Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sponge Bread Barbie Doll Puzzle

I don't really like food all that much.

I'm sure that statement would surprise many that have looked at me, but I really don't enjoy much of it at all. I'm one of the pickiest eaters I know and most of the time I could care less if I even ate at all.
So how does someone that doesn't even really like food struggle with her weight most of her life? How does that girl get diagnosed with an eating disorder that is unclassified in the DSM-IV? It's pretty simple - in my world food equals comfort, not sustenance.

Until a few years ago my life was a puzzle. I had all the pieces and the pretty picture on the box top for how it was supposed to turn out, but I didn't know how to put them together. In one moment of clarity I started writing (which I never did) and the words on the page surprised me. Everything fell into place.

So I can now clearly trace my food issues back to one crucial moment in my life at the age of 7.

It was also the same age that I first became acquainted with the wonder of Wonder Bread. While other kids liked chocolate, candy, chips and other various kid foods my favorite food for snacking was contained in that happily decorated polka dot sleeve. I would come home from school, open the bag and take out the sponge bread. In between my palms I'd crush the bread and then peel off the crusts and eat them. I'd do the same to the other piece. And then I'd take the squished pieces of bread, roll them into a ball and eat them that way. I'm not sure how the ritual developed but everyday I'd do the same thing. Sometimes I'd even have a third. If I wanted an after dinner snack it was the same thing. I had always been the tallest girl my age but this was also coincidentally the age when my growth seemed to take on hyper-acceleration and my mom used to joke that the Wonder Bread commercial said "builds bodies 12 ways" and mine were all up.

The other event - the life-altering one - wouldn't have looked like one to anyone else but me. I was in a friend's bedroom playing Barbies. The three of us present had played Barbies for years. The girls were two years older than me and nearing the end of the doll-playing days, but until then we gathered as often as we could.
That day I'd innocently carried my plastic yellow Barbie case that had room for dolls on one side and a hanging rod for clothes on the other across the street ready for another adventure.

After elaborately setting up our "houses" and dressing our dolls we began to play. Our dolls visited each other, dressed for work and then one of the Barbies had a date with Ken. It must have been the "infamous" third date because at the end of this one clothes were removed and Barbie and Ken were doing something that I didn't quite understand. I'm pretty sure it was with horror that I gasped and asked what she was doing. My friend  proceeded to explain to me that was how babies were made and then described how that happened in the most graphic of 9-year-old detail. No way! That was not at all what happened I retorted. This debate went back and forth but I wasn't willing to give up my fight.
Years later I figured out what I had internalized from that day where Barbie and I both lost a little innocence - if this is really how babies are made that means that somewhere out in the world I had a dad that I'd never met and he, the first man that should have loved me, didn't.

In the world of 20-20 hindsight I wish I would have marched back home with my plastic case of plastic dolls and asked some questions. Instead, since it had always been a hush-hush topic, I took my cue and didn't say a word.

Up until that point I'd flitted around my neighborhood and blended into any group. Now, something was different.

I stopped playing with the boys down the street that would give me quick kisses in the garage as we got a game out of my toy cabinet or unearthed my bike to take on a new adventure. That could be explained away by how most boys and girls get the dreaded "cooties" at some point and stop interacting for a while. I grew apart from my Barbie playing friends but that was just explained by how they were a few years older and moving on from the days of dolls. I had friends, I functioned, but I wasn't the same and looking back I can see all that now.

At school I felt different. It was like I was finally let in on the joke that everyone had been saying behind my back. I felt like an outsider. No one was living the kind of existence I was. No one I knew didn't have a dad. No one else I knew wasn't good enough to be loved. No one else had been abandoned before they were even born. Before this I'd never really thought anything about my different living situation, now it was everything. So, even though I played and laughed and managed in the midst of all my friends I would stand surrounded by people and still I would feel I was alone.

And thus, the habit of coming home from the crowded room and eating Wonder Bread evolved. It was a comfortable routine that greeted me with open arms after a long day. And the skinny girl that never had a butt to hold up her pants began to have a shape as the weight came on from eating so many refined carbohydrates, or whatever really is in Wonder Bread. When I look back at pictures I wasn't really big at all, but the few extra pounds I'd put on after having been stick thin for so long was shocking. Now I was not the tall skinny girl, but the tall big girl that was packing a few extra pounds.

My relationship with food since that day has always been difficult. Different routines and different foods eventually evolved into a full-blown eating disorder. And always food was the answer to feeling better after I stood surrounded by friends and people and put on the happy face, laughed until I cried and then died a little inside. No matter how many people you packed into a room, I was still always alone.

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