Guest post: My old friend Ana

**Trigger warning**

This is a guest post from an anonymous Feministing reader.

You could say I’m a words person. Communications, in all forms, is what I’m good at, it’s what I gravitate towards. I’ll do the crossword puzzle over the Sudoku. Words to me are pieces to play with, tell stories with, pitch clients with. I’ve never had a connection to numbers, I didn’t mind math, with the exception of one number, one in constant flux, multiplying or adding or subtracting throughout my life.

Vogue published what anorexics would call probably the dumbest article of all time in its April issue. I’m paraphrasing here. It asked, “is anorexia for life?” I think, as a former anorexic (well, Ana is now a dull memory, but still with me, like a childhood imaginary friend you outgrow but remember from time to time) yes is a stunningly obvious answer.

Whoever wrote the piece clearly never met Ana.

I think about all the time I’ve spent ruminating about my body, looking down at my stomach in a certain way, measuring success or failure with each tiny increment as I snuck onto my parents scale. It’s easily 10,000 hours, which according to Malcolm Gladwell, I’m a useless prodigy at calories.

96

I am seven, and I am being told by my doctor that I am overweight. It’s blurring together because I am too young to know what’s going on, but old enough to know that I am really embarrassed.

I’m bigger than the other kids. I’m a sensitive girl, a hyper self-aware introvert, who isn’t liking the look I’m getting from my mother. She wants her parents approval.

The doctor suggests that we try salad before dinner. I have a salad before dinner every night until I go off to college. The sight of it, in a bowl, with a few onions, makes me cringe. I hate dinner, to this day, at 26, because of it. I go to friends’ houses and I am allowed to have things like grilled cheese and Slurpees. I eat until I feel sick. Ana and I haven’t met yet.

98

I am in third grade. It is my favorite day of the year – Valentine’s Day. You get to swap lunch with another third grader. You get to have whatever you want. I ask for what a kid being restricted only dreams of – a baloney and cheese sandwich, Cheetos, a king size butterfinger, and a FruitMondo – an exacerbated wax and sugar candy. My partner’s mother calls my mother. Her mother tells my mother that I’d better not be eating this sort of thing at home.

I had never had any of the aforementioned in my life, just in thought. I got it all, except the Fruit Mondo. The next year, my father would ask me, wasn’t I the biggest girl in my class? Ten years later he would sneer and ask me why I couldn’t “eat like a normal person” when home from a college break. It remains the most painful thing anyone has ever said to me.

120

I am in fifth grade. Middle school is what I’d imagine should be only used as a form of psychological torture. Everyone is in the midst of figuring out how to kiss each other, and use deodorant. We get a crop of new girls, one thin one with perfectly straight blonde hair. She kisses a popular boy. I wonder how she is made like that. We swim together, and I stare at her.

Some of the popular kids are discussing “reputations” of everyone at school. I ask one to tell me what mine is. “Fat loser,” she replies. It’s seared into my brain like a scalding brand. I wonder if people can read it on my forehead. I throw my cheese sandwich in the trash. Ana is waiting in the wings.

130

I am in sixth grade. My “best friend” really knows how to push my buttons. She’s being mean to me, and I guess I learned to keep frenemies early. I tell her to get away from me and leave me alone. She says she can’t, that I’m “so big” I’m “everywhere”.  I was wearing a blue tank top. I was standing five feet from the door, she was on my right side.

My grandmother comes to visit and tells me I’m getting “chunky” again. I think Ana was good friends with my grandmother. I’m a size 10 at the GAP.

I sneak quarters into the vending machine at school, eating bags of Knoll’s cookies and regular sodas before I’m late to carpool. I hastily wipe the crumbs off my pants.

135

It’s the first day of ninth grade. High school, I think to myself as I put on an outfit that I have been planning since the last week of July. I ironed rhinestones onto my tank top, and painted a denim skirt. It combined two of my favorite things: my propensity for art, painting, crafts, introspection, and fashion. I don’t feel confident enough in my arms to wear the tank top.

142

I am skiing with my family in a luxurious cabin in Vail, Colorado. I step out of the steam shower. I step on a foreign scale. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. I feel helpless.

135

My best friend started eating some weird looking bars for lunch instead of regular food. They’re Weight Watchers, she said. She has a quiet friend named Ana with her, who doesn’t say much. I decide to buy a box of the bars too. They don’t taste great, but I have to be the thinnest one of the three of us. We’re all overweight.

125

My best friend is winning. She’s a size two. I see her shrinking every day, and I seethe with jealousy. I can do this too. I see the way guys look at her, that the more popular girls are giving her more attention. I’m a junior. I’ve gotten to know Ana some through my friend. She’s nice, she’s always there, keeping me company. Helping me get to where I’m going. I think we’re going to be close.

122

I am standing in the same stone bathroom in Vail. With a smile. It’s one year later. It’s the same scale. I can fit into clothes at Abercrombie, and they look good. Guys are looking my way. Ana loves shopping too. She always wants me to get a smaller size.

120

I am at my doctor, I am 17. It is ten years earlier she told me I was overweight. She tells me quietly to gain weight, because losing 20 pounds in such a short period of time isn’t that healthy. Ana is clapping, because I won. We won.

117

I am also taller than I ever was. I imagine myself like a rubber band, stretching. My adviser asks me if I’m okay.

She knows people are talking about my best friend, but am I okay too? I’m fine. Ana’s mybest friend now. Ana and I talk about everything, how 800 calories is the perfect amount each day, though wouldn’t 500 be ideal? We sigh, as we spend an hour together on the elliptical each afternoon. Sometimes we feel a little woozy, but that’s nothing half an apple can’t fix.

118

My parents are screaming at me that I’m too thin. They explode, unable to contain themselves. The same ones that restricted me. The same ones that put their daughter on a diet at seven. Ana and I hug. We’re winning. I’ve never had a best friend like this before.

112

I am five seven now. We have just gotten back from a family vacation, where I am so unhappy and worried that I can’t weigh myself I haven’t eaten for most of it. I step on the scale, and a mixture of shock and happiness overcome me. It’s the thinnest I’ve ever been in my life. But it scares me. I don’t really look like me. I sort of look like Ana. Ana is happy, but I’m worried. She’s mad I’m stopping.

124

I am having my first beer senior year of high school. I have half, and run home and weigh myself. Ana is furious at me. How could I betray her like this?

120

I’m at my “perfect” weight after losing the freshman six I gained, a horror to both me and Ana.

But I have a new best friend now, and she’s pretty and thin and loves to weigh herself too, but we also have other great things in common. Like art, and boys, and we like all the same things. I think Ana is jealous.

Over the course of my sophomore year, Ana and I spend less time together. She is angry and sad and jealous. But she doesn’t like drinking. She doesn’t like going to dinner with friends, or kissing boys. She wants me all to herself. By the end of sophomore year, Ana and I aren’t really speaking.

I haven’t weighed myself since.

That was seven years ago. Ana and I still keep up, very occasionally, on Facebook. She tells me when she thinks my arms don’t look good in a photo, or when I decide to buy a new pair of jeans. Sometimes I think about her. I think everyone with a friend like Ana can really only go through that intense of a friendship once. It’s too tiring, and she’s too selfish.

At the doctor I turn around.

I have new things to think of. I have my own business. I have so many friends, friends that Ana wouldn’t never have approved of or let me have.

I was in an unhappy relationship, but it wasn’t until then that Ana was someone I thought about only around my birthday. She always knew the number each year, our number. My junior year we were 117. I look at old pictures of us, and sometimes I miss her. But she was too demanding of me, and my time, and my 10,000 hours.

My boyfriend knows how to eat healthfully, and cares about his weight too. But he likes good food, and I start to understand that a lunch of peanut m and ms does not a lunch make. Ana hates him.

I can’t wait to have a daughter, one who will never know Ana. I wonder if I will tell her stories about Mommy’s old friend, and how she isn’t a good girl to be friends with. That my daughter should be with people who make her feel beautiful, because she is perfect no matter what size she is.

It began with a friend, it ended with a friend. Ana is a friend to some, but mostly she is an enemy. Some will choose to keep their friends close and enemies closer. Ana is someone I will remember always, but will work every day, of the rest of my life, to forget.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This is a very interesting article. I think Ana is a product of our society and the messages we have been taught. She sounds very controlling as a friend and it sounds like she’s projecting her own insecurities onto you. But these messages don’t just come from Ana, they come from living in a patriarchal society where we are taught that we need to be a certain way in order to be accepted. For women, it’s the idea that we need to be thin and pretty in order to have any value.

    • Posted May 15, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      It probably isn’t obvious to someone who hasn’t experienced it…but Ana is Anorexia, and the inside voice which takes over your time and over rides your healthy inner dialogue.

  2. Posted May 15, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    This is one of the best descriptions of Ana I’ve ever read. My God I’m jealous you haven’t weighed yourself in seven years. Kudos. Ana IS an exhausting relationship. I hope you forget her entirely, someday.

  3. Posted May 15, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I had a similar relationship with Mia growing up, and she continues to visit from time to time. I’ve tried to revoke her open invite but she’s a stubborn and often persuasive ‘friend’ who doesn’t seem able to accept that we’re no longer on talking terms. Then again, why should she when there she has so many associates who keep telling me I should maybe listen to her again? I mean, popular media and the western beauty myth all seem to be on her side.

    It takes a lot of strength to reject Mia, and to keep doing so every single day. I’m lucky these days to have a new best friend, feminism, who helps me see that Ana, Mia and their mates are no good for anyone.

    This was an insightful read, thank you for writing and sharing it.

  4. Posted May 15, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    This is a beautifully written and compelling article. I really appreciate having the chance to hear your story, even if I don’t know who you are. Thank you for posting this for us.

  5. Posted May 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Posted May 16, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    This is why I get so seethingly angry when people talk about the “epidemic of obesity” (and then maybe later go on to talk about how horrible eating disorders are, in halfway admiring tones). Both of my younger siblings have had disordered eating. I didn’t – but certainly dealt with our mother’s constant jibes about my body. (And… eh. It’s complicated. For years I couldn’t go anywhere near a gym – dance classes, yoga, martial arts, those were okay – because it felt like exposing myself to boyd shaming fitness culture that was out to kill me.)

    There is so much toxicity in how weight and health is discussed, so much more shame and blame than actual focus on health – and pretty much no focus on how the purported framing of physical health has mental health effects.

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