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Bottom of the Pyramid: a personal account of body image, disordered eating, and mental health

By: Samantha Mendonca

It’s 1998, I am 7-years old and enjoying gym class with my friends. Today’s activity: human pyramid! So fun!! Except for it wasn’t…

No pyramid is complete without a strong base. So, all of the jock-type boys line up, excited and ready to show off their pre-pubescent strength and flex their first of many showcases of toxic masculinity (I digress). They get down on all fours, waiting for the next row of humans to climb on their backs when one calls out from the floor, “What about Samantha? She’s too big, she should be down here, too.” That now all too familiar sting in my eyes and empty, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach begins to well up. But, they were right… right? It makes sense to everyone else… even my gym teacher shrugs and gestures to the spot meant for me at the end of the bottom row of the pyramid.

It’s 2001, I am 10-years old watching my mother undress and I stare into her eyes as she looks upon her own reflection in the mirror. I can see that she has that empty, hollow feeling, too. I recognize it as my own. She asks if her new shirt hides her fat rolls and I gaze down at my own growing belly with shame and the knowing that my body must also stay hidden. To be seen would be too dangerous, she knows it and I know it; the knowing runs boldly through our DNA.

It’s 2005 and at 14-years old I am given my first diet book; a birthday gift from my grandmother. At the latest family gathering, my grandfather called me fat and made me cry. I recognize this as my grandmother’s peace offering. It feels like I am being handed the key to the city. Between the pages of this book, I am so sure I will find the smallest, most beautiful version of myself. The Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens: The 7 Keys to Weight Freedom by Jay McGraw (Yes, Dr. Phil’s son) will surely show me the way. The book opens up with, “Feeling like a big blob is a depressing way to live” and I feel seen for the first time. How could I have known that this feeling was more like an expression of Stockholm Syndrome, where I felt loved and connected to my abuser? I couldn’t have known… My nutritionist suggests that I replace my breakfast sandwich in the morning with protein powder.

It’s 2009 and my senior year of high school. My weekend mornings consist of measuring out a tablespoon of peanut butter to spread over my weight-loss protein bar for breakfast, counting up my points and tracking every calorie that enters my body into my food journal before attending my weigh-in at Weight Watchers. Waiting in line to be weighed feels really, really good when I know that I have killed it and lost weight but waiting in line to be weighed when I know I shouldn’t have eaten that scoop of frozen yogurt on Tuesday night feels like the whole world is closing in on me. My panic attacks are only getting worse and the 30 pounds that I have lost so far feel so far away from my goal. Maybe if I didn’t eat before my meetings, or if I threw up before weigh-in it would help? If I wasn’t such a lazy piece of sh*t I wouldn’t have to live like this…. It was all my fault…That same year my doctor asks if I had ever considered weight loss surgery.

It’s 2014 and I am the biggest I have ever been. I wear a size 22 pants and I hate myself. I’m engaged to be married and should be the happiest I have ever been, but instead, I am grieving the loss of hope that I had held onto for so long that things could someday be different. I am sitting with the feeling that my body will only get bigger and bigger and I will get sicker and sicker and I am terrified. I imagine what it might feel like to no longer live in this body, to no longer live.

It’s 2019 and I am still here. To say that I have healed would be an understatement, to say that I am done healing would be a lie. It’s 2019 and I am still here. I am here healing myself in the name of healing the collective. It’s 2019 and I am still here. I am here and I am FAT and I love myself (most days). It’s 2019 and I am still here. I don’t diet and I don’t accept diet talk or body shame in my everyday conversations. It’s 2019 and I am still here. I am proudly assuming my position at the bottom of the pyramid, a place where I knew all along I belonged…. Not because I was too big to be held up but because I am so f*cking strong that I can hold (space for) ten times my weight. It’s 2019 and I am still here.

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