“Gabi likes meat, Yvette likes vegetables.” That is what my Chinese relatives always used to say growing up about my sister and me. I was the little sister with the huge appetite and round but healthy body, while my older sister was delicate and elegant. When my grandma said that most kids eat 10 dumplings in one meal, I would take it as a personal challenge to pass that number with 12, 15, heck even 20. I have always had a voracious appetite, always ate quickly, enjoying every bite as I scarfed down my food. People often say that food is more enjoyable when you eat slowly, but I never found that to be true. When my sister and I got ice cream cones after school, she would methodically lick it in a pattern so that it lasted as long as possible. I tried so hard to do this every time but never could. My cone would be gone within a few minutes.
And I loved this about myself. As a young girl, I was proud of my appetite. My appetite for food was the same as my appetite for life. I was a kid with very strong emotions, whether they be sadness, joy, or anger. Sometimes my emotions got the best of me, like the day I lost for president of the student council in 8th grade and sat in the hallway with tears streaming down my face as I used the F-word for the first time and stress-ate Oreos, legitimately feeling that my life was over. One year my class put on a show of Macbeth, and while others just wanted a passing grade, I aimed to make it a masterpiece - a Tony-winning performance as I dramatically enacted and reenacted my death scene, each time with a little more gusto and a little more flair, more grunting and groaning as I stumbled to the ground in agony. If you asked anybody, I was a drama queen. While that word may have a negative connotation, I think of it now in a very different light - I just absolutely loved and savored every bit of life.
During the period of time (1 year before I halted it) when my body began to develop curves, I was at first excited that I could wear skirts that were too short and shirts that were too low cut and receive endless attention from men. But then the pride turned to shame as I heard words that hurt - slut, whore. Suddenly this attention did not seem like such a good idea. When I starved, the comments stopped. It was like magic. The shirts that were previously too low cut were now appropriate to wear since there were no curves to make them appear “slutty”.
As my weight plummeted further and further down on the scale - 100, 90, 80, 70, like a ticking time bomb - I also lost my appetite for life. I learned the bible of womanhood - Self-control gives you self-worth. Only eat half of your plate. Never have seconds. Dessert is for the weak, and when you do have dessert, remember to apologize - “Oh, I shouldn’t have!” Something happened when I transitioned into womanhood, and suddenly I felt that it was wrong for me to feel so hungry. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” This famous quote by Kate Moss became the slogan for my womanhood as I tried to make myself small and elegant, dainty and fragile, a girl who needed a man to save her.
I won’t go into the details of the 10 year period of living on empty, but let’s just say that there was not much living; there was only a false sense of superiority. I am proud to say that with a lot of work, both my body and appetite are becoming healthy again, but the difficult task has now set in of trying to figure out how to finally be okay with this in a society that constantly reminds a woman that she should be ashamed of it. How can I feel pleasure without feeling guilty? How can I exhibit my strong appetite for life if it leads me to do passionate and perhaps embarrassing things for an adult-woman? Not the sexy kind of passion, but the kind that finds you cracking up with a friend in a very unsexy way with a milkshake coming out of your nose and a loud cackle that most would find very annoying. I know that if I am going to stick to my recovery I will have to challenge every single piece of marketing that is sent my way, urging me to squash my appetite and exhibit self-control, to strive to be an elegant princess sitting on my throne above others. I know that I cannot live in a bubble and these messages will never cease to exist during my lifetime, but I can challenge them every single day and hope that I am a role model for young girls so that they can go through the difficult transition into womanhood knowing that it does not have to squash their appetites.