Dear Skinny Girl In My Chemistry Class,
Hi. My name’s Jess. I’m afraid I don’t know your name. Or the colour of your eyes, or your face, or even how you are at Chemistry. But I’ll tell you what I do know: I know you are thin.
I could describe to anybody who was interested how skinny your legs are. I could take a rough guess at the circumference of your wrist and I’ve spent a good proportion of my time trying to estimate your height. So I can estimate your BMI, see. Estimating your weight takes up even more time.
I could probably be doing gas calculations or enthalpy cycles or, you know, things to do with my course and my future- but it’s hard. It’s hard when you are sitting right there and all I can think is that you’re looking at me and thinking ‘look at you. You think you’re anorexic? Look at me: I’m thin. You are not.’ I tend to guess that you haven’t eaten today and probably never will because I cannot imagine you with food inside of that almost obscenely flat stomach.
Skinny Girl, I know you’d be confused because we’ve never really talked, but I think about quite a lot. Well, not just you: sorry, Skinny Girl In My Chemistry Class, but you’re not the only one. Take a seat next to Emaciated Girl From The Library and That Girl Who Only Ever Drinks Diet Coke At Lunch.
I’m sorry for staring at you. I often joke that I spend way more time looking at girls’ legs than the guys do. I am practising the all-important art of comparison: aka, how can I make myself feel bad next?
And I’m aware, Skinny Girl, that it isn’t fair to call you Skinny Girl. I’m aware that this entire letter isn’t fair. That’s why I’m writing it here, on this site, to show what anorexia does to the brain. It makes me want to stalk you, to try and find out if you’re anorexic or ill or naturally thin or a figment of my imagination. I’m aware, Skinny Girl, that when I say that your boniness is mocking me, that that is illogical.
You have a name. I don’t know it, but I know you have it. I bet you have a favourite animal. I bet you had a toy you always played with when you were younger, a career you’d love to pursue if you had the time and skills, maybe a recurring dream that you’ve grown used to. You get up and go to bed and use the bathroom and do real, human things, because you are a real human being.
But this, this is what eating disorders reduce us to. When you look at people through eating disordered glasses, you see them in 2D. You note the curve of their hips or the jut of their spine and that is all. It’s difficult to look past your bones, Skinny Girl, because they’re all I ever damn well notice.
So I am writing this letter to say sorry. I extend this apology to every person I treat this way: eyeing you up as though you’re a piece of meat that doesn’t exist on my radar except as ‘potential competition’.
And I’m sorry for me too. I’m sorry that I have to make myself hurt every time I see somebody like you. It’s sad that every underweight person I see gives that voice in my head more material for its scathing commentary on my day to day activities. I’m sad for both of us, Skinny Girl.
I’m never going to show you this because, to be blunt, this isn’t even really about you. It’s about me- about all of us. About how the disorder drives us to look at weight, weight and nothing but weight. About how it flags up the tiniest person in the room in order to create a mental ‘spot the difference!’ for us. About how pointless and futile it is, and how just plain wrong it is. Maybe one day I’ll talk to you and find out a little more about you. Maybe one day I’ll stop caring what you do or how much you weigh. For today, Skinny Girl In My Chemistry Class, all I can say is that I can’t help this right now, no: but by acknowledging that these comparisons are not healthy and it’s not okay, I’m taking away a little bit of its power. Week by week, day by day, glance by glance.