Tuesday, April 16, 2013


We finally ate at Winstead's.  Will had been asking me to join him and Katie at one of their favorite local burger joints for years.  I always said no.  The reason?

The only entree on the menu I'll eat is a grilled cheese sandwich.  Why go out to eat a grilled cheese sandwich?  Even I can slap cheese between bread and fry it at home.

Health Nut:
I don't need to be eating fries and shakes.  You and Katie don't have PCOS.  You don't have to watch your junk food intake as much as I do.

Restrictive-Diet Competition
If we go there I'll be tempted to get a cherry limeade and that's going to ruin my no-sugary-drinks record.

It's been thirty-one years since I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  I feel better about my body and myself now than I ever have, thanks mostly to Dr. Bacon and her Health at Every Size® approach.  But I still carry with me a twinge of the inner anorexic.  Restrictive eating.  Self-critical.  Arrogant.  Moody. 

It was my moodiness that changed my mind.  I'd been uber-grumpy with Will for a couple of weeks.  So when he said this to me, I relented.

"It'd mean a lot to me if you'd go with Katie and me to Winstead's.  I'd like to take my girls out for a special family meal."

My girls.  What a ridiculous thing to say.  I'm 42.  I'm ten years older than Will.  And yet there was no hint of condescension in his voice when he said it and it made the heat rise to my face and chest the way it does when he surprises me in a good way.

As we scooched into our booth, I mentioned that I once worked at Winstead's.

"What, was that one of your three-month-long jobs you had when you were young?" Will teased.

"More like three-day.  I worked the soda fountain and I was responsible for making all the drinks and shakes and sundaes for everyone.  Even the drive-thru.  It was too much for me."

We both laughed.  I can barely manage to get three items hot and ready at the same time when I make a meal for just the three of us at home.  My hands were made for typing on a keyboard, not multitasking in a kitchen.

"I have a picture of myself in my Winstead's uniform," I remembered aloud.  "I had to wear a little dress and apron."

Will and Katie howled.

"I'd like to see that picture," Will said.  "You should post it on your blog."

It was 1989 when I worked at Winstead's those three days.  I was eighteen.  Either a senior in high school or getting ready to start my first semester at the community college.  I can't remember.

I had to go digging for the photo.  Back then we used film and had to take it to the drug store to have them process it and give you prints.  Then you'd stick the prints inside a box in your basement and throw them out with the garbage after the next spring flood wiped out the memories in your cobwebby basement.

With all my moves and with all the basement moisture my photos have endured, it's amazing I still have as many as I do.  Here's the one of me in my Winstead's uniform:

Becky Burton, 1989, age 18

While digging through miraculously-unflooded boxes to find this old photo I encountered many more that brought back floods of memories.

Becky Burton, 1975, age 4

I was four when I first started getting fat.  I was a big baby.  Not huge, but big.  Eight-pounds-one-and-a-half-ounces. I memorized it from the moment my mom first told me how much I weighed when I was born.  It began an obsession with keeping track of my weight that did not end until I read Dr. Linda Bacon's book Health at Every Size® a couple of years ago.  And although I no longer keep track of my weight, my inner anorexic still recalls in an instant how much I weighed at various times in my childhood:

newborn: 8 pounds 1 1/2 ounces
age five: 50 pounds
age nine: 112 pounds
age eleven: 79 pounds
age thirteen: 135 pounds
age sixteen: 150 pounds

I've read that sexual abuse survivors often develop tics and habits that help them feel like they have control over their body.  That makes sense to me.  I was four when I first started getting fat.  I was four when I got my tonsils out and quit having chronic sore throats.  That could explain why I suddenly began to gain weight. Food simply tasted good sliding down my throat.  I was also four when I was sexually abused.  Lots of kids hide their bodies from a cruel outside world by stuffing themselves.  I can see that in myself.  Here I am by the time I was five, with my tubby tummy:

Becky Burton, 1976, age 5

I ate and ate and ate.  I remember being the last one up from the dinner table each night, not because I was forced to sit and eat my peas--I loved me some peas!--but because I was finishing up what my two parents and four siblings left on their plates.  I remember losing my first tooth, at age four, on a piece of corn on the cob I had taken off my sister's plate and began to gnaw on.  I remember various family members teasing me, "Becky, stop eating!  You're going to explode!"

I'd think to myself, Can a person really explode?  Would I fill up like a balloon and float into the air and suddenly go--pop!--or would I just burst open right here at the dinner table?

But I didn't quit eating.

Then, in third grade, my parents sent me to Weight Watchers.  Here's my school picture from either second or third grade.    

Becky Burton, circa 1979, age 8 or 9

Here's one from about second or third grade too, about a year before I was sent to Weight Watchers:

Becky Burton, circa 1979, age 8 or 9

It's weird looking back at these old photos.  Like the one above.  Sure, I'm a little fatty.  So what?  In the same picture is my fat dad and my fat grandmother.  Why was I sent to Weight Watchers and not them?

Here's what I looked like in fourth grade, one year after I started Weight Watchers and one year before I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa:

Becky Burton, 1980, age 9 1/2

It went downhill from there.  These are the ugliest, saddest pictures of me.  When I was anorexic:

Becky Burton, 1982, age 11 1/2

Becky Burton, 1982, age 11 1/2 

See my tiny breasts?  I started developing breasts in third grade.  I hated them.  I was the only girl in class who had to wear a bra.  In fourth grade some boys at recess started calling me "BB" and laughing maniacally.  At first I thought "BB" stood for "Becky Burton" but later one of my friends broke it to me that "BB" stood for "Big Boobs".  I was thrilled when I lost so much weight  my boobs shrank and I didn't have to wear a bra anymore.

My mom took me to the doctor one day when I passed out at school.  The doctor said I had anorexia.  He recommended I see a psychologist.  I did.  I got worse.  Then I got better.  Slowly.  Here's what I looked like by sixth grade:

Becky Burton (far right with braces), 1983, age 12

Even though I had stopped starving myself and running up and down the basement steps for forty-five minutes each day, and my parents and therapist quit threatening me with hospitalization, I remember thinking my calves were fatter than my mom's and both my sisters' when I first saw this picture.

But I got healthier and stronger each day.  Here's what I looked like by the end of seventh grade:

Becky Burton, 1984, age 13

I won the layup contest that year.  I made 24 out of 25 layups and won a blue ribbon.  I thought my thighs looked hideously fat when I first got this picture.  I showed it to none of my friends, too embarrassed by my thighs.  I quit wearing shorts in public and I quit playing basketball after that season.  As I continued to gain weight, my big boobs came back.  I couldn't find a bra that kept my boobs from not hurting with every jump.  

I tried softball again that summer.  I hadn't played since I was an anorexic eleven year old.  I was terrible.  I quit after one season.  Even though I was terrible, I always liked this picture of me.  Yeah, yeah, look at my big white thunder thighs, but they kinda look muscular and I look pretty strong.

Becky Burton, 1984, age 13

Here's what I look like now, after many years of therapy, reading self-help books, and introspection:

Becky Burton Carleton, 2013, age 42

I found a lot of old photos of my family members too.  People who influenced me and taught me their beliefs.  Two people in my life especially shaped how I viewed my own body and I observed their struggles with disordered eating.  My Aunt Joyce, a compulsive overeater and my grandmother, a bulimic.

Here's a picture of my Aunt Joyce.  She's my father's younger sister.  She was in her early fifties when this picture was taken.  She died a couple of years later of complications due to edema and some kind of infection in her legs.  My father did not go to her funeral.  My father always treated Joyce as some kind of fat Pariah, like he'd catch some of her fatness if he spent too much time with her.  When my family members would tease me and tell me I was going to explode from eating too much, I worried that I'd grow up to be like Aunt Joyce.

Aunt Joyce, circa 1984, early fifties

And then there's my grandmother.  The same one pictured above with my dad and me, just before I was sent to Weight Watchers.  My mom's mom.  We called her "Ma".  Ma was very sick when my mother was young.  She had a hysterectomy before they had hormone replacement therapy and it made her nervous and ill.  She was mostly bedridden.  But here is a picture I have of her.  She does look sick and frail.

Ma, 1942, upper twenties

When I was an anorexic eleven year old my mom didn't know what to do with me so she shipped me off to live with Ma during the summer.  Ma bleached my hair blond and yelled at me a lot.  I'd catch her binging on junk food and then throwing it up or giving herself an enema so she'd stay slim.  

I don't remember much about my Aunt Joyce since my dad hardly ever took us to see her, but I do recall one time at a family reunion she joked that she liked to keep her hair a little greasy because she couldn't do a thing with it when it was freshly washed.  Most of the people on my mom's side of the family are cosmetologists or at least quite concerned with their appearance.  I was shocked at the time to hear a grown woman rejoice in her natural unkemptness.  Now I see she was one of my first fuck-you-it's-my-body idols.  She laughed and ate and enjoyed her family.  I didn't know what my dad's problem was.  I liked Aunt Joyce.  She was real.  I'd much rather take after her than my mentally unstable, abusive, bulimic grandmother.

Better yet, I'll just be myself.

This trip down memory lane, all thanks to a cherry limeade and the sweetest husband and kid on the planet.  The meal was delicious, by the way.  I indulged myself and had not only a cherry limeade but fries and onion rings.  I heard Will's voice inside me when my inner anorexic started to complain:

I'd like to take my girls out for a special family meal.

I shared my maraschino cherry with Katie, who shared with me a few sips of her butterscotch milkshake.  She also got a hot dog and onion rings.  I came this close to lecturing her about how hot dogs are unhealthy because of all the nitrates in them, but I held my tongue.  It's my greatest hope in parenting that I can somehow help Katie overcome my family's history of eating disorders.  Nagging her constantly about her food choices won't help.  And besides, my mouth was full of fries.


Recently Katie had a shitty day at school. She's ten now. Fifth grade. Early developer, like I was. She was the last one picked for a game, and when some boys could tell she was upset by the look on her face, they laughed at her. When she told her dad and I this story at home, we tried different ways to console her. We found that the most effective way to help Katie understand that this incident was one day in her big long life, that someday she'll be a grown up looking back on the day those boys laughed at her and how lonely and sad she felt, and that it will still sting, but it won't hurt as bad. We all go through these feelings, each one of us. Especially as kids, around other kids who can be so mean.

So Will and I told her some stories about our own experiences as kids feeling left out and awkward and like nobody understands us. Our stories helped Katie understand that she is, in fact, not alone. We all go through it. And, it's a cliche now, but it really does get better.

Here's a selfie I took recently. I'm forty-six, and I'm finally not embarrassed of my big boobs. In fact, I look and feel pretty great.

#BigBoobsSelfie, 2016

May Katie grow up healthy and strong. Her daddy and I will help her as best we can.