such a failure. All my friends were having fun and laughing and all I wanted to do was go home and weigh myself.
Dress up party, Grade 11:
That hallowed, sultry “wood nymph” look was less of my eye makeup and more the fact that I hadn’t slept in an awfully long time. I had no energy. I was depressed. I started to wonder if I was better off dead. I knew that I was sick, but I was so ashamed. I told myself that it was hopeless and that I couldn’t tell anyone. I felt like my best option was to try and hide it (this baggy dress did the trick nicely) and hope that I was able to magically shrink away into nothingness.
Beach day with my family, Grade 12:
At this point, I’d lost just over 50 kilograms. I wasn’t yet at my lowest weight, but the symptoms of my anorexia were overwhelming. I loved this swimsuit because it hid my ribs and let me keep them my little secret, and the back successfully camouflaged how much my shoulder blades protruded, too. I hadn’t had a period in almost two years, I was cold all the time and my weekly meals included only 7 cans of Red Bull. I had quite thick lanugo growing on my stomach, legs and lower back, which I shaved off for the occasion. I was abusing laxatives at least 3x a week and I had crippling stomach cramps most of the time. I was unable to even make myself vomit, because there was nothing there. I was barely sleeping and I had such intense anxiety about being at the beach and being unable to weigh myself for a few hours. I’d cough up blood throughout the day – in my heart of hearts, I knew that was a bad sign but the little voice in my head told me that I’d lose at least a few grams with every bit of blood that I coughed out.
I was miserable. I wanted to stop existing.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t stop existing.
I instead decided to reject the messages that I was giving myself. I decided to reject the toxic messages that I saw in the media and from people around me. I made the decision to recover… and although those first steps were hard (like, really fucking hard) and it took me more than a few attempts at drowning out those voices before I started to notice any progress (and even longer before I was able to get to a place of actual health), I tried.
That’s all it took.
The decision to try. The knowledge that my weight – whether I was fat or skinny or anything in-between – didn’t define me in the slightest and bore no reflection on my worth as a human being.
Now, standing here, as a woman who has accepted her flaws, conquered her demons and made the decision to nourish every word, movement and action from a place of self-love, I want to tell you something:
This is what it feels like to truly live.
And at the risk of sounding cliché… it has changed everything. Grass is greener. Birds chirp in beautiful harmony. My thoughts are unclouded and I can enjoy exercise (rather than punish myself with it) and I can eat dessert without shame, guilt and fear. I can confidently reject people and messages that serve only to bring me down and I can stand up for my worth, because I know that I’m the only one who can define it.
Are you truly living right now?
If you’re spending your time hating your body, feeling crazy around food, obsessing over your flaws, suffering from an eating disorder like I was or stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting (I’ve been there too!)… this is a call to arms. I want you to raise your voice, and say it with me loud and clear:
“I make the choice to make self-love my priority.”
The time has come to start loving your body – fearlessly, authentically and without apology. Are you in?
Click here to start your journey.