There was a time, not too long ago, that I could count all the meals I had in a month with one hand. I’m exactly six feet tall, and at the low point of my anorexia I weighed 118.3 pounds. The exact number is important to note because my self-perception was so warped that I saw this as an accomplishment. I wasn’t 118.5 pounds nor did I round down to 118 when asked. I was a solid 118.3 and I felt invincible.
My anorexia began in college. I had always been skinny but I had gained the freshman fifteen, a rite of passage for any college student. At the same time, my body was maturing, naturally bulking up, and letting go of its boyish figure. This too was a rite of passage. My best friend Yazmin was the first to notice this change when I came home during spring break.
“My abuela was telling me that your face has filled in. That you look fuerte,” she said.
Whether you’re gay or not, all men are expected to look fuerte: to have wide pecks and big Gladiatorial-like arms that are capable of lifting heavy things. I was never strong looking. When I was in elementary school my frail body was contentious. The other boys mocked me, telling me I needed to be on weight gainers from GNC. Even one of the homeroom mothers said I could be handsome if I played sports and stopped acting like a mariposita.
All my life I was the skinny boy who was the last to be picked for sports. My gay friends have told me that being the last one picked for basketball was a pivotal moment in their childhoods because it was in that moment they felt different and emasculated from the other boys.
For me, being the last one picked never bothered me. I hated sports. I preferred to be sitting on the benches with the girls doodling in notebooks and talking about their periods. As it turned out, I was born to be a mariposita.
Yazmin was right. My body had changed. I don’t speak for all male anorexics, but I didn’t want to be fuerte. I was proud of being effeminate. When I started dating boys, they liked me because I was tall and lanky. I was comfortable with who I was and feared my growing body would make me unattractive.
All it took to lose weight were ten dry roasted peanuts a day and several visits to a pro-anorexic message board. The pro-ana community was this counter culture group where we gave each other tips on how to starve and discussed our thinspirations.
“Water weight is for fatties,” one poster wrote. “Drink as little water as possible if you want to look like Nicole Richie.”
I weighed myself before and after a cup of water, and the poster was right. Those two ounces of water weight were the difference between feeling like a celebrity and feeling obese.
No amount of starvation could satisfy my hunger to be thin. I went from a waist size of 32 to 28 in just two months. The starvation felt justified but as with all anorexics the thinner I got, the more potent my body dysmorphia became. I now believed my bone structure was disproportioned, that my pelvis was larger than my chest, and I would look wide no matter what. This only encouraged me to continue starving for years to come.