Thunder Thighs and Cellulite: When is Enough, Enough?

For a couple of months now, I, along with literally thousands of others, have been following the story of my friend Jamie, who collapsed early in December and was found completely unresponsive by her husband. What we learned over time was that Jamie actually had a heart attack and by all accounts was considered dead. Her mother-in-law helped resuscitate her, she was brought back through life support, and since then, she has made a huge rebound despite having a major brain injury that requires her to have constant care and made her lose many of her basic skills.

Jamie was one of my close friends throughout junior high and high school. She was a constant face among our group of friends who all got pretty decent grades, never got into any trouble, and who typically got along with everybody in the school. However, the one issue Jamie struggled with was this: she developed an eating disorder when we were in high school. It was something we all knew about and frequently tried to help her overcome.

When I initially learned about what had happened to Jamie, and when I saw that the heart attack might have come due to an abnormal balance of electrolytes and potassium in her system, the first thing that came to my mind was her eating disorder. I immediately associated her situation with what killed Karen Carpenter; a explanation from Wikipedia describes exactly what I mean.

On February 4, 1983, less than a month before her 33rd birthday, Karen suffered heart failure at her parents’ home in Downey, California. She was taken to Downey Community Hospital, where she was pronounced dead twenty minutes later. The Los Angeles coroner gave the cause of death as “heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalancesassociated with anorexia nervosa.”

As I talked to my long-time bestie Kim about what had happened to Jamie, she said she thought the very same thing. And though her husband hadn’t said anything that would give an indication that I was right, it’s what my gut kept telling me. It was a post from her husband on Sunday that confirmed my fears.

I think now it’s almost part of a problem that I wished had died on December 2nd … Her eating disorder and depression are coming back faster than a lot of other areas. It honestly makes me well up to think about it as she’s sleeping so soundly, but she’s more worried about her tummy in the mirror and “wanting to scale” than she is about nearly anything else … this horrible self image that already killed her once wants to keep its claws in somehow … every bit of me thought that this was that all powerful reset that would change these destructive behaviors … A severe eating disorder is as dangerous as a heroin addiction. Jamie knows she can’t vomit up her meals or work herself out until she collapses from exhaustion and decides to eat nothing tomorrow. Those decisions aren’t hers anymore. We need to push the fruits and healthy balanced meals and exercise and we ARE … but I can’t fix her poor self image no matter how hard I’ve tried for 14 years … I’m screaming for help and want this documented so that when our daughters decide that their waistline is more important than their lifeline they can understand that a person’s obsession with the superficial can and will kill them … I will win this war I believe. She has too much to be so proud of … if she only understood how far she’s come.

Jamie is 6′. She is currently well under 120 pounds. And it is sickening to me to think that despite the fact that it’s taking instruction and lots of practice to remember how to use a straw, she remembers that she “should” be ultra-thin.

How fitting that today, Shape Magazine posted a link on Facebook about celebrities who were criticized for their curves. Some of the world’s most beautiful women are being told they’re “too fat,” “too muscular,” “too curvy,” or that  cellulite was spotted on someone’s thighs.

In my own life, I was repeatedly called Thunder Thighs when I was a size 2. In my 20s, when I was a size 8, I was told not to wear shorts or skirts, because they were unflattering because of my weight. After shedding several pounds a few years ago when I was running 6-8 miles a day to deal with the stress and heartache that were in my life, I heard the words, “Now that you’re skinny…” as an argument for why men might suddenly find me attractive. And, of course, when I did shed that weight, a toxic ex-friend talked with my family on two separate occasions — months apart, might I add — about how she believed I was anorexic. It took me giving my life to roller derby in my 30s to embrace the body I was given. And even now, I fret over days I inhale a few extra calories even though I’m considered an athlete.

What will it take to make these damaging words stop? If becoming a Lady Lazarus won’t let a toothpick of a woman escape it, what will? I’m livid today — angry that so many women are made to feel that their bodies have to be perfect by some crazy standards set up by who-even-knows. The reality of it is that as long as you’re striving to be healthy, your body is perfect.

I’m happy to see Jamie’s husband talking about such a serious issue. In fact, the Pantagraph, a newspaper back home, is planning on telling Jamie’s story in a feature during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which is February 26 through March 3. As her husband said, “She knows what it’s done to her and how lucky she is to be alive. If we can keep another young lady from destroying her life with our story, we’d be awful not to.”

I couldn’t agree more. Though I wish the story would end with the people who say terrible things to others being placed on a deserted island where their poison is drowned in the sea. Or bombed by a rogue missile.

A girl with big, muscular thighs and a little bit of cellulite can always dream.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Oh Mel, that is so heartbreaking. I wish we could understand how exactly these disorders take such a hold and find a way to break that hold! So sad. And it makes me want to go knock someone upside the head for ever making you feel bad for your size! Heck when I stopped eating freshman year of high school I never got below a size 13. I started having major health issues and the docs were throwing around words like Multiple Sclerosis and all sorts of things and I just kept on my with destructive behaviors. Thankfully the illness factor never really got it’s claws in me as it did with Jamie. My will power eventually faltered and I started eating again and gained back all the weight I had lost plus quite a bit more. I think I held out about six months and when I was done I had royally jacked up my metabolism. This culture is INSANE and the pressure is creating more and more of these same disorders in younger and younger children! It just breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing your frustrations!

  2. Thanks, Mel, for this. And let’s add to these examinations the idea of age as well, another boulder that society gives us to bear up on our shoulders…a fact as difficult for most people to see around as extra pounds! An important post…thank you!
    -Lynn

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