(This is not how I have felt for a long time, it is the memory of how I felt at 16. A life-time ago. I do not as a psychotherapist, work with anorexics, because I myself wasn’t cured of my body-dysmorphia by therapy, and don’t have the answers. Some say it’s a privileged middle class vanity choice. I would ask those who do, to consider it’s a disease of silent pain).

The mirror

is not my friend

those who are, say: It’s okay to be vain, you’re only 16

I think it’s not (okay) but am (anyway) (vain, or just fragmented) (maimed without blood loss)

maybe it’s my attempt at control

self-hate ingrained like splinter worming

its way to my (thinning) bones

or the fornication with Western society

who told girls to be a certain shape

or else

I admired the girl who didn’t give a damn

in fact, years later, I married her

with her jutted out lip and her; ‘fuck your stinkin ideals of beauty’ scars

more brevity in her bottle than a whole keg of Veuve Clicquot

tossing affronts like knives she mouthed the word; connerie !

Her teeth sharp and bloody with the feathers of her sublime rage

she didn’t give a damn if someone found her disgusting or delectable

those were the concerns of painted faces, she said

licking mine

but at 16 I didn’t know better and I didn’t know her

I was a gymnast, a swimmer, a long distance runner

I ate emptiness for breakfast and kept my body moving so I wouldn’t

think about it

I knew girls who measured themselves before gym class and lamented stretchmarks

in modeling they inspected you like a slab of something only approaching worth

if blemish free, otherwise marred

our value tied to the mold of our thighs, whether 16 years had left their mark

the stink of the slaughter, a mockery

I tried to emulate, fit-in, get lost, something appropriating that sought after


maybe abnormal was my default

desperately I wanted to hang with the straight girls, you know the ones

who seem effortless even as you know they spend hours blow-drying their hair

while I, didn’t know why I was so badly hewn for this kind of pantomime

at least I never did get that perm or wax, at least I never did

push em up for you, or shave it off for their

approval, no sweaty hand gratified by my self-butchery

my vanity was in my head, lodged like a cough candy

every time I worried, it grew, until I coughed and lost my way

I wanted to control

that gnarling feeling inside, I didn’t know what it was

until later when it introduced itself, Year ll University

Location: Empty dorm room at night: Hello, I’m Depression and PTSD, and you’re queer as fuck

the slick girls didn’t admit to mental illness or damage

imperfection or prematurely ruined souls

they only wanted to kiss other girls over martini’s and boyfriends

if their relative had pawed them, they never said

the lip-gloss on their abundant smiles, no clue

they did drugs on Friday night and blew their boyfriends neatly

their tits were perky, their hymens long gone, still they seemed to smell

of roses

whilst I fumbled to stay upright, thick glasses, thin ego, a plethora of

self-hate, for a gymnast the simplest thing in the world

starve, purge, starve, vanish

our shadow group met at kitchen tables, we’d measure out

the pittance we consumed, swap recepies for dying

braided carpets with our falling hair, the mannequins

in the mirror mocked us, as we envied each other’s failing

health and not for one moment considered a future

such was our tenuous hold

it seemed normal to be proud of subterfuge

like collecting swim badges and sewing them into our skin

but the loneliness within me found something to embrace

in the feeling of an empty stomach and a sense I could control

something; anything, not me, not the tachycardic complaint of my

badly nourished existence

with time I began to climb out of the sorrow

recapture my former love affair with eating

not seeing the distortions quite as badly

every time I passed a shop window the shadows

would ask me: Are you an ex-dancer is that why

you are so thin? And I would laugh and throw my head back

like I’d worked for anything other than loss

years later when I became (really) sick, it struck me

as no little irony I threw up again

as a result of the sickness

I could hear my mother’s voice in my head;

that’s what you get for what you did. SINNER

even as I knew, it had nothing to do with it

there stayed, that lingering doubt

like a rain cloud on your wedding day

causing me to quietly blame

the broken parts of my psyche

who tried to starve out the pain

of sexual abuse, because back then

we didn’t talk about those things or why we

couldn’t seem to find a way to survive

unless we cut it out

we just wanted to have small waists

and empty eyes to fill with artificial light

so we could dress up and look like Prince

and dance beneath the purple electric

burning out all savage hurt

long enough to forget why we

woke up every day crying

missing something lost that

had never yet been


25 Replies to “Nervosa”

  1. I read and I hurt for that girl, and I am also grateful that she survived (so many don’t) to write this and so much more, and to become the woman you are.

  2. How did it feel to look back on this and be able to write from such an authentic place about what is still rather taboo in the year 2021? It’s an incredible piece of work, Candice.

  3. This is so, so heartbreaking to me. The way others can help push these ideas and how society would encourage it, it’s beyond appalling. I feel like this piece also calls out the image that society wants women to have. It’s factors like that among other things that cause people to torture themselves, and how could anyone be happy as a result of that? It’s pain and suffering again and again, and that’s just heartbreaking.

    This piece is so honest and raw. Each line, there’s strength and delicacy as each word floats onto the narrative. I’m always in awe of your writing, but this piece hit me so hard as I know others who struggle similarly with body image and comments.

    Much love to you. <3 <3

  4. thank you for writing me and reading this. I hesitated to write on this subject because I know most people condemn those who have had an eating disorder. With my illness in my 40’s being a stomach condition, I also worried people would think I had ’caused it’ or it were connected (dr’s say definitely not). Anorexia is one of those illnesses that people condemn, they think it’s a choice and people who have it are just silly vain girls. I decided if I were too afraid to write about my early experiences that didn’t say much for my advocacy efforts to speak up on subjects much maligned. Thank you for being one of the lights who doesn’t try to extinquish others.

  5. It was very hard. I almost didn’t write it. All this time I have written I have never written on this subject. For me it was the last taboo. People have even said to me ‘how come Black and Mexicans don’t get anorexia and only White people do? Isn’t that proof it’s a disease of privilage?’ I think for anyone who has had an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, it’s really hard because of the shame, secrecy and judgement. If we think it is bad enough with depression and other mental illnesses, or abuse, then what of anorexia? I never worked with anorexics because i felt I couldn’t be objective enough even now, even decades afterward. And when I got sick I blamed myself thinking something I did as a kid caused it (the drs said no way) and I’m certain my mom thought my childhood anorexia caused it as she said ‘was I just anorexic again?’ when I got sick. i understand her jumping to that conclusion, she couldn’t have been more wrong but it’s a stigma that never goes away (she was anorexic too, so it’s probably inherited). In the Jewish culture, there is a rich history of it so obviously there is an inherited aspect, as well as it’s a common side effect of abuse. I personally HAVE known many black and hispanics with anorexia but it’s less talked about and that’s wrong. I’m glad you said it’s still rather taboo as I agree, it’s something that people really use to vilify you and I really worried about and thought it would damage my reputation and then I realized I didn’t care anymore. Anything less would have been a lie. Thank you so much for reading and for commenting, it meant a great deal to me.

  6. Thank you Bob. I really hesitated more than any other subject to write on this, because of the judgement and condemnation and assumptions (false) people make and how you are branded/judged afterward, any time you look thin (it’s that) anytime you don’t want to eat something (it’s that) and with my stomach disease I thought I caused it (dr’s said I didn’t) because of what happened when I was 16 so it never goes away (the shame) but I feel it would be wrong to hide any longer because what good does that to for others to have to face it and me pretend? If you are a person of color you cannot hide your color in front of a racist, I feel the same way about being a queer person or someone who had anorexia as a child. The more we do to unstigmatize, the better. It’s all we can do. We must. THANK YOU for your support. It means a lot.

  7. You’re most welcome. Thank you for writing this piece. Perhaps it’ll help others to take a step forward and obtain the help and eventual healing necessary. *Big hugs*

  8. Like so many other experiences, those who have not been there can only go on a few things. Either they fall back on ideas of will power versus [whatever], ideas of divine retribution, ideas of character defects, or they can really listen to those who have been there and believe them. It goes for invisible illness, racism, sexism, trauma of all sorts. The stories MUST be told, and told, and told.

  9. My dear, my heart aches at what you’ve had to endure but I’m so proud you can express these emotions. Possibly, you are lighting the way for someone else to reflect and maybe alter course in their own life. ((hugs))

  10. I had such a hard time writing this because of the shame society puts on people who have experienced this, even decades before. thank you for your support. It means so much. I want to be congruent which means being honest. xo

  11. I wish others felt as you (and I) do about telling versus keeping things to themselves. Not to condemn someone who does keep things to themselves, but those who condemn people who speak out – they’re not doing any good to anyone.

  12. I can understand so please, please always share your truth, dear friend! <3 You will help create a more open world!

  13. So, so true. Even without the condemnation, the telling so often comes terribly hard for many, even in therapy where it is supposed to be safe.

  14. Exactly. Therapy should be safe. I really wish it were for more.

  15. Thank you so much for being the kind of friend anyone would be so damn lucky to have

  16. Always my pleasure to speak my truth! 😉 Thank you. I’m always grateful that our paths crossed when they did!

  17. I was older than 16, I had a child of my own, I sis not want to be seen, I did not want to cope. Somehow I did somehow I do.
    You write so clearly about this. 💜

  18. I am sorry because it is a very wicked insidious disease and people can be so cruel, I hope somehow that didn’t happen to you but I know it often does and my heart goes out to you because I know how that feels. I decided it would be incongruent not to write about it even if it was ages ago, to try to stand up for those who suffer, so they don’t feel shamed or erased xo Thank you my friend and another thing that links us and we have in common xo

  19. I felt it was time to get real and speak for others. Thank you so much for reading dearest D.

  20. It is behind me now but a sphector that can still lurk even at my age. I have written about it at length and it’s dotted about in my earlier work as is mental illness. I hope we can all help others by sharing how we coped and how we felt so others do not feel alone. Take care 💜

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