Skinny — From My Archives

I was the fat kid. Not baby chub or pleasantly plump. This wasn’t the kind of extra weight I would “grow into”.

This was wrist roll, thighs rubbing, eye smashing, mortifying weight.

When my mom felt guilty about working so much, she’d bring home a pizza. The days when she’d had too much to drink and smacked me around, she would bake cookies.  If she had a date she’d leave a cupboard full of snack cakes and chips, and lots of soda in the fridge. And I’d eat everything until it was gone.

For me, food came after pain to give me a feeling like floating. Food never let me down. It helped me to pretend that I was loved.

Somehow I survived high school. But every year got worse and worse. And every year I gained more and more. My mom was mad that we had to pay extra for a special made graduation gown.

That whole summer was full of dread for the coming move to college. And so I gained more.

“Honey, take care of  yourself, okay?” my mom said after putting the last box of stuff in my dorm.

Without a hug, she was gone.

I instantly broke open the box of crackers I’d brought and shoved them into my mouth. The faster the better.

My roommate was on the cheerleading squad. She was blonde and beautiful. She was as skinny as I was fat.

I hated her. Completely.

She was such a nice girl. Never looked at me when I was getting dressed, understood my need for more space in the walkways, asked me to hang out with her and the rest of the cheerleaders.

And yet I still hated her.

Because she was everything I’d ever wanted to be.

The week after freshman orientation, she walked in on me during a binge. Food wrappers were spread out all over my bed. An empty bag of chips was on the floor.

“Oh, Amber,” I said. “I didn’t know you’d be back.”

“What are you doing, Penny?” she asked.

“I didn’t just eat all this.”

“It’s okay. We all do it.”

“Do what?”

“Eat like that.”

“Really? I thought I was the only one.”

“Nah. You got anymore food?”

She ate everything that I had left. It was more than I could have packed away.

“But how do you stay so skinny?” I asked, amazed.

That’s when I learned about purging.

I got skinny quick. Amber taught me all the tricks. Binge. Purge. Laxatives. Working out 4-5 hours a day. If not more.

“Penny, you look great!” my mom said when I went home for Christmas.

I ran into a guy from high school. He didn’t know who I was. He asked for my number.

Everything changed for me. The skinny me was no longer invisible or in the way or disgusting. I was suddenly eye catching, desired, lusted after.

And I still had my food.

“Penny,” my manager says. “You ready?”

I snap out of my thoughts of the old days.

“Yup. Let me just get some powder.”

The make up artist dabs my face with a brush. I’m on the set of my fourth workout video. Somehow I worked my way up to being a health guru.

“Look at those abs! Look at those buns! Arms, legs, chest…all perfect! Somebody make a statue out of this woman!” That’s what’s on the cover of my first video.

“Even you can get a firm bikini body.” My voice in the video plays over pictures of me in a skimpy bathing suit, flirting with guys on the beach. Then it moves to a picture of me from high school. “If I can turn things around, so can you!”

My manager says I’m building an empire. My name’s on books that I didn’t write, protein bars I didn’t cook up, special workouts I didn’t invent.

“Penny, on set,” the director calls through his mega phone.

I go through a routine, the camera filming every muscle flex and bead of sweat running down my face. My voice is steady through the whole exercise. Crunches, knee lifts, bicep curls, squats.

And the whole time, all I can think of is what I’m going to purge on when I get home. And how I’d throw it all up right away.

If the tabloids ever found out, they’d finish me. I’d get sued. My life would be over.

My dressing-room is chilly after such a workout. The sweat dries quickly on my skin.

“Hey, Pen.” My manager sticks his head in. “Got your fan mail.”

“Like, as in real mail?”

“Yeah. Crazy. Some people still use the old post office.”

“Okay.”

“You gotta read them out loud.”

“Great. So you can laugh at my creepy fans?”

There were two envelopes. I tore open the first.

“Dear Penny; I love you, blah, blah, blah. Marry me, have my children. We’d be perfect.” I threw it in the trash. “Seriously, weird.”

The second was in the handwriting of a younger person. A picture fell out of the envelope. The girl in the picture was overweight. Very overweight. She looked like I did when I was her age.

“What’s that picture?” my manager asked.

“It’s a girl.”

“Come on, let me see.”

“No.” I turned my back to him. “You need to let me read this one alone.”

“Alright.”

By myself, I unfold the paper.

“Dear Mrs. Penny;

I’m 12 years old. I sent you a picture so you could see what I look like. I’m sick of being fat like that.

I get made fun of every day. And they say it’s my fault ’cause I won’t stop eating. But when I try to stop, I feel like I’m going to die. Can you help me, please?

My mom says that you were big like me one time. How did you get so skinny? Can you teach me?  I just want to look like you, but I can’t figure it out. I’ll do anything.

Please write me back. Maybe, if you’re ever in Toledo, you could visit me.

Your very good friend,

Elenore Styne”

“Oh, Elenore,” I whisper. “You don’t even know how hard it is to keep all this up. It’s not worth it.”

The mirror in this room has lights all around it.

My reflection is the body of a fit, tanned, surgically altered woman.

I still can’t think of myself as anything but a fat kid.

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10 thoughts on “Skinny — From My Archives

  1. Wow. Reminded me of a blog from a friend of mine, http://jeffberryman.com/2011/06/07/authenticity-and-the-better-self. Talks about “authenticity” and all the masks we put on when we try to hide who we really are. Some masks are simple, like pretending to like someone when we really don’t. Some – like Penny – become an entire false life. How do we escape such a trap? How do we even start to help someone heal who has been so emotionally scarred by the words and actions of others, especially those who are supposed to love us unconditionally? I wish I could say I don’t wear a mask sometimes, but sometimes it feels like the only way to survive being around people – the people we know we’re supposed to love because Jesus loves them – is to put on a mask of caring, and hope that doing it over and over again will turn it into a reality. And pretend that all the hurtful things they can say and do, don’t really hurt so much. But they do. And sometimes the masks just get thicker and thicker over the years until I look in the mirror and can’t tell if I’ve got on a mask or if this is the way I really am. What happens when you can’t remember which is the mask and which is the real you?

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  2. Susie,
    I’ve been so proud of you as I watched you post on Facebook about your writing. But I’ve been so busy these last couple years, I hadn’t taken the time to read any of your stories yet. This one caught my eye and, since I’m on summer break with the kids and have more time right now, I read. Fantastic writing, friend. Very moving. I am thinking fondly of our college days together in George Brown’s classes. So much fun (even though I was never any good at the short story stuff!)

    Glad you are doing well, and hope we will run into each other again one of these days.

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    • Oh, thank you, Heather!
      It’s very kind of you! I miss the crazy writing days in creative writing. There was such enthusiasm in our group.

      I hope you’re doing well, too! And that you get some down time!

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  3. Wow Susie this is great I would like to see how this one ends. I am a friend of your mother. This is an awesome story. Keep up the good work

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