t”s hard to say where it starts.

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty<br><br>Neurotica

Does it start with a toddler scrunching up her round little face, unhappy with the way this pointy pair of shoes pinches at her toes? Does it start when her definition of “beauty” hitherto snowflakes or smiles or anything else that sparkled shatters in the face of hot makeup tips from her first Seventeen magazine? When the same black-hearted reptile who gave Weight Watchers and Baskin Robins adjoining spaces in the plaza opens a Lane Bryant right next to Petite Sophisticate at the mall, adding humiliation to insult and injury? When the kid down the block calls her “Hunka Chunk” and even her friends think it”s funny?

It”s hard to say.

But where it started quickly becomes unimportant. There”s something intoxicating about the formerly snug jeans fighting a losing battle with gravity, the wide-eyed amazement of former tormentors (and friends), the evaporation of the second chin, the lightheaded feeling you get whenever you stand up. Something that makes you forget. Something that makes (twice) daily dates with the bathroom scale seem reasonable and celery sticks seem like food. You say exactly what you think at all times, no longer concerned they”ll slap you with a garish fat girl stereotype or flip their hair at you dismissively. You”re not afraid of the camera, the mirror or the basketball court anymore. You”re not afraid of anything.

Except one thing. OK, two.

One: You have a paralyzing fear of gaining it all back. God, what if you slipped a little and one day you woke up and your cute little jeans were too tight? What then? Before you knew it, you”d be the size of a hippopotamus again and all your effort would be for naught. People would refer to your thinness in the past tense and describe you as “big” again and shake their heads piteously whenever they saw you eating a cookie. Again. A fate worse than death.

Two: No one must find out. You know you”ve been weird about food lately, but everything”s under control. They don”t need to know. They”d be disappointed in you. They”d think you were stupid or crazy. Or weak.

But they have nothing to be concerned about. You don”t look like a zombie, like the “before” pictures of those girls on daytime talk shows with titles like “I Was a Teenage Werewaif” who were 98 pounds at 5-foot-9 and who doctors had to feed intravenously for two years. You”re not half as unfortunate as Calista Flockhart”s bones jutting out of her backless dress at the Emmys, screaming “I have a problem” to an adoring public forced to take her word for it when she said it was natural. You eat. You”re fine.

Except you”re not fine and you know it.

Calista knows it too, but she”s in an even bigger pickle than you are. If she unzips her psyche for all the world (and herself) to see, she risks falling into the abyss of Celebrities with Pet Causes, home to every famous person who”s ever had a terrible illness or addiction they”d expect her to speak publicly about things she had trouble dealing with in the dark. Should she recover, gaining a merciful 20 or 30 pounds and (eventually) the self-confidence to share her story with others, she might lose the next starring role to someone who keeps her big mouth appropriately shut at the podium as well as at the dinner table.

Hollywood does not want to hear that its ideal is unattainable it wants to hear Jennifer Aniston”s “success” story and sell it to insecure women everywhere for $12.99 with a recipe book and a bottle of low-carb salad dressing included at no extra charge.

If it”s hard to say where it starts, it”s harder to say where it ends. Sometimes you get lucky and your friend or your mom won”t let you sink that low cold bedpans and prickly IV needles never enter into your daily life. After a while, your size and your sense of self-worth stop being inversely proportional. You start to like yourself a little. You hurl the bathroom scale out a second floor window. Smile as it shatters.

Note the irony.

Laugh at yourself. Cry because some people aren”t so lucky. Teach little girls how to make paper snowflakes out of fashion magazines. Add glitter. Write about it in the second person.

The end may be a long way off, but you”ve got to start somewhere.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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