Musings with Marie-Line
Hi everyone! I’m Marie-Line, and I’m from Maryland!
I banter because…I’ve struggled with anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia for many years of my life, and writing and reading about other people’s experiences with eating disorders has been essential in helping me to heal.
A bit about me: I grew up in a Russian-Haitian household and the pressure to be an ideal daughter and student drove me to hold myself to unrealistic, and at times culturally foreign, standards. It is difficult to see oneself outside of a societal gaze but it is always possible. I’ve learned that recovery has to be a constant part of one’s life if it is to really succeed.
Have questions for me? Let me know below:
How family shapes body-image: a self reflection
Feb 17, 2019
For most of my life, being born of a white mom and black dad, I have resembled neither. I went to sleep as a child always wishing to wake up thinner, and, as most little girls desire, to resemble my mom. In my mind, it was much easier to survive in this world as a slightly chubby boy rather than a slightly chubby girl. And thus, I needed to be thinner.
It is shocking to think that as a five-year-old, I had already learned to distinguish among body types, and further, to the implied ways in which one is treated. I did not realize until much later that the thighs and body I had were always going to be the thighs and body I had. Acceptance, I learned, is a gradual process that is often realized through periods of deep emptiness, tribulations, and questioning.
Acceptance, I learned, is a gradual process that is often realized through periods of deep emptiness, tribulations, and questioning.
My mom, who at the age of 35 moved from Moscow to D.C., was, to put it plainly, very, very Russian. She spoke with a prominent accent, wore nightly hair curlers, and cooked borsche at all hours of the day. She raised me as one would a Russian child, and thus ingrained in me, among other things, a Russian perception of the female body. This perception included sprints around a track course at 6am before school, and every afternoon, a four-to-five-hour tennis practice. I eventually adopted her strict rules and expectations about most things in life, including school work and diet. She liked to say that I would be beautiful if I just lost a few more pounds, and eventually, I thought the same.
Regardless of her incessant vocalizing of the thinner girl I should be, my thighs wouldn’t listen… and they expanded, and expanded, and expanded. I was never fat, but in comparison to the thin, cellulite-less legs my mom had, I was. I was tired of having the emptying thoughts of never enough. I wanted to fill the mold of the child my mom seemingly never had. And thus, at 13, I made a pact: I didn’t eat cake, I cut out dairy and carbs, and in the end, I lost too much weight.
Even then, once I had succeeded in making myself as small as possible, I was unable to truly see myself and celebrate this so-called victory. It seemed my body was not the answer to feeling enough, but at that point I knew nothing else.
I visited family in Russia and learned that no matter how drastically I changed, I could not be like them. My grandma and aunts lovingly force-fed me dumplings at every corner, thinking perhaps that my body was as adaptable as theirs to a carb-heavy diet. But the thinness they desired and seemingly naturally acquired, was a much more trying effort for me.
Still, I ate…and then, I spiraled. I was consumed by food, its presence, the lack of it, its quantity, its components. Everything regarding food became an obsession. My skin color was already a defining difference between myself and the Russian side of my family. And I thought, perhaps, that if I was smaller and thinner, I might magically transform into “one” of them. Food, or really a refusal of it, filled my desire to belong. For years after that first visit, I switched from one eating disorder to another, falling deeper and deeper into a seemingly never-ending abyss.
It is strange to be disembodied by the very people whom you embody. But still, I should note that it wasn’t purposeful. It was not my mother’s intention to infuse in me the self-hate that stemmed from her side-ways comments; she simply wanted to avoid the inevitable taunting a chubby-kid would get at school, or further, the hate and prejudice one faces as an overweight individual in society. She, as a young teen, was also chubby, and similarly woke up at 6am to run, and do sit-ups…and run again. She passed on to me what she had been taught. I realize now that as I was suffering to be her, she was suffering to be someone else.
The thought that one is not enough is an easily absorbable one. It devours the individual’s mind, and sometimes even the individual’s body. It is a thought that permeates gender, race, generations, and class. It is a thought so pervasive and hidden that a parent might even teach it to their children.