After jogging a mile around the park, I sit relaxing in the shade. I place a hand on my belly starting to develop into a round bump.

“Oh, are you pregnant?” A mother at the park asks me.

“Yes. I’m at the point where I just look pudgy, not pregnant.” There’s an apology in my voice, like I have something to atone for.

Immediately I feel a tug to begin jogging around the playground again, like a lab-rat caught in a maze.

My hands slide along unfamiliar curves on my body. A topography new to me. Fifteen pounds I never took off from the first pregnancy. Fifteen pounds becomes a chant echoing around my thoughts. Fifteen pounds plus more- it’s incessant. The urge to run endless miles burns through my limbs. Limbs heavy, expanding every moment.

This is my mindset. My inner turmoil. Being thin has been my life ambition since I was ten. I don’t want to be this person stuck in a Vogue point-of-view, but my identity is caught up in being thin.

Even pregnant, I struggle with pride over a growing bump and the inevitable weight gain I know I need to sustain this baby. The weight gain threatens to crush me. Eyes closed, arms splayed out, I lay in bed feeling my body thicken. I take deep, calming breaths. Each breath pushes back the panic. Body loosening, I relax. The calm is like a blanket tucked around me.

Eating disorders are like alcoholism. You realize how unhealthy your behavior is, but you’re compelled to continue. You cannot stop. And even after treatment, once you reach the other side, it’s a constant struggle. You have good days and bad days, and always the temptation is present, lurking around the corner.

At age ten, as my body began its clumsy dance with puberty, I went through an awkward phase of growing thighs and butt and breasts. While other girls remained thin, two-dimensional in my mind, I popped out in three-dimensional curves all around. My mother frequently spoke about her pudgy days in grammar school. She did not want me to “go through that.” So, I was placed on a Slimfast diet.

At the time, I thought I was so grown up, slurping down chalky shake drinks. I learned to count calories, loving Mom’s leather folder for her Richard Simmons’s Meal-a-deal cards. I remember studying these, sure I was doing something important.

By eighth-grade, between restrictive meals, exercise and a growth spurt, I was slender. Still curves, but long, lean ones. Swimming and soccer and track helped sculpt my slender frame. In high school, the routine continued. I maintained a healthy appearance despite my eating habits and frequent exercise.

It dawned on me that I was not normal. That others did not think this way.  But I assumed I figured it out sooner than others. I thought I was ahead of the game, sure everyone else would wake up one day, wishing they had been on the same page with me.

It was clear that something was off with me when it came to food and body image. You can only hide something for so long before it tumbles out of the back of the closet. After a stint in a psych hospital for depression, I was diagnosed with anorexia.

Normal is enjoying food without guilt. Normal is not obsessing over every calorie consumed. I have not been normal for years, decades.

I’m told I don’t look like I had a baby. I’m told I’m not overweight. But I can tell the difference. The size fours that no longer slide over my ass. The curves protruding out like buttresses around my body. Now the size sixes refusing to button. Only my thumb and index finger can reach around my wrist and touch at the tips.

You focus on such specific details. The compulsion drives you nuts, but you are moved by some invisible force to pinch and poke and prod.

Staring into the mirror, I can no longer see my reflection. All my vision contains is TV fuzz and swirling rainbows. Yet I peer with intensity, wondering just how fat I’ve become.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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