All her life she just wanted to be skinny.
She would wake up every morning and cry in front of her mirror, begging the universe to make her thin and delicate like her every one of her friends, like every woman she saw on the street, like every supermodel in every advertisement outside every store.
(It isn’t exactly important to this story to note that she wasn’t fat. What’s important to note is that she was healthy, and she was beautiful. But skinniness infected her brain and poisoned her soul. Her body looked like many other bodies one would see in everyday life, but of course she never saw them. Instead, she kept a biased tally of only the flat stomachs, the protruding hip bones, the lean arms that she saw on women she passed by.)
She couldn’t bear to see herself fully in that mirror. Her eyes would dissect her body, sticking pins to mark everything she could not stand about it. They swept over her naked thighs that could not hide their curves, her soft belly that showed no sign of abdominal muscle anywhere, her large breasts that seemed to hang on her like weights, the bulges of skin that formed on her back when she could no longer bear to look at her breasts and resigned to a bra, her perfectly round face marred with stress acne, her long and uninteresting dark hair that was probably just dirty that day, her frozen gray eyes that she couldn’t look at, couldn’t watch them narrow in disgust at herself. She poked and prodded, hating that she didn’t look like the rest of the world—or, rather, what she believed was the rest of the world.
He would hear her mumble and groan and sigh every morning about the way she looked and he could only listen sadly, not knowing how to make her feel beautiful.
She did not see the smallest ridge of muscle showing the strength in her thighs.
She did not notice the way her stomach provided her nourishment, did not remember the way her gut cut through all the bullshit in her life like a machete and helped her make the right decisions.
She did not remember the way her breasts looked in a V-neck t-shirt or in the lingerie she would sometimes wear for him. She forgot the way he kissed them at night, forgot the way he loved her.
(And did the way he loved her matter, at the end of the day? Shouldn’t she have seen herself first, the way she was, and said of course you should love me?)
She did not focus on the way her eyes shone with interest in her classes, did not notice the way she hugged the people she loved like it was the last time she would ever see them, did not notice the way she carried a conversation with intellect and eloquence that would make any parent proud, did not notice the goodness and the kindness and the grace.
Instead, the goodness and the kindness and the grace was shoved to the back, ignored instead for the image that she twisted for herself in the mirror at the start of every day. And every day she was met with despair.
One particular morning she had enough. She had changed her outfit seven times and no longer had minutes to spare to eat breakfast. She tore her icy stare from her belly to the eyes reflecting back at her. The tears she had been holding in all morning were now flooding down her pink cheeks and demanding to be seen.
“I hate you,” she whispered at her reflection.
His serious voice cut into her thoughts.
“Honey. You shouldn’t say those things to yourself.” He wrapped his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. He looked into her eyes in the mirror, his own reflecting a cloud of concern.
She turned away from herself. “I just want to be skinny,” she lamented as she walked out of her bathroom.
Something in her body died.
She went about her usual day, avoiding mirrors (and breakfast), noticing every single body in the room the way she always did. She came home that night and cooked dinner for the two of them just like any other night before.
(It isn’t exactly important to this story to mention that they ate like any reasonable people do, eating mostly what they should and occasionally things they shouldn’t. Isn’t it more important to note that she was healthy?)
He squeezed her tight before they fell asleep in each other’s arms, the same way he had always done.
And yet, something in her body began to decay.
It wasn’t until the next morning that she woke up to look in the mirror, feeling the dread of seeing herself in the mirror creep into her lungs and begin to suffocate her, and was astounded to see that she was skinnier than yesterday.
She squealed with excitement and shouted for him to come see her.
“Look at me!” She turned around in the mirror to see her thighs, her waist, her belly, her breasts, all just a little bit smaller. She felt on top of the world when she looked at herself. Her heart danced and cartwheeled inside her chest. She actually felt lighter.
He was unsure. She looked like the same girl he had held through the night, like always. It was at least comforting to see her smile.
He smiled back at her, grateful that today she just might skip the body dissection.
“If you say so,” he told her, looking into her eyes in the mirror and grasping her hand. “You always look beautiful to me.”
She was over the moon with herself. She just continued to grin at her new body in the mirror. She met her own eyes for the first time in a long time—and her eyes smiled back at her. Is that possible? Surely not. She was just joyful and so her reflection was joyful. Right?
She wore the first outfit she tried on that day and felt great. She didn’t mind the way her stomach looked under her t-shirt the way she usually did. She almost forgot to strategically cover it when she sat down.
She caught herself stealing glances in the bathroom mirrors, window reflections, anywhere she could see herself. She was walking through the city to yoga after her classes had finished when she passed a lingerie boutique, complete with a sprawling window ad. Three sexy white models were playfully posed in matching bra and panty sets, their abdomens airbrushed to velvety smooth perfection, the right amount of cleavage threatening to spill out of their pushups, hair effortlessly wavy and effortlessly blown ever so slightly in their eyes, eyes and smiles teasing the camera with just the right amount of PG-13 sex appeal. Scrawled in pink brushstroke font over the women were the words “All New Even Better Body.”
It seemed only fitting that she would come across this ad, elated by her own new body. But her elation dried up inside her at these waif-like figures looming in front of her. She caught the faintest glimpse of her own body, no longer seemingly thinner against the backdrop of these women, and sighed. Her eyes glinted in their reflections in the window. Wait—surely it was the sunlight, wasn’t it? She stared at herself hard, transfixed. For just a moment, she thought she imagined her reflection grinning back at her.
Nothing had changed much in her yoga class either, except maybe her focus. She did her downward dogs and her warrior poses with the same strength and lightness that she always had. But the three models had rested on her mind, a condensation of unhappiness coating her brain. It was a back-bending day. When her class was coming to the heat of its practice, she followed the poses effortlessly, at least grateful that she could feel skilled in yoga. She came to wheel pose, a full backbend, finally lifting one leg into the air.
“Beautiful job,” her instructor whispered as she paced the room.
When she rested in corpse pose, she peeked at her stomach as it moved with her full breaths. She smirked to herself. Maybe it was smaller after all.
Later that night, his concern from earlier that morning was forgotten. He smacked her ass as she walked past him into their kitchen and she lit up inside. She wanted to be wanted like that, especially in her new body. He followed her to the stove where she was cooking and stood behind her. She turned into him and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him, wanting his tongue in her mouth. She reached her hand behind her to shut off the stove before he pulled her into his arms and pushed her into their bedroom. When he was inside her, all she could think about was how good her belly looked underneath him with smaller rolls.
Afterwards, she took a shower. She stood in front of the mirror drying herself off while he washed his face in the sink. His face peeked out of the towel he was drying off with, and his eyes met hers in the mirror. His eyes were always serene lagoons, giving her the only place to find any sort of peace. She smiled at him, avoiding her own reflection. Hadn’t she looked at herself enough today?
“You’re beautiful,” she told him, meaning it with all her heart.
He made a funny face at her in the mirror, which made her laugh. She stuck her tongue out at him and he grabbed her hand, pulling her in to plant a kiss on her nose.
“Thanks. You’re beautiful, too.” This time he looked at her real eyes.
He still squeezed her tight before they went to sleep.
“You know I don’t care about your size, right? Like, even if you don’t love yourself, even if you stay the same size—I’ll love you.”
He held her face in his hands and forced her eyes to mirror his. “I love you, okay?”
She knew he loved her. She loved him the same, with the same fierceness, with the same heat. But what was so bad about wanting to feel beautiful herself?
The next morning proved to be even more exciting than the last. She woke up, walked into the bathroom, and the icy dread melted to delight when she saw that she had shed even more weight.
This time it was noticeable. Her hip bones peeked out of her flesh ever so slightly. She was still soft, but her stomach had receded to a flat surface. Her thighs still touched but were proportionately smaller than before. She touched her newly small chest and knew she wouldn’t have to wear a bra ever again for the rest of her life.
She only stared, shocked that the day had finally come, but also in wonder over how the weight had seemed to vanish into thin air in the night. No matter what was happening, she was happy. Finally, she could be happy.
“What the hell is going on?” her boyfriend’s voice rudely woke her out of her fixated gaze in the mirror.
She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, just in case sleep was still casting a haze in her mind and this was merely a dream after all. It wasn’t.
“Look at me,” she breathed. “I’m—thin.” She was perfect.
“I see you. How much weight have you lost?” he asked, accusing her with his tone.
She wheeled around and mirrored his facial expression.
“Well we don’t have a damn scale so how would I know?” she snapped, suddenly hot with irritation at him for being so negative and skeptical.
(It’s not important to note to this story to note that she was much worse than this when she had a scale. She had made the decision to stop weighing herself regularly, afraid for her own safety and sanity.)
He stared into her eyes, incredulous.
“You have no curiosity about this? It’s just not possible to lose this much weight, and overnight at that. This isn’t healthy. You have to see that, honey. You have to.”
She shrugged, angrily. She didn’t care how. She was tired of the physical weight she carried around with her everywhere she went, tired of trudging past every building with a slender model plastered on every window and feeling so empty inside, so broken and sad and discouraged. This time, she got to look like the model. She got to be the beautiful one. It was a miracle. And she wasn’t going to let anyone ruin her happiness.
She wore a crop top that day—without a bra—for the first time in her life.
It was casual and cool when she paired it with cutoff shorts and hi-top Converse sneakers. She waved her hair and put a hat on backwards. She looked exactly the way she had wanted to for so long: she looked like she didn’t care what she looked like, like she was able to look this beautiful in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile he was angry, quietly watching her get ready, his mouth a straight line, his eyes chips of glass that revealed nothing to her. But she continued to ignore him. She gave herself one last look in the mirror— her reflection was smug, triumphant. The ride to school was silent.
She didn’t feel sick inside. She felt awake, energized, if anything. She didn’t see what he was so worried about. She just wanted to feel beautiful. He obviously didn’t understand.
She did not feel the deterioration starting inside her.
He embraced her longer and tighter than usual before they parted for the day, as if he were afraid for her. She hugged back with the same vigor, relieved that his anger seemed to have been quelled for the time being. She pulled out of his embrace and looked up at him, his eyes covered by sunglasses that dimly reflected her own face.
Her eyes glinted back at her. She jumped and whirled around to see if something was glinting behind her.
“What?” He was confused.
She turned back to him, and her eyes automatically squinted at the sun. The sun that she was facing. Not him. For just a split second, her excitement froze, and she began to wonder why this was all happening. If he was worried about her, shouldn’t she worry too, even just a little? Why did her eyes keep sparkling in her reflection?
The thought dissipated after the two parted. Couldn’t she just be happy today? Was she not allowed one day to herself? She put the thought out of her mind. Some things were just meant to be. Her reflection was tricking her, trying to make her think all of this was an omen. Right?
She floated through the rest of her day. She felt unstoppable, free, flawless. Her friends and classmates thought she looked great, but they always thought she looked great. And she felt great. She was liberated from the constraints of her old body and finally thin. There was nothing in this world that she had wanted more than that.
She sailed into yoga, readier than ever. She peeled off her usual long sleeve, one she had every color in, the same outfit she always changed into for yoga, the sleeves never staying up and suffocating her with their heat. Today she was unafraid to sweat in just her sports bra and crop leggings, just like everyone else would do. She rolled her mat onto the soft wooden floor and smiled at people that would sit next to her.
“Yoga looks good on you,” said one classmate. She had never been more at peace with herself. Her wheel pose was as deep as the day before, but all she could think of was the way her ribs jutted out as she bent over backwards.
Dinner that night was quieter than usual. It was pizza night and she ate happily, suddenly not concerned with calories or unnecessary fats or carbs or sugars. If anything, she wanted to keep eating so as not to lose any more weight magically in her sleep. She was perfect now and didn’t want anything to change.
He just watched her across the table. His eyes burned into her skin, making for an uncomfortable silence that lingered in the atmosphere for the duration of their meal. He stared and stared until she couldn’t take it any longer. She had a better idea anyways.
She slowly stood up from the table and undressed. She slinked over to his side and pushed away the pizza box to make room. She sat on the table and stretched out in front of him, catching a glimpse of her abdomen, her hip bones, her thighs as they opened ever so slightly to drape over the edge of the table. She almost felt unreal to herself. Almost.
He didn’t move. He stared at her with a fog of disappointment in his face. Finally, he lifted his gaze from her, pushing her legs away with it.
“I don’t want to,” he muttered.
She sighed angrily. She was sure this would have worked on him. She sat up and quickly hopped off the table.
“Why are you being like this? Why is this so awkward?” she asked him curtly.
He didn’t say anything right away. He chose his words carefully, wanting to accurately convey the fear he had for her. He didn’t look at her.
“I don’t like this. This isn’t you,” he started. She didn’t want him to finish. She wanted to feel what it was like to be with him in her new body, and he clearly wasn’t up for it. She picked up her t shirt and her panties and slipped them on, feeling silly for trying to alleviate his anger in that way. She huffed a frustrated sigh as she walked into the bedroom.
He wouldn’t let it go. He followed her and sat on the bed.
“I liked you the way you were,” he mumbled sadly. “I just don’t want to wake up again and see you skinnier.”
She sat on the opposite side of the bed and faced away from him. His eyes burned into her, begging her to talk to him, to understand his side. She didn’t want to see his side, didn’t even want to see him. She was disappointed. Now that she had begun to like herself, he didn’t seem to feel the same.
“Honey, please look at me.” He was persistent.
She turned to him, if only to make him stop.
“Are—are you hurting yourself?” He asked with difficulty, his voice small.
That was it. The final undoing of what she could have called “just a conversation.”
“No!” She cried, angry that he would even think it, let alone say it. “I’m not doing that! I’m not doing—anything!” She was livid, her words coming out strangled in her mouth, her thoughts wanting to come out all at once. “I just wake up skinnier than the night before!”
It sounded stupid after she said it. Stupid to her, stupid to him. She was embarrassed to be defending this because it was stupid, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true.
He had gone over the edge, too.
“And that’s a perfectly logical thing to happen, you think?” He shouted back at her, suddenly. “Are you actually serious right now?”
He had never shouted at her before. He just didn’t shout. She was always the one to resort to raised voices. Her words curdled in her throat, suddenly aware that she had been the one to take things too far.
He stood up from the bed without another word and walked into their living room. He sat down silently, refusing to even grace her with the sound of his body hitting the couch. His attempt to put space in between the two of them was palpable and uncomfortable.
She didn’t know what was happening to herself, but she liked the end result. It felt absurd to say that she was going to sleep and waking up thinner, but that was the truth of the matter. Didn’t she have to live with the results, regardless of whether or not she liked them, anyways? This was her body now, after all. She felt beautiful for the first time in her life and his frustration made her feel like a child.
Still. She couldn’t really explain the reason why this was happening, so why shouldn’t he be uneasy? She paced over to his stiff frame on the couch and stood as icily still in front of him as he was sitting, not sure if she was ready to apologize but at least more open to discussion.
“What if this is a good thing? Can you just be happy for me? I like the way I look. I like this body so much more. Why don’t you like me now?”
He only looked up at her and sighed with frustration.
“But I do like you. That has never changed!” He paused, his eyes seeming to beg her to understand his point. “If you won’t love yourself the way you are, I will. Okay? I want you to be healthy and I want you to be safe. This isn’t safe.”
Her happiness staled just before she went to sleep. She stood in front of her mirror, brushing her hair, smiling at the way her waist tapered so delicately before becoming hips, when she caught her eyes once more. Was she smirking at herself?
No. She wasn’t. She set her hairbrush down and met her eyes intentionally this time. They only stared back. Like a reflection should do. Right?
She tore her gaze away from herself and climbed into bed, uneasiness frosting in her bones for the morning to come.
He held her that night like she was made of glass. It took both of them longer to fall asleep, but neither of them said anything.
When his alarm went off at 6 a.m., she turned into him to squeeze him in a hug, but he jerked away from her like she was a stranger, crying out in shock. He looked at her with fearful eyes, his blue oceans turning to hurricanes as he ripped the covers off of the two of them to look at her. She had never seen him react so strongly. The fear was a blizzard in her mind, icing over the excitement that she had felt the day before.
“You— you’re—your ribs,” she heard his voice shake for the first time in their entire relationship together as a couple. Icicles cut into her gut—what was left of her gut.
She slowly moved a hand to her ribs and felt their sharpness as they protruded from her skin, threatening to break through it altogether. Her breath evaporated in her throat and she had no choice but to scramble off the bed and into the bathroom to see if what she felt was possible.
She didn’t look sick then, but she certainly did now. Her body was soft before, but this morning revealed a body of sharp angles. Her only sharp feature had always been her eyes, eyes that were naturally hard, narrowed at the world around her, giving her face a confidence that she could fake. Now her eyes and her body were switched, no longer frosted gray shards conveying the lie she used to tell those around her, but pools of fear revealing a horrifying truth.
She could see every bone in her torso. Her collarbone stuck out under her skin, creating deep indents in her shoulders and neck. Her shoulders didn’t even seem to vaguely possess a round shape anymore, coming to sharp points before dropping into arms that looked like she herself could snap them in two at any moment. Her belly had turned concave, her ribcage jutting out at an angle that forced a lump in her throat. There was a valley between her hipbones, two mountains she wasn’t sure would hurt more for her or for someone else if they touched her. Her thighs no longer touched each other, the space between punching a hole in her heart before she could glance at the knees below that awkwardly protruded from her legs. Her cheek bones were about to burst from her skin, sharply contrasting the hollows where her flushed cheeks used to be.
Matching hollows had formed under her eyes—eyes she still couldn’t meet. At least that had not changed. And yet she was still paralyzed in front of her mirror. She was a melting glacier, disappearing every second but frozen in place, watching it all happen.
Footsteps signaled his inevitable entrance into their bathroom. She caught his face in the mirror, but he was fixated on the back of her head. Before she could react, he grabbed her shoulders and spun her around roughly.
“What are you doing?” he shook her as he spoke each word with an earthquake of force. She began to cry. She was afraid that she would shatter against him.
“Stop this,” he pleaded. “Honey, please. Please. Please stop. Whatever you’re doing, stop.” His voice was lava, threatening hot tears, something she didn’t think she’d be able to bear. He released her shoulders and put his hands on her face, cupping her sunken cheeks. He pulled her in to kiss her hair, her forehead, before desperately staring into her eyes.
“You’re—you’re sick. Whatever this is, you’re sick. This is a sickness.” He sounded as though he was desperate to convince himself of this more than he was trying to convince her.
She reached up to her face where his hands were and placed her own hands over his.
“I’m not doing anything,” she sobbed, trying to make him believe her. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t stop it.”
He took her in his arms and refused to let go. He would not leave the house today and neither would she. He would not allow her to leave his sight even for a second. She didn’t really want to be alone anyways, afraid she would break into a million pieces if she went into another room alone. He pulled her from the bathroom, away from the mirrors and into the kitchen. She sat at their table. He grabbed a pizza box, leftovers in it from the night before, and tossed it in front of her.
She ate. She ate the four leftover pieces and then he hastily made her French toast and eggs and bacon, reasoning that maybe gaining weight would stop this. He put protein bars and peanut butter toast in front of her when she finished what was on her plate. She ate until she felt sick. He gripped her hand like she was already dead, staring at her with his sad oceans.
When she couldn’t look into his face any longer she would stare at the empty space between her thighs with sorrow, grieving for the body she wished she had loved.
Her body felt … different. Again. She looked at her hands, the knuckles stretching her skin taut. Nothing looked any more different than it had that morning. But everything felt different. Like she was getting even skinnier that very second. And with that observation, she realized nothing was working. She felt trapped inside her body, like her skeleton was trying to pierce through her skin. It hadn’t occurred to her that she was going to die, but now she was almost certain.
Panic had begun to rise in her chest and she struggled to take deep enough breaths. She felt like she was being suffocated by her skin. She felt she should see herself, felt she should look at what she had turned into, what she had turned herself into.
Using the top of the table for support, she pushed herself up to standing. He was already there in front of her, catching her elbows and holding her gently.
“I think we should go to the hospital,” he asserted. “You can’t stay here like this. Let’s go.”
She shrugged him off and stumbled into their bathroom, hypnotized by her reflection once more. She was a monster. Was this what she was searching for?
She met her own eyes, bulbous and fatigued and glassy, and saw herself as she was.
“Was it worth it?” She asked herself quietly, as if her sad reflection would answer. “Was it worth all of this?”
He appeared in the doorway behind her, stiff with anxiety.
“Honey,” he called to her, nervously. “Hospital. We need to go to the hospital.”
She couldn’t bear to look at any of this anymore, really. She wasn’t this creature in the mirror, despite what it was telling her. Suddenly, she was angry. Angry at herself and angry at a mirror that tricked her into wishing for something so trivial, something that would never encompass her heart, her soul.
Looking down, she caught sight of her hair straightener, still in the sink from yesterday morning. She gripped it tightly in her hand and looked at herself, unrecognizable. Was it really her staring back?
“What are you doing?” He asked, somewhere behind her. His voice was distant to her.
Her reflection flashed back at her. She watched her own eyes narrow in the mirror but didn’t feel the action from the eyes actually in her head. Standing there, gripping her hair straightener, she watched the creature’s lips curl into a smirk, just long enough to vanish again in the blink of an eye.
She hurled the straightener at the mirror, one last attempt to reclaim herself from it. It splintered instantly with a loud crash, the air shimmering with confetti-like pieces, as larger chunks fell to the counter to crack apart. The counter glittered, the pieces revealing incomplete fragments of her body. Nonetheless, she would not look anymore. She wouldn’t find herself in those pieces, anyways.
She turned to find him still behind her, half-hidden behind one side of the doorframe to protect himself. He had a different expression than she expected on his face, as he stepped into the bathroom and closed the gap in between them. Standing there, she realized she could take full, even breaths again. She allowed her lungs to take up as much space inside her that they needed. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
He reached his hands out to touch her face—her face, and then grabbed her own hands to put them on her belly. Warm flesh greeted her palms instead of the cold, concave surface she had briefly been acquainted with. She watched him exhale a breath in a way that looked like he had been holding it forever.
Her hands searched her body, grateful for the normalcy that had returned, grateful for her body’s completeness, its fullness. She never thought she would be delighted to feel her thighs touch, delighted to feel the roundness return to her shoulders, delighted to feel the softness return to her cheeks, her belly, her breasts, yet here she was praising all of it.
She never replaced the mirror in the bathroom. It was one less surface to catch her reflection in, and she would rather spend her time living than waste away in a mirror.
That’s not to say she was happy forever. She still had negative clouds in her mind about her body from time to time, of course. But she had learned to accept the rain without tearing herself apart.
She took a different street to yoga, avoiding the lingerie boutique and its airbrushed models. She peeled her long-sleeve off before class all the same. She deserved to be in this space, she told herself. She deserved to sweat from the exercises instead of from the stifling heat. She deserved to feel grateful for the strength in her body. It wasn’t always easy to allow those thoughts to take up space in her mind instead of the other ones.
People would still tell her she looked beautiful and strong and flexible in class. She unrolled her mat and took a comfortable seat, ready to begin warming up. She caught sight of her belly rolls, out in plain sight for everyone to see, and felt the chill in her nerves.
A young woman sat down on her own mat next to her. She was lithe and doe-like, a few adorable freckles under her ribcage, a short bob pulled halfway up that left her structured collarbones exposed. She was slender and yet she still had her own little rolls when she sat. Maybe everyone had them.
“Wow I love your yoga mat!” The woman smiled at her, interrupting her thoughts.
She looked up, leaving her own head, and looked into the woman’s smiling face, returning it with one of her own.
“Where did you get it?”
The woman was beautiful and looked nothing like her. But she didn’t have to look like the woman to be beautiful, she began to realize.
It was morning. They were leaving together to run some errands. She had chosen a black t shirt and jeans, set aside a jacket just in case. She watched herself in a hallway mirror as she put her hair up before leaving.
Her eyes were tired, from the chaos of her life, school and work giving her dark circles as accessories. Her hair hadn’t been washed in a few days. Her body still looked the same as it always had, a consistency she had learned to check for. That morning wasn’t a morning where she was necessarily happy with her appearance.
“Coming?” he called to her playfully, pretending to be impatient.
She took one last look at herself to make any last-minute adjustments and then turned around and followed him out the door. The dissection pins hadn’t been a part of her routine for a while now.
“Hey,” she said to him in the car.
“You’re beautiful,” she told him. She meant it every time she said it.
“Thanks, honey.” He smiled at her. “You are too.”
All her life she wanted to be skinny. Now, she was just happy to be alive.