“I think he is hitting on me,” I said to my friend Polly, referring to the guy sitting a few tables over. We were grabbing a bite to eat on our spring break road trip from the University of Oregon to a friend’s cabin in Lake Tahoe.
“Of course, he is, because you look really amazing right now,” Polly replied, sarcastically referring to my travel attire of mismatched sweats and a greasy ponytail. Apparently, we had been in the car way too long together.
It had been a running joke between us for years. I’d often say things like that to get a reaction from my girlfriends, but I have to admit; usually, I meant it. Despite my ongoing love/hate relationship with my body, during the years between college and pregnancy, I knew I hadn’t exactly been hit by an ugly stick. So yes, if I caught someone looking my way, I often times assumed they either found me attractive, or they were admiring my shoes. Either way, I thought it was positive.
By 2014, nine years into my eating disorder, people were still looking at me. However, I was well aware it was different. There was the the woman who quickly looked away, blushing, when I caught her eye in the produce section of the grocery store, making me want to hurl a tomato at her. The lady who elbowed and whispered to her friend as I passed by the window of the coffee shop, causing me to feel like the outcast in middle school. Or the little boy who craned his neck as I passed by him at Home Depot, looking at me with innocent curiosity the way kids often do when they see someone who looks different.
“People are staring at me,” I told my therapist Karen, tears streaming down my face, “I know I am thin but really? What the hell is wrong with people?”
“Are they staring at you?” She asked, getting a bit emotional, too, ”or are you noticing because of how you feel about yourself?” Hmmmm, I had become self-conscious about my appearance. I could not ignore the obvious, but after careful consideration of her question, I was even more convinced. They were staring.
For years, as a result of the after-school specials that were popular when I was a teen, I thought I understood what anorexia was about. The ultra-skinny girl standing in front of a mirror, her ribs jutting out, staring at the “fat” girl starting back at her. But that was not me. I knew I was too thin, I crunched the numbers, I saw the pictures, and in no way, did I think I was overweight. Still, my brain, my hungry, shrinking brain could not see just HOW thin I had become. So, when I caught people looking at me, some with concern, some with curiosity, and many with a glare of anger, it pissed me off. It put me on the defensive, but deep down, it just hurt. I am a good person, I am someone’s daughter, I am a loving mom. Stop looking at me.
But the not so subtle glances did not stop, in fact, they were the just the half of it.