When I was in college studying in Italy, I got insanely, disgustingly skinny. My host mother fed us very little. I think she requested vegetarian students because she thought vegetarians ate less. Each night, she would stir a tablespoon of canned spaghetti sauce over a 1/2 portion of pasta, cigarette in hand, and when we were done eating (she never ate — she was the size of a mouse) she’d look at us with threatening eyes, shrug and say, “What else you want?”
I was just so happy to be there, so willing to assimilate into my new lifestyle, and always a little nervous about doing new things, that I was too timid to ask for more. After a while, I didn’t even realize I was hungry. And my stomach got smaller and smaller. I weighed about 120 pounds when I got there, a healthy amount for my 5’2″ frame. After a few months in Italy, since I didn’t have a scale, I can only guess I was down to about 90 pounds. It scares me to type that number out. So much.
It’s important for you to know that I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I didn’t see this skinniness coming. I really did have the best time of my life in Italy — I was the most fearless I’ve ever been and the most proud of who I was — which is why it probably took me a while to notice that my weight was plummeting. And since I was surrounded by people who didn’t know me, nobody knew how weird it was that I suddenly resembled Tiny Tim. The fact that I was too thin hit me one day when I woke up and noticed that my clothes weren’t fitting me right, and I was scared. I didn’t know how it happened without me realizing.
I knew I had to gain the weight back fast, but it was harder than I thought it’d be, and the next few months I went through serious inner turmoil. It’s turmoil that other skinny girls might be enduring this very moment, but maybe it goes unacknowledged. I know the feelings were so surprising to me. For all the glory we place on being thin, let me tell you, though I was enjoying my life in Italy, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
1. Shop Till You Drop. I went from loving shopping in Italy to hating it. I spent my days off wandering in and out of shops looking at gorgeous outfits I loved and wanted and thought, Those clothes would have looked good on Old Me, but not New Me. I don’t look like a woman anymore. I didn’t want to wear anything that showed off my body, but things too big on me looked ridiculous. Shopping, something I once loved to do, had turned into a really depressing activity.
2. Don’t Put A Ring On It. Putting on my jewelry tightened my tension like an evil screw. I had rings and bracelets for the Real Me, and I couldn’t wear them. I tried to put my rings on every morning, as a test, thinking, I’ve been stuffing myself with food, they have to fit now. And when they slid off, I’d think, SERIOUSLY? I am TRYING, here. I’d be so ashamed I’d want to cry.
3. Hugging It Out. I didn’t realize how much I loved hugging until I couldn’t anymore. When people went to hold my shoulders, I would want to say, “I am so sorry, this is really gross for you. I’m trying really hard to make this go away.” But of course nobody would say anything. Except for my mother when she came to visit.
“You are way too thin. I’m scared,” she said.
I think she was afraid to tell me how scared she actually was. So I stopped hugging her. How sad is that? I’ll hug her when I gain weight, I told myself. That’s when I really started wondering, Who am I? I’m not a daughter or a friend, or someone who can hug! And I certainly didn’t want to do anything more than hugging. I was afraid to hook up with anyone for fear they’d mock my tiny body. I did not feel hot in any way. I felt revolting.
4. Packing On Pounds. Trying to gain the weight back was hard, not fun. I would eat peanut butter and Nutella in my room in secret until I felt sick. I ate cheese on cheese on cheese on everything for lunch to the point I felt gross and lethargic, and as many pastries as I could for breakfast. I didn’t have a scale there, so I wasn’t sure if I was actually gaining. If I felt terrible and gorged, I figured it was working. One night I went out to dinner with my friends and I was so full from stuffing my face that I couldn’t eat anything. I’m sure my friends thought, Oh yeah, skinny people don’t eat. But this skinny person was. She was eating a lot. So much it was making her sick.
5. Missing My Period. I never literally missed it, but it got abnormal to the point that it made me wonder whose body I was living in. My period is usually on the light side, but it got shorter and lighter every month, until it was hardly recognizable. I felt like my body was shutting down — trying to hang on as it faded away. That alone led to sleepless nights. I’m never going to be able to have children, I told myself. I am going to have a heart attack. I am going to die. (When it’s just me and my head, we are kind of a Drama Queen.)
6. Where IS The Gun Show? I have always been an athlete (12 Varsity letters in high school). My legs have always been thick — muscular, but thick. I am proud of them. They take me far. My stomach isn’t exactly flopping in the wind, but it’s not super svelte. I’m a trunk. I have a healthy little paunch that hangs over my waist band — that’s something I love. My arms are hearty for my size. I lost all of that in those few months in Italy, and I felt pathetic. I couldn’t run or lift weights, I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I would look down at my tiny legs (Where did my calf muscles go?) and be so embarrassed. I’d think, These legs can’t do shit for me right now.
7. Irrational, Haunting Fears. Lots of little thoughts creep on you when you are always worried about how skinny you are. I worried that I would be exposed. I would fear a guy friend would pick me up and realize how light I was, or that I would have to give blood and admit I didn’t weigh the required 110 pounds to do so. I went skydiving in Switzerland with my friends and was hot with shame when they asked me how much I weighed. I didn’t know, but I knew it wasn’t very much. They had to add extra straps to my belt so I would fall. I was literally a little feather. (Also, you must imagine that I had allowed an Italian parrucchiere to do “whatever he wanted” to my hair and had received what was popular in Italy at the time — the European mullet. It was fluffy and huge, and paired with my matchstick body my friends started calling me “Muffin Head.” Not cute.) I was even afraid to go to the bathroom at restaurants — I feared people would think I was throwing up my food, something I have never, ever done. I would go to the bathroom before I ate and wait until I got home to go again.
8. Do I Know You? Having visitors and seeing people who knew the Real Me was stressful, as was going home to friends and family. It seemed when people first saw me upon my arrival, they thought, How was Ita… woah what the fuck happened to you?! My body overshadowed all the amazing experiences I had and the memorable things I saw. When people asked to see my pictures I said I didn’t have any, because I didn’t. I didn’t want my experience documented visually. I didn’t want pictures of me.
9. You’re Better Than This. The worst part was the self-hatred. I wasn’t depressed every day, I was actually the happiest I have ever been. But I felt like I was letting myself and everyone who loved me down. I have never worried about my weight. I have always been strong. I have never cared what people thought of me. And that is so cool. It’s like I was a temporarily inattentive mother who let her baby get hit by a bus. I wasn’t living the right way, and look what happened.
That was years ago, and I am back to my normal size. It happened almost immediately when I returned to America. (God bless shitty American food!) I don’t obsess about my weight, though I am a big exerciser and eat healthfully. I want to live and run and kick ass forever (something that would not have happened had I stayed at my old weight.)
Never, for one day, have wished I was that thin again. I have known sick girls who have had food issues, who probably would have been envious of my body, and I’d have rolled my eyes and been annoyed. I didn’t get it. But now I have compassion for them. I think, Man, they must be screaming somewhere inside. They must want out.
I never say anything, though. I’ve never felt comfortable saying anything, I’m not sure it’s what people want to hear, and honestly I’ve been scared to. I was never sure it’d be helpful. So, this is the first time I’m speaking up about what it feels like to be way too thin. And when I meet those skinny girls now, it’s hard to be annoyed with them. I just really feel for them deep in my gut. My beautiful, big little gut.