A little less than a decade ago, I stumbled into a drop-in hot vinyasa yoga class. Almost immediately, I was hooked. There, between a bunch of sweaty bodies in a crowded studio, I met a girl with whom I shared a lot of interests: art, writing, traveling— but mostly investigating the secret lives of our god-like yoga teachers. Captivated by their poise and grace, we spent hours gossiping over how incredible it must be to be them.
(ph. cred: link)
She was one my first real girlfriends moving to the city. She helped me see things clearly as someone outside of the fashion industry world that I lived in. In contrast, her life was extremely academic. She worked as a scientist full time and spent her days in a chem lab. I admired her achievements, and we fed off of one another’s experiences as we found our identities in our early twenties.
I’ll never forget the first time she asked how I ate, to stay model slim.
I was a little taken aback by the question. At that time I was constantly in the doghouse for my weight at the agency, for being well above the target of a 34-inch hip. Obviously my line of work came with some strict standards. After a of soul-crushing series of agency meetings and emails depicting how I needed to “lean out” if I ever wanted to amount to anything, I sought refuge and confided in my friend. She always kept it real with me and assured me I wasn’t too big at all.
And whenever I got a little weird or restrictive, she called me out. We had some lengthy conversations over Newman-O’s and frozen ravioli, since there were moments I was starting to second-guess my larger-than-life appetite. She always assured me that with the amount of yoga and physical activity I was doing, nothing was ever too much. It wasn’t long before I was pretty proud to have adopted this kind of free-spirited approach to food, despite the stereotypes surrounding my profession.
One day she confided in me that she had experienced some food issues in the past. I listened to her story of being admitted to the hospitals for complications surrounding anorexia. Food disorders were something that I found pretty common with a lot of women: models and non-models alike. It didn’t seem unusual to have mixed feelings over food, especially in a culture surrounding a disordered food industry. While I was glad she seemed better, I didn’t realize that being “weight restored”— or having an outward appearance of healthy— didn’t mean much in the face of such a severe mental illness.
Some years passed and I decided to spend some time living in L.A. for work. When I returned to city, my friend and I caught up where it all began, back at the yoga studio.
But things had really changed— I was much different than the girl my friend remembered. A tumultuous breakup, losing my apartment, and in a serious rut with work left me looking like a wet, stray cat. Without realizing it, I had lost a ton of weight.
I obviously seemed unwell, so my friend completely freaked out. She was absolutely appalled and demanded an explanation.
(photo credit: link)
Looking back, I understand where she was coming from. I was once a guide to her, and then suddenly it seemed like I was a complete liar. She felt betrayed, and I had no defense. I had lost sight of my health and eating right was the last thing on my mind.
While some people seem to identify something as an eating disorder, I think that it can come in hundreds, maybe thousands, of different forms. To my friend who had struggled a lifetime in and out of facilities to treat her disorder, it was terrifying for her to see me in a way that reminded her of her darkest days.
She told me she feared for my life, and expressed all of her worries ranging from heart complications, electrolyte imbalances, and deficiencies. I listened to her concerns, and with some help from my friends and a lot of sweet potatoes, I pulled through in my own way. One thing she always emphasized to me during this time was that external pressure should never turn into not eating.
As much as she helped bring me back to my senses, she couldn’t take her own advice. As her illness took complete control, she dipped well below 80 pounds — something I had never seen before in our several years of friendship. In what seemed like just a few months, she was no longer strong enough to keep meeting up as we always did, as muscle atrophy in her legs caused her to need a wheelchair and too much time outdoors on a cold day could leave her toes frostbitten.
When I learned of her passing, I was just devastated. Nothing can explain the feeling of helplessness that comes with survivor’s guilt, especially from the person who helped me so much and that I was unable to return the support. Recently, I’ve gone through all of our old emails and texts. I laugh, I cry, and I want to stay in bed all day. I’ll never forget when she said she loved me like a sister, or funny phrases only she used like “ta ta” to say goodbye. Remembering her voice so clearly pulls at the strings in my heart.
I’m convinced that one day her name is going to pop up on my phone screen, along with one of her epically long voicemails. She was the person I went to for advice for so many years that it seems impossible for her to not be here anymore. I wish she was able to be one of my bridesmaids, or more importantly that I could tell her about the news of my maternal grandmother’s secret Jewish lineage— I can practically hear her screaming “Mazel Tov!” as she did on many occasions.
As I relive some of the happier times we shared, I like to imagine how she would think of me today as I commit to being that girl she once looked up to, despite how hard that might be.