*** Trigger Warning ***
The following article graphically depicts the human body and the effects of extreme weight loss. Please proceed with caution or do not continue if this content may be triggering to you.
A few weeks in, the first signs appeared.
She can’t quite remember what it was that emerged first. Perhaps it was her collarbone. One day she was a rounded mass of soft curves and filled-in outlines, gentle bulges rising off of what existed beneath – jagged edges that had never before been seen – and the next, she passed by a mirror, and saw parts of her body that had never before been distinguishable.
Her collarbone stretched the skin draped over it, the flesh springing back onto her body where the ridge of her collarbone fanned out and disappeared into the expanse of her ribs. Her skin, a crisp spring, and her bones, the force testing its elasticity.
There were mountains under her skin – marrow-filled crests. Yet the mountains were bare. Where snow had once filled them in, molding itself over them like some kind of plush clay, there was now nothing.
They were simply … there. She traced her fingers over the ridges, from the top of her shoulder downwards, to her sternum, where the path dropped off unexpectedly, curving about an inch in the shape of a distended horseshoe. Then the path began again, symmetric against her opposite shoulder. There was a Rorschach test inked into her chest, straining against the skin. In the mirror, she wondered at the pattern. She dug her fingers beneath her collarbone, forcing the flesh farther and farther into the indent beneath the bone. Just because she could. Because she had never felt this part of herself before, and she was obsessed with the novelty.
And then came the bruising.
Blue, black, purple blobs painted themselves senselessly against her knees. Each day there was a new set of them. Some voracious disease was brooding beneath her skin. Violet, tinged with black erupted, and just as effortlessly faded to a sickly green. A day later, a new splotch took its place. Her knees were an everlasting canvas, time and again wiped clean, then painted over with the same concept, the same shapes, the same grisly hues. The bruises were spattered along her arms, her ankles, her knees, even the backs of her hands. She couldn’t comprehend why they were so plentiful – how was it that her flesh could be weaker, even as she grew stronger?
And she did, grow stronger.
She was enamored with the sight of her arms, her legs. Before, they had been but gargantuan bulks of skin and cellulite, stretch marks illuminating their undersides, the skin pulling apart at the seams with the need to accommodate the excess beneath it.
But now, where fat had once slumbered, there was but the firm tone of muscles. Yet even so, her arms were much slimmer. She craved the sight of her biceps, the mound sloping upwards from her elbow and down to her shoulder. She clasped the muscles there, felt their firmness – their inexorable fuss at giving way beneath her prodding fingertips. She traced the linear indents giving shape to her upper arm; she traced their counterparts along her thighs, her upper leg, down to her calves. What had once been soft, was now firm. What had once been weak, was now strong. What had once been massive, was now compact.
Each flex of her biceps, her quads, her calves made her feel like she had cast aside that other version of herself – that sloth, the homebody with a sedentary little life. She felt, for the first time, capable. Strong. Powerful. In control.
She was not only in control of her body – but herself.
She began to lose her hair.
Strand upon strand fluttered away. If she ran her fingers through her hair, a clump of it would come away in her grasp. She left, in her wake, an ever-growing trail of little golden strands. The tines on her hairbrush became indiscernible beneath a colossal mass of gold. Her clothes were drenched with the streaks. Her scalp thinned. When she washed her skin, she washed away strand after strand of dark, bitter, squirming streaks. They coiled about the drain, clinging to it with death-defying strength.
It was difficult to sit.
Every chair dug into her bones. She’d carried a portable cushion with her, before. Now she had nothing to soften the stiffness. Nothing to stifle the bruises. When she laid in bed, there always seemed to be a protrusion digging into the small of her back. It was her tailbone.
Every which way, she was jagged edges and jutting protrusions, hard lines and unprotected flesh. Was this what it was like to be small? Constantly uncomfortable – unjustly bony?
She began to see her ribs.
There they were, rows upon rows of bone and darkened spaces between. If she extended her arms above her head, her skin stretched upwards, her ribs driving it over the ridges, then letting it fall into the divots. She stood at the mirror, entranced with the view. Where there had once been excess, there was now just bare bones, thinly encasing, the shadows of her insides casting dark stains beneath the surface. She felt along the underside of her ribs. She dug into the spacious indent where her ribs ended, and her pert, pliable little stomach began, until she held her ribs between her fingertips. It felt novel. It felt symbolic. It felt wonderful.
She was always cold.
There was always this chill, deep in her bones, that she couldn’t seem to rid herself of. She bundled up in layer upon layer. She rubbed her hands against one another as rapidly as she could – the friction heat enough to warm them for at least a moment. She blew into them, warm, humid puffs of air making them slick. She shivered away the perpetual chill, her nose an everlasting little icicle, the skin beneath her fingernails stained purple. People shied away from her touch – her hands were too cold!
She wasn’t eating enough. Her metabolism had slowed. She no longer had an insulating cushion between herself and the chilled air. There were a million rationales. But all she could do was hug her arms against her chest to savor the body heat she still had.
She could see her spine.
Trapped along her back, she could feel each crest, the ebb and flow of each vertebrae. The sight was one she’d only ever seen in movies. Yet this was reality. This was her. It seemed nonsensical, to be enamored by the sight of something so common, always lurking beneath our flesh. But it was a body that she barely recognized. A body she had coveted for so long, yet had never dared to will into being. A body that was now hers. She felt like a foreigner in her own skin – this her was the same her as before, yet she must have transferred bodies. Her skin felt alien. At the same time that it felt absolutely wonderful.
She was drowning beneath the weight of gruesome contradictions. Her body molded itself into the desirous, slim hourglass touted by media, just as it was splattered by an ever-revolving set of bruises, Pollock’s modern human canvas. Her cellulite dissolved and muscles snaked over bone, just as her hair stripped itself from her scalp.
She existed in a state of gruesome transformation. Clawing across her body were the signs that something wasn’t right. This wasn’t right. Yet she couldn’t hope to reconcile her newly-desirable image in the mirror, with the bruising, the pain, the hair-loss, every seemingly inconsequential side-effect pulling her skin away at the seams.
It felt worth it. She was winning a battle against a version of herself that was not only outwardly plump and to her, unworthy of affection, but also all of the aspects of her persona that she despised. She won that battle, but she lost one far more precious. She played into the hands of society. She fell victim to relentless, unjust standards. She became what she despised most in this world. She’s just another of society’s pawns, now. And, undoubtedly, the worst part of the whole ordeal is that she can’t bring herself to regret it one bit.
That day, she traced over the lumbar of her spine, and felt the beginning of a new era dawn.