When the fun house isn't fun anymore

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 4:02pm

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Illustration by Cara Jhang

CW: body image, body dysmorphia

 

Two gigantic blue doors open to a dark room with punching bags hanging from the ceiling. A purple glow beams off the walls and tints the room with a seductive vibrancy. As I cross the chamber, my arms brush against the heavy bags, causing them to sway as I proceed to the next entryway. When I walk into the following hall I am greeted by a shaking platform, which I cross sturdily and with ease (I am a water skier, and balance is one of my strengths). 

The fun house is full of enchanting and lively rooms, but to me, the one worth most my time is the hall of mirrors. I am stretched up, shrunk down, swirled around by the glass before me, and I watch my reflection transform into something that only requires a sideways shuffle to disappear. 

The mirror that rests on the inside of my closet door at home has an effect too. It does not stretch me, nor does it spin me, but it duplicates me, and creates my ghost with a conscience of its own.

Growing up, I had a good old fashioned mirror that did its job in reflecting my image. It hung against my green wall and its simplicity contrasted with my tie-dye sheets, and the array of arts and crafts materials I left on the floor. I used to wake up in the morning, glance at my face and my brightly colored clothes, then swiftly head out the door with the same unstoppable smile and confidence that I would carry throughout the day. That morning glance was the only instance that I would consider appearance, and so I had the rest of my day to ask questions, sing loudly, and laugh. 

At age fifteen, although I had the same mirror, on the same wall, something began to change.

I still glanced at myself in the mornings, but it took longer. If I tried to walk away, my ghost stepped on my feet and held me in place. If I tried to look away she would guide my neck back around with her strong, firm hands. In the mornings, she spoke quietly, considerate of my exhaustion. When I put on a long sleeve shirt she whispers, That is not your size! Look at your arms! When I put on jeans she snarls, Maybe soon, but not today. Thunder thighs. Baby fat. Double chin. Stomach fat. Gross. So, I would leave for school in sweatpants, fearing her judgement, haunted by her calls.

She gradually learned how to access me. She became more cunning and strategic with her plans. She no longer needed a mirror’s surface to appear. She began to follow me. She became ubiquitous, inescapable. 

In fact, she is here with me now. I can feel her cold breath chilling my neck. 

She is a force of preoccupation. She has become the plot of my existence. She dominates my writing. She dominates my conversations. She seeps into my relationships. She growls when I take risks, demanding that I am unimportant, and that my existence is insignificant.  She keeps me from living freely. Day by day she pulls from my courage, my candidness, my confidence. On occasion she directs my attention away from the mirror, and towards those who surround me. My friends, family, classmates. They are better, she screams. She cackles maliciously. She perpetuates my self doubt, and then proceeds to mock my insecurities. If somebody tells me I am beautiful, she tells me to scroll through Instagram. Look around, she whispers. You don’t look like her. You will never look like that.

She coaxes me towards self depreciation. She is allergic to positivity. She yanks on my braids to irritate me. She reminds me that I am unintelligent, and that if I were to be intelligent, my looks would overcome my opinions. She sneaks into my water. She silences me after I take my first gulp. You speak what you know, not what you believe. You are lazy. 

I imagine how I appear as I speak; how my chin is smashing up against itself. She scolds me and says that it was not worth speaking in the first place. I drew too much attention to myself. As I write sitting down, she presses her fingers up against my back, reminding me to sit up. If I slouch, my bloated stomach will roll up. When I return home she shoves me onto the scale and screams, Ew! The numbers fly off the machine and puncture into my self worth. 

She is in showbiz. She works to impress her audience, and I am the lead role of her play. The highest paying attendees of her show are the men who do not give me the attention I deserve. So she invites them back, and tells me that they will only like me if I eat less. If I wear less. If I talk less. 

I’ve tried to get a new mirror, but I am often afraid that it is too late. She has grown skin and bones, and her heart beats louder than the noise in my head. I have come to understand that killing her will be a daunting task. I have tried to fight her by drowning in sweat at the gym. I have tried to prove her wrong by not putting food on my plate. I have hidden from her under my sheets.

For the past seven years I have been plotting her death. Recently I have assembled a team, and together we are becoming strong enough to crack the mirror. To blur her out. My close friends have become acquainted with her. They see through her games. So does my therapist. So does my sister. So does my mom. So does my mind when I run as fast as I can, or blast music into my ears. She is not invited to my improv shows, or my family dinners. She is shy when I open a book (she doesn’t know how to read). She does not fit in with my friends. 

As I introspect, she weeps. As I meditate, she yawns. The more I trust myself, the harder she is to see. The more I love myself, the more she struggles to breathe. 

Each word I write, each lyric I scream, each step I take, each person I love, she crumbles. I still feel her. She isn’t dead yet. But she is weak. She needs my discomfort, shame and sadness to survive. I am determined to let her starve.

I sit comfortably. I walk with dignity. I live happily. She doesn’t have much time left.