Once upon a time, “skinny” was a compliment. It was a word I longed to be directed towards me, one that lit the spark of self-worth inside of my exhausted body, as if “skinny” was synonymous with “worthy”. “Skinny” would tell me I’d made it, “skinny” would be the pat on the back, the hi-five, the certificate I’d always wished I could deserve.
“You’ve gotten so skinny,” they say – a dangerous fire burning through their eyes, a gaze sharp enough to scratch my bones. And as they purse their lips together, I can hear the words they’re holding in. She must be anorexic, the voices echo through my ears. She’ll probably throw up that sandwich she’s eating. Their words, or lack of them, are needles piercing through my suddenly too transparent skin. They wait for a while and, with a condescending laugh, ask “do you eat?”
“I do a lot of exercise,” I open my mouth but the words seem worthless. Just like me. Their bitter judgements are heavy metal music, deafening the ringing of my alarm clock at 7am on a Sunday when any normal teenager drowns in a swirl of sheets and dreams and I am tying up my running shoes because I want to have a reason to be proud of myself. Their eyes are blind to the platefuls of vegetables, the carrots I learnt to roast and boil, the ingredients I go out and buy to avoid my mother’s idea of a Wednesday night meal: McDonald’s. Their superficial smiles are shadowed with the assumption that starving yourself is the sole option when the thought had never even crossed my mind.
Not for a second.
And the brisk morning runs and the grass green smoothies and the extra push up when my arms felt about ready to snap seemed to vanish into air that hung heavy - tainted, just like the handful of pride I’d worked so hard to save. Because the come on, believe in yourself doesn’t mean quite so much when no one else believes in you.
“Skinny” used to feel like it would be a compliment. Once upon a time.