When I scan the cafeteria from my place at a table with my friends, I am not looking for someone in particular, I am judging. The contents of all five of the trays on this table combined might be enough to satisfy a single person. We eat slowly, one bite at a time, as if afraid to be the first one to fill her mouth. It's like arriving at a party - the key is to be fashionably late.
I know every single female figure in the room. I may not know their names, or even their faces, but I know their bodies. And, more importantly, I know how mine compares to each one.
There are the bigger ones. Some spilling over their jeans or bulging under their blouses. Seeing these girls gives me a huge sense of relief. I feel sorry for them, of course, but it's a great comfort to me, knowing that I'm not the biggest blimp in the room.
The girls that are similar to me in size and body shape are my competition. I watch them like a hawk. If they eat an ice cream cone, I laugh at them inside. If they look really good, it makes me want to cry.
But it's the really skinny girls that I simply hate. I hate every morsel of food that passes their lips. I hate their gloriously bony arms, their slender angled hips, and their long, toothpick-inspired legs. These girls, they're not my competition. They're my enemies. They make my thighs look like watermelons and my arms look like sausages.
Ever since I was a little girl I've worried about becoming fat. My mother was overweight, and she's tried every trick in the book to overcome it. I saw how unhappy she was, I learned to hate the repulsive roundness of her body almost as much as she did.
And when my mother found out that I'd lost five pounds? She was so proud. Her words said that she was worried about my health, that I was young and healthy and didn't need to lose any weight. But I saw the approving gleam in her eyes. She didn't want to be seen with a fat daughter. Her own body was embarrassment enough. And so from the time I was ten years old, I decided I would never let myself get fat.
Eating becomes an obsession. I love food just as much as the next person. It's a battle - not just every day, but every minute. I lose a pound and I want to reward myself. I deserve it. But afterwards, guilt slaps a burger right into my thigh. I need to punish myself. So I jog a couple miles.
I drink water before meals, so I'll feel full and eat less. I chew gum when I think I'm going to give in and eat real carbs. If I do give in - and sometimes I do - I usually slip into a frenzied binge, eating a whole box of Oreos, for example. And then I feel so sick that I usually don't even need to gag myself to puke it back up.
The bell sounds, and I dump my lunch in the garbage, the rest of my circle of friends follow suit. You feel lighter when you're not weighed down by carbs and fats. Like you could float right of the ground.
"Emma, I love your jeans. Maybe I could borrow them sometime." Karen comments, more to be manipulative than because she actually likes them.
"Sure," I say. They're size two, I want to tell her. You'll never get them past your knees. Karen falls into the competition category. But she isn't actually a threat. "I like your necklace," I reciprocate. Karen and I have never been close. She's a wannabe. She always will be. She doesn't have what it takes to make real sacrifices the way I have.
I know that it isn't healthy to starve yourself. I know that bulimia leads to a damaged esophagus and rotten teeth. I've heard it all. I just have to win this battle and then I'll work on being healthy.
This battle against my body.