By Kimberly Zapata
It started innocently enough. You saw one of my pictures online — I was rocking red lipstick, a catsuit, and a sequined vest — and for some reason you felt the need to comment. You felt compelled to comment, and so you posted a “joke,” a seemingly innocent “joke”:
“Damn. That girl needs a sandwich!!!”
Hilarious and totally original, right? I mean, clearly the “skinny girl” needs to pack on a few pounds. She needs a plate of french fries and a juicy cheeseburger or just some goddamn deli meats, but believe it or not, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard something of this nature. At 5-feet-tall and 105 pounds, people talk about my physical appearance at an alarming rate, but this was the first time my body had been criticized by a complete stranger. (I am a writer, and this comment was one of dozens on a mental health-based piece.)
Of course, I tried to ignore it and shake it off. I tried to shrug it off, but I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t — and for good reason, “anonymous internet commenter.”
There was a damn good reason.
You see, your comment bothered me, your comment haunted me, and your comment taunted me because you were right. I needed to eat: the bile in my abdomen was eating away at my stomach lining. I was weak and lightheaded, exhausted and nauseated because, for all intents and purposes, I was starving. But I couldn’t eat. My body wouldn’t allow me to eat. I couldn’t even choke down a piece of dry toast because there are a few things you didn’t know when you made that joke, commenter, but I want you to know them now.
I want you to know me now.
First things first, “that girl” has a name: Kim. Kim is a wife, a mother, a writer, and a mental health advocate, but you would have known that if you read my article. Maybe you just didn’t pay attention. Perhaps you simply didn’t care.
You probably also don’t care to know that “that girl” has a full-yet-broken heart — a heart which has felt the power of life, the grief of death, the boundless love which comes along with motherhood (a love which blossoms and grows when you raise and care for and nurture another), and the pain of longing for nourishment, for food, the pangs of pumping too hard to keep up with an unnourished body.
You probably don’t care to know that “that girl” has a history. “That girl” had an eating disorder, and you probably won’t understand when I tell you that “that girl” still struggles with said disorder each and every day.
Even through seven years have passed since her “recovery,” “that girl” still pulls at the skin surrounding her stomach and engulfing her waist. “That girl” still sees thick thighs even though you see thin ones, even though you can see light shining between them. And “that girl” loathes even her best features: Her shoulders are uneven, her eyes are semi-crossed, and her ass…her ass is too damn flat and too damn big. Where you see bones, “that girl” sees bulges and bumps. She sees flaws and failures and inexcusable imperfections.
So “that girl” works out obsessively. She runs 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, to keep herself sane, and skinny. To keep her legs strong, and stick thin. She runs because she wants to. She runs because she has to. Because her mind will not let her stop.
“That girl” counts more than calories. She the counts sit-ups, steps, pushups, lunges, and squats just so she can determine if she has worked hard enough — or run long enough — to justify a skim milk in her iced coffee.
After computing data and stats she questions herself: Can I afford to share that Oreo with my daughter?
And “that girl” stepped on the scale the very morning you posted your comment (for the first time in a full year) and then stood in a scalding hot shower, pulling the skin around her stomach up toward her breasts for nearly 20 minutes because she once heard heat melted belly fat. Because she is trying to “redefine her core.” Because “that girl” saw a number on the scale which horrified her, and it got the gears in her mind shifting.
Time to exercise more and eat less. Time to put down that fucking sandwich.
And while I know you thought your comment was harmless, while I know you thought your joke was just that, a joke, and while I know you didn’t mean to hurt “that girl” (well, I assume you didn’t mean to hurt her), please know you did. Because “that girl” didn’t feel flattered, she felt criticized. She felt judged, and once again, “that girl’s” body was the focal point of another’s attention. It was the focal point of her attention.
So please, think before you jest. Think before you speak, and think before you type because there is a person on the other end of every article — a journalist, a writer, a blogger, a human-freakin’-being. And you do not know what that person has gone through. You do not know what that person is going through.