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The Dressing Room Mirror

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People have many different fears: fears of flying or swimming, fears of commitment or rejection, even fears of bugs or frogs. One of my biggest fears is the dressing room mirror, and I know I’m not alone.

Numerous women and men struggle with a bad body image, or how they view themselves in something like a dressing room mirror. Body image can also be defined as that picture of yourself you have floating around in your head. This sometimes pessimistic and critical view of a person can manifest itself in everyday life in many ways, such as feeling self-conscious or anxious in social situations, or wanting to avoid social activities altogether.

However, sometimes a poor body image is handled by extreme, and quite harmful, measures. Skewed and distorted body images can lead to habits like self-starvation, binging, and purging. All of these tendencies are telltale symptoms of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Aside from the physical torment that people put themselves through when they fall victim to these eating disorders, emotional and psychological problems also present themselves. Feelings of depression and self-loathing are all too common among those suffering with eating disorders and a poor body image.

What is even more unsettling is the vast number of people that live this struggle every day. In the United States alone, as many as ten million women and one million men fight a daily battle against an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Out of those 11 million people, I know two of them. One is myself, the other my brother.

In the brutal, cutthroat reality that is high school, I was never really “fat,” I just always felt I could look better. I mean, I was obsessed with Hollywood and the people who resided there. I wanted so much to be like them, so flawless.

However, my breaking point came when the popular boys decided to tease me for wearing skirts to school. I decided that all of the dancing I was doing wasn’t enough to look better, so I slowly and nonchalantly started skipping lunch. I would come up with excuses or bluntly lie, saying that I ate early.

One day, however, my body decided that it wasn’t going to put up with my ridiculous and abusive behavior, so as I was walking to the front of my classroom, I began to feel woozy. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor with a small
gathering of classmates around me.

It didn’t take long for my English and Home Economics teachers to get suspicious, and soon after that the two of them called me into a meeting and got to the bottom of it. I am thankful they did. That struggle was short-lived for me; I was so much more fortunate than most, more than my brother.

All his life he had been on the bigger side of the scale. If it bothered him back then, no one ever knew. He was and still is a very lighthearted person who would rather keep his personal problems, well, personal.

However, the summer before I left for college, things started changing. He started changing. Pound after pound came off, and the skinnier he got, the more praise he was given. My family was so proud of him for getting in shape, and the more positive feedback he received, the smaller he got.

I was proud of him too, until one day. He and I found our way into an explosive argument, in which I screamed at him and called him fat. He turned to me with a look I’ll never forget, and spilled his secret.

He had been nearly starving himself, and what little he did eat, he would throw right back up. In tears, he explained to me that it was the only way to get the weight off, and he didn’t want to let anyone down.

He vehemently refused help, and even after I explained this to my parents, little came of it.

Months went by, and every time I came home to visit, less and less of my brother was there to greet me. I finally had enough when one evening, I walked in the door, walked by him, and mistook him for a friend of his.

I confronted my mother about it, and she simply said he had stopped his self-inflicted abuse. When I inquired as to how she was sure, she just shrugged.
“Well, he told me he wasn’t doing it, so he’s not.”

My hands were tied. I felt there was nothing to do but watch my brother waste away. For the next few months, I just tried to keep my mind far from it.

However as the Christmas holiday came around, my brother and I went to spend it with my dad and stepmother. Almost immediately at the sight of my brother, both my dad and stepmom were alarmed. Completely shocked at the lanky, gaunt skeleton that was my brother, they began questioning me about what I knew.
I explained what had happened a few short months ago, and this led them to take matters into their own hands. My brother was given an ultimatum: stay with my dad and get treated, or go home and see a therapist.

Roughly eight months and 70 pounds later, my brother has received help and counseling, and is back to his happy and hilarious self. Mostly.

Although he has been in recovery for almost a year, he is still feeling repercussions of this extreme physical change. He has been diagnosed with several gallstones, which have been bringing him severe pain. The cause for this? Rapid and extreme weight loss. He will have to have his gallbladder removed in the next two weeks, as well as pay close attention to his diet.

When I asked him why he did it all, his response was simple.

“I was tired of being the fat kid.”

It’s so accurate, isn’t it? We all want to look perfect. We’re all told from the time we can comprehend things that fat is bad and skinny is pretty. Family, friends, media, and almost anything else around us can affect our body image. And nine times out of ten, it’s in a negative way.

This does not have to be the case. There are several things each of us can do to improve our own self-images, as well as the body images of others.

First, be critical of the media. Next time you see one of those beautiful, skinny models on your TV screen or in a magazine ad, take time to think of the editing, retouching, and hours of airbrushing that went into making that girl look a certain way. The same goes for Hollywood; there can’t be movies without a little “magic.”

Next, compliment other people. You might never know when you make a person’s day by simply paying them a compliment. And who knows, you may receive one back when you need it the most.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, love and embrace yourself. I cannot say it enough. Own who you are and celebrate it. Even though that dressing room mirror still gets me down every now and then, I take a breath, I hold my head up, and I love my curves.

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About Frances Mooney