NEFESH International Publications and Information
I’m washing my hands mindlessly when I look into the mirror. Just out of habit. To stare at that annoying pimple, I guess, or search for blackheads that keep popping up.
Something makes me stop. And stare.
There is something… so symmetrical. I stare, and it is true. It takes my breath away.
That skin is marred by pimples, it is true. Malnourishment and not washing enough and fluctuating body temperature does that.
That hair is messy and frizzy. Malnourishment again. No energy to tame it down, and no mind to care.
If you look close enough, you’ll see facial hair that shouldn’t be there; malnourishment plays havoc with hormones at some point…
But the lines. The bones. The features.
I can’t stop staring. They are beautiful.
I love beautiful things. I don’t need things to be fancy. Simple, elegant, and fine strength– that is what beauty is to me.
It pained me so much to look in the mirror yesterday. I was going out to bring something to a friend and I was afraid she would notice how sick I looked. So I put on makeup, a lot of it. Concealer and blush and mascara and lipstick… But I just couldn’t disguise the shape of my face. My face, it was so thin. My nose looked all big and out of place. The spaces under my eyes were dark and gaping. The face looked misshapen, haunted.
I had not eaten in three days.
I do not remember the last time I did that. It must have been years ago. Pesach was very difficult for me. A lot of things are difficult for me these days. I have been through much trauma, which made my illness worse. The last binge and purge on Isru Chag sent me into a vicious need to lose weight. It was a torment, crying in bed half of the day as I fought the terrible guilt of what I was doing to my body. Hashem gave it to me; how could I do this? How can you do this?
I looked in the mirror, saw the terrible work of my own hands, and paled in my mind. I closed my eyes and bit down on the guilt. There was nothing I could do.
But today I started eating again. Not because I am so “good,” not because I overcame my illness. Simply because I stopped losing weight, and I knew I needed to heal my metabolism. It’s embarrassing to say that. But it’s true.
Today was torture. I think I was in bed all day. I don’t remember much. I remember a lot of crying, and screaming through text at my therapist, and… and… so much screaming inside my mind, screaming about everything. It was hell, that’s all I can say. I was stuck in a bewildered place of hell reserved for those with severe mental illness. I was sure that if I would eat I would lose my mind. I could not get out of bed. I curled up like a baby, and cried inside of me, and dozed off, and daydreamed, and screamed inside me some more, and tried to get up, and lost my mind again, and lay down again.
I finally got that stupid text from my therapist. Saying that the amount I had eaten was best for healing metabolism. I screamed for another hour, and then slowly my brain allowed me to get up.
And I looked in the mirror.
The face staring back at me… is perfect.
It’s the lines that catch the artist in me; the shape of it takes my breath away. So many times have I sat and drawn the perfect girl’s face. This is it, here, now. Oval yet not oblong, with slightly prominent cheekbones. Slightly tweezed brows accentuating the perfect forehead.
Those lips. They are my mother’s, full and beautiful. Th
That nose. It is my father’s, patricianly unremarkable.
Those eyes. Maybe it’s the smudge of shadow left from yesterday’s desperate attempts to show health. But those eyes, they bore down into mine, wide and clear and –so perfect.
I stare and stare, needing to drink my fill. Will it disappear again? For so long I’ve hated my reflection. Starved of either sleep or nourishment, it always looked sick.
I guess I got enough sleep now. I guess I got enough nourishment. I guess that’s all it took to recast the original mold. Oh, Hashem, did you truly cast such a beautiful mold? I did not know; truly I did not know! How beautiful is the work of Your hands!
It takes my breath away, and I can’t stop staring, filled with the sadness of past destruction, the fear of future loss, and the simple magnetic craving to suck in the present perfection.
There is so much that is wrong with this face. It is sad, and it is neglected. People would say I am a mess. Must wash, and clean, and groom.
I don’t care. All I see is beauty.
I’m sitting here, quite still, shivering in the vision of health that shimmers and wavers in my mind.
Tears blur my vision and trickle down my skin.
I am not alone. For thousands of years, we have cried, Shechora ani vinava!
I am black, and I am beautiful … do not show me as black, for I am merely burned by the sun.
In the cut of my limbs, I am perfect.
Oh, Hashem, what have I become? There was so much inside me. You breathed so much life into me, so much potential. I was going to do so much. I was going to change myself. I was going to change the world.
No great deeds for me now. My great deed this week was starving for three days. My great deed today was eating two meals. And there is still one to come, and I shiver inside for fear that I will go insane again.
Oh, Hashem, what has become of me?
Tears are blurring my vision again, as I know the child that was, and the person that still lives inside, and I know the agony of my existence, and the trap that holds my mind and soul.
Do not look at me as black. Please, do not think I am a burned shell, bereft of soul, the crazy person that cries and screams and can’t pull her life together to do anything at all.
I am burned, burned by the fires of a hell that you will never know.
Behind the ugly scars, behind the terrible wounds, behind the gaping holes in my heart and mind that bleed and scream with pain…
Inside, I am here. Every part of me. Every bit of my soul is here, crying inside, weeping with the agony of a cage with flaming walls. You see me do terrible things, but all you see is the external. My soul is still here, simple and elegant and fine and strong.
I am black, so black.
And I am beautiful.
Editor’s note: Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. They frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders or personality disorders. Other symptoms can become life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment.
Help is available. If you recognize your own behavior and symptoms within the deeply personal words the writer has shared, or if you know someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder, please reach out and seek professional guidance. RELIEF Resources can help you locate a licensed therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. They can be reached at 718-434-9501.