Tonight I put my name in the hat at the local Moth Story Slam. The theme was ‘beauty’. Anyone who is interested in telling a story puts their name in the hat. They pull out names, one at a time; until ten people have shared their stories. Unfortunately, my name was not pulled out of the hat to share. While I am disappointed, I’m happy to have this venue to share what would have certainly been the best story of the night!
“Beauty and the Voice”.
Recently some friends and I were discussing movies that are different when you see them a second time – movies with a ‘twist’ at the ending: once you know the ending, watching the movie a second time is an entirely difference experience because you see the clues you missed the first time around. When watching Sixth Sense for a second time – you may find yourself yelling to Bruce Willis – Hey Dummy, you are DEAD!
The winter and spring of 2013, I missed a lot of clues that in retrospect were pretty obvious. Granted, I had been distracted by my own emergency appendectomy and the arrival of my beautiful twin grand-daughters . My youngest daughter turned 16 that spring – her nickname is Guzzy; the name my Alzheimer’s stricken mother came up one day when vainly trying to remember her correct name, and it stuck.
When I looked at Guzzy that spring I saw a beautiful and intelligent young woman. However, she did not see her own beauty… This is what she saw, and ‘heard’ when she looked into a mirror:
You are ugly, you are sad, pathetic and FAT!
At this point in her life, Guzzy had yet to tip the scales in triple digits. I later learned that her goal was to get so thin that she could wrap her fingers around the largest part of her thigh; yet even once she achieved that horrific milestone– the voice in her head telling her that she was ugly and fat only got louder.
At the time, Guzzy told me she was eating at school; she told her friends she was eating at home. The truth was… she wasn’t much of anything at all – mostly dill pickles and celery drenched in mustard. She would bake treats almost every day to take to school – which fooled her brain into thinking she had eaten, because she had touched, smelled and ‘experienced’ the food in every way other than consuming it. She would watch cooking shows obsessively, all while pacing or jiggling at the edge of her seat – making sure she burned calories even while ‘relaxing’. The cold spring made it easier for her to mask her alarming weight loss with baggy full coverage clothes.
Despite all these clues, I didn’t connect the dots. No one smacked me in the head and said “Dummy – she’s starving herself”! While I knew something I was wrong, I was gobsmacked with the diagnosis of severe anorexia. This led to a terrifying summer of hospitalizations, doctors, meal plans, therapies and a crash course on eating disorders.
Her diagnosis led me to ponder: What is beauty? We live in a highly appearance-oriented and judgemental culture that is toxic to positive self-esteem and positive body image. I have since talked to young women who have been complimented on their thinness up to and (incredibly) DURING their admission to the hospital to save their lives from starvation. These impossible and unhealthy standards of beauty are cruel and dangerous.
At the end of the summer in 2013, Guzzy continued to decline. Knowing that 20% of those with her diagnosis do not survive, we admitted her on an emergency basis to an intensive in-patient program in Minneapolis. She received talking therapy, aroma therapy, massage therapy, dog therapy, bunny therapy, baby niece therapy, puzzle therapy, and the most important medicine of all – Food!
After almost 4 weeks of hospitalization, we saw glimmers of her former self and she was out of immediate danger. She was released to my care; I was on leave from work and she was on leave from school. It was my job to feed her and it was her job to eat.
I read countless books aloud to distract her from the very real pain of eating; we played cards and did puzzles together for hours on end. There was a memorable afternoon when after eating yet another mandatory snack, Guzzy looked down in her lap, and looked up wide-eyed and announced “I Have Cleavage”! That was a good day!
Yes, my beautiful girl was slowly emerging from her Eating Disorder haze into a healthier and stronger version of herself. For her 17th birthday that spring we we went to one of the most beautiful places on earth: Hawaii!! We were surrounded by beautiful nature: miles of beaches, ocean vistas, we saw a breeching humpback whale and sea turtles on the beach. But by far, the most beautiful sight of that trip was this:
My gorgeous daughter wearing a swimsuit, sitting on a blanket at the beach while happily munching on a bag of potato chips. Now THAT, my friends, is true beauty!