The Body Torture Game

Growing up in Malaysia, my aunts lamented my ugly, scrawny body. Doctors pronounced me underweight. In response, my mother heaped for me second helpings of rice, fried pomfret, bean sprouts and roast pork rubbery with fat. Meal times were an ordeal of bursting at the gut, squirming through pain. But failing, always failing, to attain the perfect body. To win the Body Torture Game.

Body Torture Game

This did not deter me from trying to win! At 16, I took the Game to a whole new level. I left Malaysia for two years of boarding school in England. Those years, I lived with 60 other girls from all over the world. I read Duras and Camus and Maupassant in French. I studied all of Plato’s works in a Queen Anne house among thousand-year-old oaks. My roommates came from places like Oman, Sapporo, Florence and Oslo. We debated the nature of good and evil in the hallways. Many of us saw snow for the first time. We shared clothes to go to balls.

Yet what I remember the most was the way we talked about bodies. With downturned lips, the English girls spoke scathingly of matronly hips, of unruly flesh, of inner thighs that rubbed against each other instead of remaining firmly apart. The girls spoke favorably of my own lanky limbs and bony wrists. They linked arms with me when we walked to classes. Heroin chic was on the horizon. Kate Moss was just about to break out. I had not violated the rules. The rules of their Body Torture Game.

This bliss lasted exactly one term. When I returned home for the winter holidays, an aunt squinted at me and furrowed her brow. “What happened to your face?” she said. “Why is it so big?” Others gaped, then doubled over. “You’re so fat!” they laughed.

I stepped on the scales and saw that three months of muesli, toast with chocolate spread and roast beef with yorkshire pudding had done a number on me. That number was five.

I had gained five pounds.

If five pounds was all it took for my aunts to laugh at me, I was going to do everything to get rid of that flesh immediately. I pored over diet and weight-loss articles. I studied calorie charts. I did crunches in my room and walked briskly around the garden between meals. Steamed pork buns, glutinous rice cakes with coconut jam, stir fried noodles glistening with plump prawns and scrambled eggs now tantalized. But I resisted, clinging to my ascetic caloric intake: 700 calories. Some days, 500 calories.

I starved myself for about six months. One day, fistfuls of hair began to fall from my scalp. I learned later that this was a byproduct of anorexia. If gaining five pounds was bad, going bald was disastrous. I changed strategies. I’d read that Ancient Romans vomitted their meals to make room for feasts. My heart raced when I thought of all the junk food I could now have. I began to plot when and where and how I would eat it all and throw it up.

During this bulimic phase, I forgot to turn in papers on time. I started to skip classes. My grades plummeted. I stopped talking to the other girls. My last year of boarding school, I handed my university applications to my roommate and asked her to fill them out for me. Instead of school and friends, I was hiding in my wardrobe to eat stolen baklavas, mince pies and peanut butter. I was eating until my stomach hurt, until it bulged over my wool skirt, until I swore never again. Then night would fall. And the next day, the plotting and bingeing and vomiting and swearing never again would start all over again. I was nothing if not good at this Game.

It took me years, but I did finally realize the only way to conquer the Body Torture Game is to escape it.

Today, with some therapy, intuitive eating practices, lots of support, and tons of despair management, I continue to rewire the part of my brain that seems to think that over- or under-eating is the answer to everything.

Lots of days, I’ve even begun to view the eating disorder as a gift. For one thing, it’s helped informed my interest in narratives about controlling/punishing the female body. For another, grappling with recovery has led me to meet some of the most incredible, spiritually-oriented people, like my blog bestie Magi Khoo. Reading bloggers like Kelsey Miller and her Anti-Diet Project gives me the much needed reminder that dieting only leads to body shaming and, therefore, is never the answer. I hope that reading my story will do the same for all you recovering and relapsing players of the Body Torture Game.

I’ll periodically overshare my Body Torture prison break attempts here. If you have similar stories and escape plans, I’d love to hear them!

“Vegechan” illustration by the inimitable Elisa Sassi.

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About Mei Li Ooi

Writer. Editor. Diet Rebel.

One Response to “The Body Torture Game”

  1. Larry Forlivio January 6, 2015 4:47 pm #

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