Lunch. I look across the deli cabinet longingly at the thick sourdough bread. I ask for a lettuce wrap. I find a spot and put my tray down on the chipboard table. It smells like sweet coffee drinks; cinnamon and mocha and all the yummy things. I get a diet coke from the soda machine. So do all the other 18 year old’s. Fresh adults trying to look as good as they think everyone else does. I’m doing that too.

I eat 3 small bites of my food. All lettuce and hummus and carrots and whatever else they put in there that’s cold and unenticing. I drink my whole diet coke and get a refill before I leave.

I fill my Camelbak water bottle with other disposable store-bought water bottles. Thinking that somehow this water is elite to whatever comes out of my dorm bathroom sink. It might be. These buildings are old. Water is ok. I am allowed to have water.

I watch the other girls around me wear belly shirts and tiny shorts. No part of them bulges or rolls. Everything stays neatly tucked in. I watch them wear humungous heels and miniskirts. I watch them. Constantly. Desperate. Wondering what kind of spell they must know that I don’t.

I wake up at 6 a.m. and go to the gym before my first class at 8:30. I swim and run and do some machines. I walk all over campus. I have a car but I want the workout.

I go to lunch and spoon peas and rice onto my plate. I feel my stomach churning. Squeezing this tiny bit of food I’ve put into it. I eat one pea at a time. Each one making me feel guilty. I look at the cheap self-serve soft-serve machine in the corner. I go to it. I get the smallest dollop I can eke out of the thing. I dip the tip of my plastic spoon into the swirl, just enough so it is wet with sugary cream. I dab it on the end of my tongue. Defeated and frustrated with myself, I stand up and walk the dish straight to the garbage can. It lands heavy in the bottom of the bag.

I think about my boyfriend in the army. He is going to look so good when he comes home. He is going to be strong and muscly. I need to match him in daintiness. I need to be small and tossable. Tossable. I need to measure up. I need to impress. I need to keep him. I know I am tall and big, but I can be small. I just need to stay focused and disciplined.

I join ROTC and start training. I run 5-10 miles 3 mornings a week. My knees suffer. Most days I can barely stand when I wake up. The tissue around my joints swells. I pop ibuprofen and keep going. I do unimaginable amounts of push-ups and sit-ups and jumping-jacks and squats. I sweat and the boys in the unit give me shit about not being lady-like.

My room-mate elects me for our floor superlatives as “Most Athletic.” What? I am not athletic. I think to myself. Why would she do that.

I watch the scale. I start at 145. 130. 125. 120. I’m 5’7”. I watch my stubborn hips stay where they are. My breasts shrink and my ass gets tight. My legs get thin and I fit into pant sizes I would have never imagined. Clothes start to look good on me. Everything I try on looks good. I buy things I would have never worn just 6 short months ago.

Boys at work pay attention to me. Boys everywhere pay attention to me. The boys back home have weird games of politics over me. I like it. Attention.

My boyfriend comes back from training. I pick him up from the airport and when he sees me he gives me a quick hug and we aim towards the car. I want him to make a big scene. Tell me how great I look. Tell me I am irresistible. I want him to pick me up and swing me around. He does none of that. He doesn’t kiss me until we have made it back to my home town. I haven’t seen him in 8 months and he doesn’t kiss me for the first 3 ½ hours he is back with me. I’m not irresistible. I’m not anything. I’m just a sad girl trying to be a lot of things I am not.

I get done at 11 p.m. every Friday at my job in Morgantown. I go fast on the interstate driving the hour back home, listening to shitty rap music. Big bass hits and songs about clubs and drinks and sex. I get to my boyfriend’s house feeling rowdy and wanting a party. I sneak in the back door and he is asleep. Not waiting for me. Not excited to see me. Nothing.

I start a new work-out plan. Every time I want to eat I do sit-ups instead. I quit ROTC and start drinking a lot. I don’t gain weight. I don’t lose weight. 125. 127. 124. 123. 126. Week after week. I start another workout plan. I swim a lap for every bite I take in a day. I count my bites in tally’s in a small note book as I eat. My stomach is muscly now. I have a 6-pack. I start another workout plan. I run stairs around campus. Up. Down. Up. Down. My legs start to get big, so I stop. I go back to swimming.

I get the stomach flu. I love that everything I eat comes back up, I fill myself with cupcakes and macaroni and cheese and cheeseburgers. It all comes out. I drink regular coke and eat mashed potatoes and after a week or so, I get better and I stop eating again.

It is summer now and I try on my bathing suit and look at myself in the mirror. Not. Good. Enough. I put on shorts over the bottoms and wear a cover up for the top. I go to the river and sit on the rocks with my friends. The other girls take off their clothes and lay out. I keep my body hidden, not wanting anyone to have to look at me. I walk alone to the water and only take my clothes off just before jumping in. I feel the water against my body. My bottoms are loose around me so I tighten the straps.

My boyfriend goes on his summer training. 2 weeks. He is gone for 2 weeks. We fight right before he leaves. A big fight. He tells me that I should think about us while he is gone. I do. But I also hang out with a male friend of mine who tells me things I want to hear. The friend tells me these things.

You are hot. You are sexy. If you were my old lady, I would blah blah blah. You are smart. You are too smart for blah blah blah. You are so much more complex than blah blah blah.

We watch movies and go to the river and ride around town listening to dark, brooding music. He is older and he buys us beer. We get drunk and lay in his bed. I want to be touched and he touches me. He stares into my eyes and he doesn’t mind the intensity. He doesn’t look away. He doesn’t feel embarrassed. He wants me. He wants as much of me as there is. And I give myself away.

I fall asleep in this bed that is not mine, not even at all. And then I wake up and I feel my stomach all twisted around itself and I know I am uglier now than I have ever been. I am deep-down ugly. Ugly all the way through. I ache and my ugliness aches with me.

I eat. I EAT. I have steaks and pizza and burgers for weeks. I break up with my boyfriend. I get back with my boyfriend. My boyfriend finds out the truth and we really break up. He thinks we can work it out and I know we can’t. I know I can’t. I am ugly now. It will never be what it was. Whatever it was. It won’t be clean ever again.

I start seeing the boy who isn’t afraid of intensity. The boy who likes dark, brooding music. The boy who wants all of me. At least the boy I think wants all of me. I am moving too fast. I am trying to legitimize the illegitimate. If I date him now, it won’t have been this insignificant ugly thing. It will be the beginning of something that isn’t ugly.


I am sitting in my room as the last of 3 boys moves out of our shared apartment. I hear clunks and bangs and then I hear the door shut and I hear silence. I have two more months in my lease. It is all mine now.

I get up and I get the broom and the Swiffer out. I vacuum and scrub and sweep. I touch every corner of this place. My place. I go grocery shopping and I fill my fridge with good things. Broccoli and salmon and zucchini and lettuce and rice and chicken and yogurt and blueberries and granny smith apples.

I set up a sewing station and I organize my books and I tune up my bike and I open the sliding glass door to our patio and then I sit down, and I take a deep breath. It smells clean and fresh.  I have music playing and I am calm as I watch the sunlight drift into shadow on the hillside.

I stumble into healthy habits.

I wake up and go for a bike ride most days. I go far. 30 miles or more. I get back and shower with the bathroom door open. The water runs over my tired body. I make food and then I look for apartment listings online. I call and set up times to look at a couple of spots. I go to work and wait on people. I make healthy dinners and eat them in between checking on tables.

I apply for jobs, one is for a position as a nanny. They call me back and I have an interview. I get the job. I work 5 days a week. I take the baby on walks and do crafts with the 6-year-old. Healthy.

I meet a boy. A really cool boy. We hike and he teaches me how to rock climb. I boat and bike.

I apply to grad school and get in. I leave the nanny job and wait tables. I am busy. I hike less. I bike less. I eat whatever I have time to eat. I get busier. I exercise once a week at best. I gain wait. The really cool boy isn’t poor like me and he buys me food and I eat it. I gain more weight. Grad school gets more intensive and I get a new job and I am working all the time. I don’t have time for sleep or eating but I am stressed and my body clings onto whatever I give it.

I get done with grad school. Distinguished. We remodel our kitchen. Hard work but lots of food from restaurants during the process. I start to get my groove back. We are going on hikes a lot and I am biking all the time. I start to feel good.

Then my mom passes away and my stress and anguish take me over. I don’t eat for a long time. And then I eat. I EAT. It makes me feel better. Eating. Or I think it makes me feel better.

I don’t have energy to ride my bike. At least not very far. I try to train for a 40-mile ride. I suck. The ride sucks. I try to rock climb. I have half the strength I’d had before. I suck. Rock climbing sucks. I hike a big hike. I stop for breaks. I suck. Mountains suck. I suck and so everyone else sucks too. Or most people do.


Counselors are great. I start seeing one. I tell him about my eating. I tell him I know I’ve been doing it wrong, and that I’ve forgotten how to do it right.

We work on other things. We work on people and relationships. We work on control and ownership. We work on feelings and thoughts. And then we start working on comparison and self-image. We distill my insecurities and start addressing those. We make plans for moments where I might be tempted by things that aren’t good for me. We make a plan for me to get active again. We make a plan to take back my body and my mind and my health. I start going to the gym. My brother gets me a Fitbit. I monitor my heart rate and cut out sugar and make sure I have good motivations for making these changes. Motivations that can’t be shaken. Motivations like these.

I am enough. I am in charge of how I feel. I let go of all that no longer serves me. I can do all the things. My presence is my power. I am the architect of my life. Life is a wonderful experience. There is beauty all around me. My dreams are possible. I believe in myself and I encourage myself every day. Every day I do at least one thing that takes me closer to my goals. I am optimistic, and I trust the universe. Life is a gift and I wake up every day and realize that. I know that my heart is emitting electromagnetic energy out to the universe. What I send out to the universe comes back to me, so I send out love. I choose the seeds of love and positivity. By just being myself, I make others happy. I smile, and I laugh every day. I love good energy. I create good energy. I am a wonderful person. My mind has the power to take me where I want to go.

I start to get energy back. I find my curiosity for trying new things outweighs my fear of being bad at them. I do power yoga and go to a new gym and try strange machines and set goals and get outside and snowboard for the first time in over a year. I take risks and try really hard and focus on what’s going into my body. I eat vegetables regularly for the first time in over a year (sad, I know). I eat yogurt. A LOT OF YOGURT.

I get the stomach flu and I hate it. I get anti-nausea meds from the doctor and am able to hold down a piece of pizza, thankful that my body wants food and craves it. I recover.

I go to bakeries and cafes and I don’t order deserts. I don’t need to. I can look at the case of sweets and not have an internal crisis. I look in the mirror and I feel good. I feel good in this body.


I look across the bar at my friend. He is looking at me like I shouldn’t be hurt. He says to me, “Come on, we’re not in the best shape.” Then he motions to his girlfriend, implying her in-shape-ness or physical appearance has something I don’t. He compared us. And it was an unfair comparison. Most comparisons are unfair but this one sent me straight back to my ugliness. It sent me straight back to the place of misguided hunting for attention. For the first time in many years. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to drink. All I wanted was for every awful pound to melt off my body. I wanted a scale and a pool and I wanted to swim until all the parts of me shrank. I wanted to do these things until I got the stamp of approval. The looks from the guys, the clothing that fits perfectly, the people out there telling me the things I want to hear. You are sexy. You are hot. The bad motivators.

But. I didn’t show my friend very much of this. I said. “I feel good about myself. I don’t need you to make me feel good about myself.” And most of the time that is true. But for a few really shitty hours, that wasn’t true. I felt bad and I wanted to magically poof into something I’m not. I wanted to be small and dainty. Something I’ll never be. Something I don’t want to be. I love my body and its strength. I love what my body does for me. I love being tough and bold and not small. I LOVE MYSELF.

But for a moment, I forgot that. I wanted to be so mad. I wanted to throw a fit. And so I went home and I talked to that really cool boy I mentioned earlier. And by talked, I mean I vented and yelled. I spilled out all my thoughts on this guy and he said, “Sleep on it.” And he is pretty good at knowing what I need so I listened.  Then I woke up and I did Buti Yoga and I made a healthy lunch and then I sat down, and I wrote this piece.

And you know what it helped me remember.

I am enough.      I am in charge of how I feel.        I let go of all that no longer serves me.    I can do all the things.              My presence is my power.            I am the architect of my life.        Life is a wonderful experience. There is beauty all around me.    My dreams are possible.               I believe in myself and I encourage myself every day.          Every day I do at least one thing that takes me closer to my goals.        I am optimistic, and I trust the universe.  Life is a gift and I wake up every day and realize that.         I know that my heart is emitting electromagnetic energy out to the universe.           What I send out to the universe comes back to me, so I send out love.              I choose the seeds of love and positivity. By just being myself, I make others happy.   I smile, and I laugh every day.     I love good energy.          I create good energy.      I am a wonderful person.            My mind has the power to take me where I want to go.