counting calories and long division

The first time it happens, I'm nine years old, and my mother says we need to go on a diet.
She says we, but she means you, and I know, I know, I know -- 
like all the little girls and boys on the playground, she is saying, 
"We need to fix you. Something went wrong."
(I know, I know, I know.)

 

The first time it happens, I don't quite understand, and I don't need to;
it's not for me to understand, I'm only nine, I swear I don't need to --
I don't need to know, I don't need to know, I swear, 
but I know anyway, and I'm nine years old and I think, 
"Something went wrong."
And of course, that something is me.

 

I was counting calories by ten, being called 'fat' like that word is an insult;
I know these things. I'm in the fourth grade, and I know what these things mean.
They mean that I am wrong and ugly, 
they mean that I should be counting calories in between learning long division
and Magic Tree House books.
Count your calories, count them, they matter, they matter more than you do.

 

And I know, I know, I know --
if I could change anything I would tell myself in the fourth grade that 
calories don't matter more than you do, they don't, I promise --
but I'm eighteen now, and yes, if I could change anything I would never have
let myself grow into this kind of person, but I did, and I can't go back.

 

In the sixth grade they told me there was more of me to love,
but behind my back they whispered what that phrase really means,
and I know it's too late to tell myself that it doesn't matter, it really doesn't.
Because there is a little girl on the playground who is being called fat,
and a little girl in her first middle school algebra class being called ugly,
and there's a little girl walking into high school for the first time being laughed at.
And all those girls are me and you and people who I love and people I hated.

 

There are so many things I would change if I could.
I would go back in time, tell my mother to stop making me count the carbs,
stop making me hate myself for a piece of bread, stop making me hate myself,
stop making me count the calories. There are too many numbers.
Too many numbers on the scale, on the back of a sandwich wrapper, too many;
but I didn't know these things back then. I wish I could have known them.

 

I wish I could have known that I would love myself, eventually;
I wish I could tell myself now that I do, and not make it a lie, not make it a joke,
because every time I look in the mirror there's a little girl staring back at me,
and she's telling me to count my calories and check the scale.
She's telling me that she's tired of being laughed at. She's telling me to hate myself.
Because that's what she did, and it worked out fine.

 

And I do, I do hate myself, most days it feels like my life is a war against hating myself,
but it gets easier, it has to, I know it has to.
I would change her, I would go back and tell her to stop checking the calories,
I would tell her that her fat is not a flaw, and that being called 'fat' is not an insult,
because what is it but just extra weight? And who cares about extra weight?
I wish I could say that I don't, still, it's a long process, but I'm getting there.

 

I want to tell that little girl -- and thousands of other little girls --
that their fat is not a flaw. That they should love themselves because sometimes,
no one else will do it for them. No one else will be their cheerleader.
I love the little girl I was, and I want to tell her that, but she can't hear me,
too busy counting calories, too busy hating herself.
She is too young to hate herself. It doesn't stop her.

 

I am too old to still hate myself, but it doesn't stop me.
I want to change the world, tell everyone that it's okay, it's fine, I promise --
it's okay to be fat. It's okay, and you're still beautiful, I swear --
but the world isn't quite ready to hear me yet, the world isn't ready,
and God, if I could change anything, I would make them hear me.

 

I would rip the truth out of my fat rolls and I would make them see,
I'd make them understand that hating your fat makes you hate yourself,
that hating yourself is the worst thing you can do to your body, to your mind.
I hated myself enough to try to die, and I don't want other little girls to do that to themselves;
I can't let other little girls think that death is easier. It's not. I promise.

 

But there is little to be said to the girl still counting calories when I look in the mirror,
the girl who shakes and fidgets when they make her step on the scale in the doctor's office,
the girl who skips school lunches even with an empty stomach, because God, 
it's so much easier to not eat than to eat around other people.
It's so much easier to hate yourself than eat around other people.

 

I would tell that little girl to eat.
I would change the world by telling her to eat.
If only she could hear me.
If only she, and the thousands of other little girls who cry themselves to sleep,
who avoid eating, who avoid speaking, who hide behind their hate --
if only they could hear me, and know that they are beautiful.
They could change the world.

Comments

Hannah Root

I love this so much. I'm sorry that you went through this, too. I know it's not easy, it never was easy, and it probably won't ever be easy, but we are a strong group in solidarity. Thanks for sharing what so many of us went through in writing. Lots of love xx Hannah Root

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