Anorexia gave me a magic number over a decade ago and it stuck. I remember the exact moment when I received this seemingly positive gift. Whilst at university, I had an important job interview to attend. My friend at the time kindly offered to lend me some of her most professional-looking clothes. I used her dorm room to try on everything she had laid out on the bed for me.
I slipped on the first skirt — it wouldn’t zip up. I tried on the first shirt — the buttons just couldn’t make it through the hole. Skirt after skirt, shirt after shirt ― none of them fit me. None of them. I stood there alone in my friend’s room in utter disbelief and shame. I picked up each item of clothing and checked the label. They all had one thing in common ― a number. The same number on all the clothes stared me in the face as if to say “you’re too big. You’re not good enough”. For the first time in my life, I had this confronting awareness that I was in a larger body than someone else. Suddenly, my sense of self-worth was based on the size of my clothing.
That day at university was the beginning of a long and exhausting journey down a dark tunnel. For so many years after that and only up until recently, my life revolved around the pursuit of that magic number. It was all that mattered ― even if it meant food deprivation, obsessive and punishing exercise, social isolation or scaring my family and friends with my poor state of health.
For Anorexia, if I was fitting into the magic number, I was succeeding. Anorexia instilled in me a sense of pride to the point of arrogance for how well I could adhere to its demands. The magic number was mine and no one else’s. I would even go as far as to leave clothes lying around with the label sticking out so friends, family and my husband could marvel at how “good” I was to fit into that size.
Shopping for clothes was a pressure-filled test of worthiness. If I was not able to fit into the magic number, I would often refuse to try on a larger size and deny myself the purchase entirely. On other shopping trips, I would begrudgingly buy the larger size but then cut the tags off so no one would know my shameful secret. Only Anorexia and I knew that any clothes without tags were the ones I had failed in.
Each time my world was taken under the control of Anorexia, I would excitedly go to my wardrobe where I kept all of the magical clothes. Whenever I slipped them on, these particular clothes gave me a rush – a sense that I was an amazing success by adhering to Anorexia’s wishes.
Anorexia was in and out of my life so many times, but one thing stayed consistent – my fear of going beyond my magic number for good. It was only after an unexpected, frightening and significant relapse in the lead-up to my wedding that I realized enough was enough. I was finally ready to push anorexia away in the pursuit of happiness, health, and true contentment. I decided to embrace, not a number, but a feeling. That feeling was comfort.
Before I moved over to America from Australia, I did something I had wanted to do for so many years but had been too afraid. I removed all of the clothes that had fit me when I was at my most ill and donated them to charity. As long as those clothes stayed in my wardrobe, Anorexia would have continued to haunt me. I had finally reached a point where I didn’t want to fit into those clothes anymore. Having them in my house was just far too damaging and it was time to get rid of them for good. I saw past the illusion of their value and released myself from the cage they had been keeping me in.
I cannot express the immense relief and freedom I felt when I packed all of those clothes up, threw them into big garbage bags and drove them away from my home. They were no longer a
part of me. They were no longer something to incessantly strive for. They were no longer magical.
Now I am enjoying gorgeous clothes that are comfortable. I am learning that it is ok to have clothes of all sizes – whatever feels best in a particular style. My jeans, dress or shirt size have no bearing on what kind of wife I am, what kind of daughter or friend. They have no relevance to my ability to skate or to be a helpful and supportive colleague at work. There are so many attributes and complex layers to what makes me who I am and the number on my clothing tag is certainly not one of them.