And I can't quite get that out of my head.
When I was my sister's age, I was a Style Channel devotee. This was back in the halcyon days when said channel actually addressed fashion - more often than not, I could turn on the television and see actual runway shows. I was thirteen - I liked to sketch out costumes and leather corsets and replicas of period drama's full skirts and luscious curves.
I was thirteen. I went to a private school where everyone knew about that one girl who was in the hospital for an undisclosed eating disorder, where buying uniforms was parting with hundreds of dollars and seeing a girl in the mirror who wanted to be an extra small.
There are so many threads to that tangle, so many little bits of life which eventually form disordered eating. Believe it or not, most women endure some element of disordered eating - and how can we not? Thinking about those models and clothes on the Style Channel, thinking about advertisements with thin women eating fat free yogurt and giggling, thinking about the picture on the packaging of a bathroom scale, stuck permanently on 125 pounds - how can we not be disordered, even a little bit?
But of course, there's so much more than that.
I know that food was always a challenge for me. I had an allergy we hadn't discovered, so eating often resulted in stomach problems. We had a limited budget, and while my parents definitely tried to (and succeeded in) putting food on the table I knew, despite my young age, that food was money, that money was a problem, that Chinese takeout meant a paycheck and red beans and rice didn't. Not eating seemed easier.
And being popular was a challenge. I had never been overweight one day of my life, but once I got to middle school I learned hard lessons - I learned that I was terrible at sports (fat), that my body (as yet undeveloped) needed a bra to be acceptable (fat), that the pretty girls wore small uniforms (fat), that girls got more attention by passing out with hunger than by adeptly analyzing poetry (fat). I went to a very well known private school for girls, and the number one lesson I learned was the calorie count of yogurt in the cafeteria and how to get all of those pretty girls to ask me how to lose weight. Because, well, I did. I think that's the one thing I did perfectly.
Going to high school? I was so excited because no one would be able to know when I didn't eat. I saw myself, somehow grown up between eighth grade and ninth, slugging back espresso and talking with friends and never letting on, never revealing, never showing that I stayed up late to eat Frosted Flakes at midnight because sugar was the only thing which kept me going. I'd stick to my ten grams of fat per day and eat cereal in the dark because no one, no one could see me eat.
My mom just posted a brilliant piece on underage drinking in Howard County. It garnered a lot of attention, and rightly so. Underage drinking - or, more worrying to me, binge drinking - is a huge issue for people my sister's age and a bit older, and I applaud her for tackling such an important problem. But - or rather, and - there are other things I worry about.
My sister has never been overweight a day in her life.
I've been through a lot - I've done the underage drinking thing with gusto, I've made mistakes with boys, I've self-harmed, I've been through bipolar disorder and keep going through it. I've done drugs (very, very minimally, and very much as a youthful reaction to my disorder) and I've been pretty stupid about a lot of things. But there's this terror which I can't shake and which I pray to God will never touch my sister, and that's eating cereal in the middle of the night because somewhere in the back of your mind you know that if you don't you might die.
I didn't want to die. I wanted to live for my sister, then just born, because I didn't want the last thing she saw of me to be a picture of my too-thin body. A body which didn't even look like me. A body which fit in with the Style Channel and yogurt and scales but not with my incredible love for her.
But I wouldn't eat.
That's what scares me - and I'm scared of all of it, too, the drinking, the Adderall, the Oxy, the boyfriends, the girlfriends, the bullying, the rape, the hate crimes, even the freaking internet - but I'm so, so scared of my beautiful baby, my literal life saver, thinking that she is fat.
Maybe we could de-stigmatize bodies. Maybe a girl of thirteen could buy uniforms in a medium and know that she would grow into them perfectly. Maybe we could keep our daughters out of hospitals and model whole body and mental health. Maybe the image on the box can show a scale reading a higher number, or lots of numbers, or just a smile; maybe we can have all sorts of bodies on runways, bodies of different shapes and different colors with thick or thin hair and muscles and yeah, a little fat.
Maybe we could also do away with this image of what women are supposed to be, or what real women are supposed to be. Imagine - we could be moms and sisters and grandmas and aunts and not hate our bodies like we've been taught and instead teach our children to love theirs. We could be naturally thin or naturally not and have it all be okay, have our daughters and sisters and granddaughters and nieces see us as we are, beautiful. See themselves as beautiful.
I remember what it was like to be thirteen, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. What I do wish?
I wish that my sister had better role models than the people on the Style Channel. Or on Nickelodeon. Or on Disney.
I wish I could be her role model and finally, finally, feel like my body is something to be loved.