What a Former Anorexic Knows about Beauty

It doesn't come in the form of a box of hair dye or a number on a scale.

I found beauty in a world across the ocean when I was three.

I would stand by the wire fence for hours, the red dirt between my toes, staring at my ebony neighbors whose smiles were like the crescent of the moon.

My parents were missionaries in Nigeria and Congo. Mom knitted afghans with the women while Dad taught the men to farm.

Mom's laundry hung from the line, drying stiff in the sun, and the air smelled like the mangoes that littered the ground. Mom stewed them and slid them into glass jars that lined the window.

Our neighbors waved at me in their colorful print dresses, and their children ran to me and hugged me, their hair thick like rope and their eyes like water, and I pinched my skin trying to make myself black like them because black was beauty, and Africa was my home.

Even though I'd stopped speaking when we moved to Africa in my 18th month, I had a voice there that sung and laughed and carried across the yard. I tucked all the colors and the sounds and the smells in my heart like folded napkins and carried them home when we left, just after I turned four. A long flight back to a world of white.

White snow, white skin, and I found my words on the other side of the ocean, but my neighbors no longer liked me staring at them. They made faces at me and stuck up their middle fingers, so I started looking at my feet a lot, and my words came out in whispers like a snuffed candle.

We moved so often that I had no friends, and eventually, I stopped eating.

I was good, the pastor's daughter. The one who did what she was told, who was seen and not heard, who did her homeschool and practiced piano and read while most kids were outside playing with their friends. We moved so often that I had no friends, and eventually, I stopped eating.

Because eventually, the words catch up with you.

The ones you haven't been able to say, the ones lodged in your throat.

And your throat is so full of words that you can no longer swallow the food your mom piles onto your plate, and it starts slowly, the anorexia: it starts with saying no. And the no feels good.

And then one day, you're thirteen and lying on a hospital bed in a white room. And the nurses, they're astounded because you're purple from hypothermia and you weigh 60 pounds and they say you should be dead.

And those words, they somehow find their way to the edge of your mouth, and you say, "Why? Why am I still alive?"

And God hears those words, so you pick up your fork and eat.

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