A teenager shares her on-going battle with weight and self-image.
I remember a boy calling me fat. I was 16, sweet 16. I was looking at a picture at an exhibition when I felt his presence. I turned to look at the short, tanned boy and smiled.
Instead of greeting me, he said, "You're fat."
A teacher overheard him and told him off, lightly. When he left the room, she told me to not think much of it.
Truthfully, to put the blame on my classmate for what I subsequently did would be unfair. I was an awkward teenager who did not know herself. I was overweight, had severe acne and a too-big chest.
Nevertheless, his words reinforced what I had thought of myself all along. And the damage was done.
I remember criticising my own appearance. At home, I spent a good amount of time looking at myself in the mirror. I would study the curves of my body and tell myself what I needed to change. All I could see were my imperfections - the round shape of my tummy, the rolls of fat on my back, the wings on my arms and my wattle-like neck.
I was not good enough for myself, my family and my friends. Every day, I would look at my reflection and mouth the words, "I hate you", until I felt a burning sensation behind my eyelids. Most days I could not even bear to catch a glimpse of my ugly self in the mirror.
I remember being hungry most of the time. The hunger pangs came and went, but each pang came back sharper. I would curl into a foetal position in bed and wait for the agony to pass.
Gradually, I took frequent naps and went to bed earlier. Exhaustion and stress were blamed for the shadows beneath my unsmiling eyes, and my weight loss.
Food was the source of my emotions, I thought. If I ate anything, it would take control of me. It would cling to the very core of my being and soul. I decided to do without food, the only thing in life I could control.
I remember not being able to drink a cup of chocolate. I stared at the warm mug, my stubby fingers fiddling with the hem of my white baju kurung top. I was thirsty, hungry and salivating as the aroma of the beverage wafted through the air.
Bring the mug to my lips, let the liquid touch my dry tongue and swallow? However, I could not bring myself to do that. My resolve was tough.
I likened the drink to dark, murky mud which had worms wriggling in it. That disgusted me, but soon, the temptation returned. This time, with a flick of my wrist, I knocked the mug off the dining table. The spilled liquid created a brown mess. Good ... my problem was solved.
I had many tactics to not eat, picked up from pro-anorexia websites. To get away with not eating I had to be smart. Luckily, circumstances favoured me.
After school, I had extra-curricular activities and tuition. By the time I reached home, it was usually past 10.30pm. On weekends, if my family was sitting together at the dining table, which was extremely rare, I would eat slowly. I'd shove food under my plate until I could hide no more. I'd be the last one still at the table and when everyone had left I would scoop up the untouched "garbage" and throw it into the trashcan.
If I had a piece of bread, I would accidently drop it on the floor so it would be inedible. Often, I would chew delicious-looking food in my mouth and spit it onto my palm. I would then look at it with disgust because it would be nothing but brownish mush. Slowly, the cravings stopped and I learnt to stay away from places where temptation would lure me to hell.
I remember being frightened for myself. It was at school during PE, when everyone was to take a physical test and weigh themselves. I took a long time to get onto the weighing scale. I was afraid that if I saw how many kilos I had lost, I might start eating again. When I finally did get on the scale, I realised how much I'd lost.
Sadly, the more I weight lost, the emptier I felt. What truly frightened me was what happened after that.
Hard to stop
All the Form Four students had to do a 100m dash. The idea was fine since I would be burning off calories and melting more fat from my body. However, after crossing the finishing line, my vision started to blur as I walked off the field.
At first the colours were jumbled and everything around me was spinning. This was followed by pitch black. I did not faint but my vision failed me, for the first time. I stood there under the scorching sun, panting and wondering if I would be blind. Finally, I understood the consequences of my actions, but it was hard to stop.
I remember sitting in the doctor's office and how my carefully guarded secret came out.
The funny thing was the patient was my mother, who'd gone for her annual checkup. I could feel the doctor's eyes boring into my skull and surveying my withered body. All I could think of was how white the room was; white walls, white bed, white table. I suppose the worn-out look in my eyes, my pale face, the tired arch of my back and my dry, cracked lips gave it all away.
To my family doctor, I was a ghost of my old self. After a series of questions, I dropped the facade. Finally, he asked me when was the last time I had eaten. I remember blinking a few times before the flood of tears came. My mother, at last, saw how truly "sick" my body and mind was.
The doctor left us alone in the room, thinking we would talk it out. But all I could do was cry. I was too ashamed to even look at my mother because I knew I had not only hurt myself but her as well.
To this day, I'm not sure if I can forgive myself. But I still try, despite the voice of my friend called Ana.