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Written by Aspen Taylor.

Once I was thin. Very thin. Perhaps not “abnormally,” but noticeably so. Enough that women pointed it out to me as a little girl. When I was 10, one of the mothers of my closest friends advised me to “put some meat on those bones.” I’m not sure how she meant it, exactly —  whether as advice or humor remains unclear. I’m sure she does not remember it, but it always stuck with me. I felt singled out, naked, so waned that the winds siphoned through my translucent young limbs. 

I was thin for most of my adolescence and, mainly, it served me well in a thin-worshipping society; a culture alienating of round-bellied, full-faced girls. It meant I grasped onto childhood for longer. Heavier girls were confronted with a certain glint of the eye, one of hunger and doubt, of suspicion and disgust. Girls who grew voluptuous early on were isolated into sexual and social prisons of colossal invention; mocked or scolded more easily, denied their girlhood — their innocence — more rapidly. When I was thin, I was safe from the ensnarement of womanhood that loomed with every new period in the bathroom stalls, or every dark gaze of male eyes. 

But the safety had pitfalls; deep unfeeling ruptures I came to accept as reality for a long time. I was young, small, and petrified of the surrounding world, one that became more clairvoyant and massive, relentless and ruthless as I grew older.

My thinnest years were also my most anxious.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, the butterflies in my belly began; butterflies so vile and unnerving I would throw up spasmodically — outside the car window, in my best friend’s front yard, in front of the football stands. They began with a boy I loved mercilessly, yet to whom I was nameless. While initially, the love was fresh and thrilling, it came to vanquish me, severing the wings of my body against the realities of womanhood. A recipient of animalistic male desires. 

Most butterflies fade, but these persisted well past the dissolution of my boylove. These butterflies transformed into immediacy, perpetuity, crucifixion; they tormented the blood, denied nourishment and intimacy, hollowed the face, dampened the eyes. In photographs, I seem helpless; a glaze of anxious fervor swelling just beneath my love-starved eyes. I developed disordered eating. I was eventually diagnosed with severe anxiety. 

My thinnest years were also my most anxious. Bony and 14, I could hardly eat my lunch at school, surrounded by friends, for fear of spontaneous regurgitation. I avoided boys like a virus —  they seemed alien, coldhearted, and predatory. My liberty writhed and shriveled beneath their oblivious gazes. After all, it was a boy who inaugurated this year of bad butterflies; who robbed my initial freedom, just as it had begun to bud open. It was he who roused something within me, devouring my blossoming year into an existence of day by day by day survival —  a bled-white face, a nervous laugh, a body diminishing into itself. 

A fear of boys became a fear of womanhood became a fear of food became a fear of leaving the house.

At my worst, I was sick every few days, throwing up in the garbage, on the carpet, all over myself. The mention of a boy’s name could send me to the bathroom stall, throwing up my breakfast. I was debilitated, depressed, and incapable of liberating myself, as all the cool girls did, from a cycle of fear. A fear of boys became a fear of womanhood became a fear of food became a fear of leaving the house. I longed for the lives my friends were living as young women — curled eyelashes and new boyfriends, first kisses and first joints, parties and football and sleepovers absolved of apprehension, regret. 

My junior year of high school, in the time of my very first boyfriend, the anxiety trickled into the last absent realm: sleep. When I could no longer sleep, when the sensations thrummed and melted into insomnia, I knew I couldn’t continue on. It was time to confront that which I had most feared: medication.

It was the only thing left to try. I had been through three rounds of therapy, undergone blood tests, swallowed shame, endured misunderstandings, and lived with it all. When I was prescribed anxiety medication as a freshman, I cried my way out of it. Now I was ready to confront the final remedy. 

Arm fat, belly fat, face fat —  I could never decide if I was intrigued or repulsed.

The doctor prescribed medication and after a month, it finally quelled the ceaseless hum — the anxieties. But it came with a side effect that, over the course of many months, appeared in the shape of my body. I gained weight. 

This metamorphosis bloomed in multitudes of resentment, loneliness, affection, and confusion. Love was undone and spilling over the hem of my skirt. Arm fat, belly fat, face fat —  I could never decide if I was intrigued or repulsed. My newly medicated body felt misshapen, grotesque, and wholly undesirable. 

Weight salvaged the thin, loveless disrepair of that teenage girl.

Yet the weight, as it arrived, slowly resolved the aching fragility of my early adolescence. My body was long an idyllic deprivation, yearning for a taste of the sky in someone else. It was a contradiction of slim proportions, a deep unhappiness, a great exhaustion. The weight allowed consciousness to ensue, as it flowered in the fallow breadth of my being, ripening, livening, vivifying a body long reduced to shadow and dust. It was a renewal, a shedding of oneself, a burgeoning of warmth and softness, an expansion of my spirit, an armor, a meadow, a homeland. Slowly this vessel became my own, no longer seeping fear, no longer leaking misused love. Weight salvaged the thin, loveless disrepair of that teenage girl. The wings were resurrected, dreaming. 

Once I was thin. Very thin. Perhaps beautifully so. Perhaps I was a beautiful nobody, secreting a divinity I couldn’t inhabit. Someone else’s beautiful. But there was little beauty in an existence devoid of self. Those butterflies were the gasp of a body in need of acknowledgment. At last, I have broken from that cocoon. 

Aspen Taylor is a 19 year old writer, poet, and visual artist currently pursuing a degree in Cinema and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. Her work explores femininity, gender fluidity, and the nature of love. You can support her future artistic endeavors at PayPal.Me/aspentaylor12.