By Leah Rocketto
Most people think an eating disorder is a result of what someone sees in the mirror or a magazine. That was only a part of my problem. The other part had to do with the things I heard.
When I was younger, I – more specifically my butt – was the butt of many jokes. My sister and cousins called me Pork Butt and Rolly (based off the chubby puppy from 101 Dalmatians). Eventually the names caught on, and my aunts and uncles started calling me by them on a regular basis.
I no longer thought of myself as Leah. I thought of myself as the fattest member of the Rocketto family. I started to analyze my appearance in the mirror. I started to eat less at meals. Sadly, this didn’t make the nicknames stop and only made me more self-conscious.
As I look back at photos, I realize I was anything but a chubby child. But as a ten-year-old, I didn’t know the definition of irony. I took everything my family said as fact, not as a funny joke.
Had the comments stopped in childhood, maybe I would have been okay. Maybe I would have realized my family was being sarcastic. Maybe my eating disorder wouldn’t have existed. Maybe I would have had confidence in myself. Unfortunately, the comments continued into college.
One night during freshman year, my boyfriend and I were cuddling. I caught him looking at my legs and asked what he was staring at. “Nothing,” he replied. “It’s just your legs are so much bigger than mine.”
I was blown away by his remark – as was everyone else in the room. I should have dumped him that second, but I didn’t. Instead, I let his comment run through my head and control my actions. Whenever I was tempted by the dessert in the dining hall, I would think about my “big legs” and go to the bathroom, push my fingers down my throat, and puke until I could see all the contents of my meal in the toilet. Whenever I wanted to end a workout early, I would think about my “pork butt” and run a little longer, sometimes to the point of pure exhaustion.
I wrote these negative words on my mirror. I even traced out my “problem areas.” Seeing the comments made me more self-conscious, which only made my purging sessions more frequent and my gym sessions longer.
Eventually, with the help of my therapist, I learned to let go of others’ criticisms. When I started to cry over others’ comments, he would stop me and ask “but what do you think about you?”
For the first few sessions, I couldn’t answer his question. I didn’t have my own image of myself. Heck, I didn’t have my own opinion of myself. Everything I thought was based on the opinions of others.
In response to my silence, he started to talk. He said I had so many positive traits, and I need to start realizing them. He told me to stop taking others so seriously, because at the end of the day, only I can make myself happy. He told when I let people control my thoughts and actions, I lose. And I hate to lose. I wanted to come out of this a winner, and the only way to do so was to start loving myself. To start loving Leah.
Sharpie criticisms no longer glare back at me in my reflection. Instead, it is covered with positive yellow Post-It notes. I look in the mirror and read about my bright smile, my graceful hands, and my toned calves. I’ve even come to love the butt that was mocked for many years (and I think the boys have come to love it too).
I have learned to love my body for what I see – not what others see.