At three in the morning at some point during the winter of freshman year, Pizza House was just a quick, frostbitten walk away. I had avoided this destination many times before, but now I was swept up by the masses to this greasy heaven for the buzzed. I see the archway to the establishment and shudder at what will become of me tomorrow, a month from now, years away. Visions of weight gain creep through my mind in between shrieks of excitement from the night.

My group of eight friends, most of whom I begged to go back to the dorms with me, dramatically ogle pizzas and shakes on the menu. I think, “Oh god. What am I going to order? I can’t not order anything, because no one likes that person. I can’t order any of the things everyone else wants to order because then I will lose all control and become a giant blueberry.” I hear my mother in the back of my head warning about how anything eaten past 4 p.m. just turns to fat.

As the waitress skillfully makes her way around the loud, crowded table, I begin to sober up. I see my aunt who is constantly struggling with her weight in between Diet Cokes and donuts; she ended up alone, living with her parents. My other aunt got a divorce after having kids because her husband couldn’t take her changing body. My grandmother always told me how crucial keeping your weight down is. My father recalls with pride when my mother was able to lose 25 pounds in two months for her sister’s wedding. 

I hoped to avoid any conversation about the appearance of my body with my family by upholding the routine set for me by my mother before I went to college. I would avoid all food past 4 p.m. and put all sweets and carbs under intense scrutiny before consuming. Above all else, for the love of God, no late-night eating. 

Throughout my teenage years, I attended ballet class and rehearsal from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day. One night, I came home, sweaty and exhausted from the day. I picked out a peach in the kitchen and collapsed on the couch to enjoy it. My mother was also on the couch.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Eating a peach. I’m hungry.”

“It’s only going to turn to fat, you know.”

“I’m hungry. I’ve been sweating and exercising for the past five hours.”

“Then drink water.”

I didn’t budge. I took a bite and felt the juice run down my chin. She glared at me.

“Throw it away.” She said. I didn’t move. 

“What? Do you want to be obese like Aunt Ann? It’s in your genetics. You’re already halfway there anyways. I’m just trying to help you. Throw it away!” She said. 

What was I doing sabotaging myself? Didn’t I want to be beautiful? Didn’t I want to find a husband that would love me? No one could truly love someone fat. And then there was my career to worry about. I wanted to be an actress. It would be significantly more difficult to get a job if I gained weight. My father would be disappointed in me. I began to cry, but I threw the peach away. 

As my mother’s screams echoed in my mind, I remembered all the other times we would go out to dinner, and she would mock me for whatever I chose, even if it was the salad, because she had the discipline to not eat anything, meanwhile I would have to work off the croutons at the gym later. 

As the waitress made her way to me, I panicked. I had never eaten so late in my life, let alone at a place where everything was forbidden. 

“And what would you like?” She asked. 

“I’ll have a cup of fruit and some water, please.”

Everyone at the table went silent. Everyone else had gotten towering, extravagant milkshakes. 

“I’ll just split the pizza with you guys.”

“Just get a shake. They’re so good here. It will be worth it, I promise.” My friend urged me.

I could hear my mother warning me against it. I would never be loved, only pitied. I would never be successful. 

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll have the smallest chocolate shake you have.”

Well, that was the end to those voices of shame in my mind. Upon completion of my drink, I floated back to my dorm. Everyone was full and blissfully unaware of whatever we ate at the restaurant. I went to ballet the next morning and looked the same. 

A couple months later, I met a boy who I was blindingly in love with. He was a senior and a stoner, but also a connoisseur of ordering the most extravagant and delicious things at restaurants. The first time I spent the night, he suggested we go grab some food at around one in the morning. Fleetwood Diner smelled like burned butter and burgers. He ordered us milkshakes, fries, hippy hash, sandwiches and pancakes. I could feel the voice of my mother screaming as she melted into nothing in the back of my mind. 

I ate more than he did. We ate and ate and ate, and laughed, and ate until I was in a food coma. We would work it off later, anyways. I was getting used to this whole late-night eating thing. It looked good on me, too. I filled out my jeans and bras. I developed cute little cheeks people could pinch, and above all else, I was really, really happy. 

I enjoyed the time I spent with my friends more at restaurants. I enjoyed the time after eating; I enjoyed indulging in it. 

I remember going back home after the first year and giving my mom a hug. I never realized how frail she was. We were the same weight, but I felt like I had to be very gentle with her. 

Now, I’m a senior and have figured out how to balance my eating habits. Through both a nutrition class and learning how to enjoy life more, it seems strange to recall all the times my mom projected those toxic values onto me. She is a good person — I don’t want to put my mom completely on blast — it’s just a difficult world to live in as a woman. She came into her womanhood as anorexia was being glorified in the media. Women still live in a world of unattainable beauty standards. In a world of implants and photoshop, it’s easy to get lost comparing yourself to others. However, it really doesn’t bother me much. I think what’s most important is how you feel instead of how you look. Thankfully, I have amazing friends who always make me feel beautiful.

Funnily enough, when I was approached to do this article, it was very late and I was on my way to a friend’s 21st birthday. I stayed for the cake. 

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