Hello, my name is Leah, and I’m a recovering almost-anorexic.
You may be thinking, “Almost-anorexic, what’s that?” In my non-doctor’s opinion, it’s someone who demonstrates the behavior of an anorexic, having a mild obsession with staying skinny, but doesn’t take it to a grave extreme.
There are so many of these people walking the streets, with high concentrations in the female population under 30, residing in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and anywhere else a bikini is more than seasonal wear. The biggest problem with being an AA, for short, is that you don’t really realize that you are one until after the fact.
I was never fat growing up, but there were times in my life that I wasn’t exactly skinny, one of those being middle school, where pre-teen angst led me to nosh on Funyuns, beef jerky, and Twinkies like they had the superhuman properties of green juice.
My father, super lean his whole life, has always been obsessed with skinny people, while my mother decided she was fine with being overweight several decades ago. Even at 83, walking with a cane and a mouth full of dentures, my dad criticizes potential lady friends at his senior home, whose bodies offer a little more to love. “I mean, she has a pretty face, a car, and is only 65, but her figure is terrible,” he will moan to me.
As a child, I remember him constantly scolding me when I ate too much or started packing on a few pounds. “You don’t want to look like your mother, do you?” he would scold, slapping my hand as I reached for a piece of bread.
Whenever I was at my thinnest, I would be praised. “You look great. Lost a few pounds, huh?” He even critiqued the weight of my friends and boyfriends, telling my now-husband when we were back in college that he “looked like Elvis right before he died” after he packed on a few pounds at the end of swimming season.
But my father isn’t the only weight-obsessed person out there. From as early as elementary school, it became clear to me that thin girls were more popular than those with fuller figures, and if you were overweight you were fair game for teasing and alienation. As I got older, I noticed that whenever I lost weight, I got more attention than when I was just “average,” from both men and women.
When I moved to Los Angeles in my early twenties, my obsession with being skinny catapulted, as the new normal of skinny was about 10-20 pounds lower than high school and college. The only acceptable numbers on the scale for my 5’10” frame were those below 130 — the weight of a runway model, according to fashion magazines.
It’s easy to go unnoticed as an AA in Southern California because the area is a breeding ground for eating disorders. Your concept of “healthy eating” gets a little distorted when everyone you know doesn’t go on diets, but lives on them.
I never abided by a single diet, per se, but followed general guidelines on a daily basis, which included smoking a pack a day to speed up my metabolism and kill my appetite, avoiding carbohydrates 90 percent of the time and most sugar, skipping meals regularly, and drinking at least five shots of espresso in the morning and several caffeinated iced teas throughout the day. Every now and then I would cheat, eating a plate of pasta or a slice of pizza, but it would be difficult to enjoy with haunting visions of a bloated tummy.
“Oh my god, you look so amazing,” a publicist screamed at me as I was walking into an event in Hollywood. “You are like, emaciated!”
“If I had your body, I would live in a bikini,” someone else cooed, after I posted some bikini shots from a weekend at the beach.
“You are so skinny, I hate you,” was another common compliment I was paid by women.
The ultimate accomplishment was sitting next to a Victoria’s Secret Angel at a work dinner and realizing that she wasn’t much skinnier than I was. These sort of things made going to sleep hungry every night a little less painful.
In my head, it boiled down to this: the thinner I was, the more people liked me. When I gained a few pounds, my self-worth crumbled like an old pastry. If I felt bloated, I would make an excuse not to meet friends at the beach, or I would wear baggy shirts or other loose fitting clothes to hide my “fat.” And no matter how skinny I was, it never felt skinny enough.
And then I got knocked up.
Everyone knows that pregnancy changes your body and that inevitably equates to weight gain, but a totally unplanned pregnancy, in which one of the parties involved completely renounces themselves from the situation, added complexity to mine.
My hormones were going crazy, my emotions were heightened, and all of a sudden, I was starving. I wanted to eat everything, including carbs. Sure, I was eating healthy, nutrient-fueled foods for the baby, but things like sandwiches, pizza, buttery garlic knots, and bagels started becoming staples in my diet. I also had to cut down on my caffeine intake and quit my nasty nicotine habit, which just added to my ravishing hunger.
By the end of my first trimester, I had packed on 20 pounds.
“It’s a lot,” my doctor confirmed to me, “but you were underweight to begin with so I’m not worried.”
I began gaining weight all around, and as my legs, arms, face, belly and boobs began to fill in, I slumped into a body-conscious identity crisis: Wasn’t I supposed to be one of those Gisele-type pregnant ladies, all skinny limbs and a big baby bump?
“You are growing a life inside of you,” my friends and family reminded me when I moaned about my body. I understood that, I did, but when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a person so average, and to me that equated to unlovable.
Around six months, when my belly really started to swell and I could feel my baby boy moving around inside of me, my angst and depression around the situation started transitioning into excitement: I was going to be a momma!
During this empowering period of my pregnancy, I started focusing on our futures and less on my appearance, and making big life decisions for the two of us. One of these was moving across the country, as I felt it was time to break up my unhealthy relationship with Los Angeles and start a new life for my son and me.
As soon as I arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, something crazy happened: I started feeling like Leah for the first time in many years. The people I met there were warm, friendly, and loving from the get-go, more preoccupied with being good humans than counting how many calories were in their slice of homemade cherry pie.
Six weeks before my due date, I reunited with my first love, Nick, and we have been together ever since. He treated me like a goddess, even though I was a big ol’ pregnant lady. “I don’t love you because of who you know or what you look like, Leah,” he told me. “I love you because of you.”
When I gave birth to my son I topped the scales at 184, which was 54 pounds heavier than when I conceived. I didn’t lose it right away and I never got back into my skinniest of skinny jeans. After baby number two, it’s likely I never will.
And I’m totally okay with that.
My body is more than a clothes hanger, an attention grabber, or an object of desire. My belly, which now has a few loving lumps, has housed two ridiculously perfect children, while my breasts, which hang lower than ever, have fueled them with all the vitamins and nutrients needed for survival for months on end. Heavier than ever, I am happier than I ever thought I could be, loved and full of so much of it as well.
I’m not saying I will never diet again, and I’m not going to lie: I still get urges to starve myself so I can quickly slip back into those short, tight dresses, hanging lonely in my closet.
But then I look at my doppelgänger baby girl, who relies on me not only for food, but for my value system to help her form her own self-esteem ideals one day. And I look at my son, who will probably not face body image pressures quite as much as she will, but has already gotten so much attention for his flawlessly handsome face that I worry it could someday define his self-worth.
As a mother, it is my responsibility to be the best version of myself that I can be, because I am the first person my children look to for guidance, influence, and support. I want them to know they are loved, no matter what they look like or what size clothes they wear, and the best way to do that is to love myself the same way.More On