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Of All the Women I've Seen in the Dressing Room, the Last One Broke My Heart

Photograph by Getty Images

I stood in the dressing room standing next to my best friend, Aimee. She was shorter than me, blonder than me and stockier than me. She was perfect. I felt too tall, stringy, gangly and awkward. I stared at her reflection with adoring eyes. We were trying on matching outfits: purple shorts and white T-shirts. We were 7.

I was in the dressing room one hot August night with my best friend, Meagan. We were trying on bathing suits and bras. She was tan and slimmer than me. I noticed her perfect breasts. I wore a C cup and was humiliated because of it. I tried to hide my chest in a multitude of different ways. I detested them. My hips and thighs had blossomed into a size 10. I told her I was jealous of her. She was beautiful. She took her hand and put it between her breasts, "No," she said, "look at this, I can fit my whole palm here. I want your boobs." I would have given anything to trade bodies with her that night. We were 13.

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I stood in the dressing room one spring afternoon alone while shopping with my best friend, Katie. She just got her license and we loved the freedom of shopping without our mothers. I tried on a pair of jeans, the smallest size they had. They hung on me. My body was unrecognizable, yet I still wanted to lose more weight. I wasn't able to see how empty I looked. I could only feel it. I hadn't menstruated in a year. I was hungry, my skin was gray and my cheeks were sallow. I fought with myself that day. I still didn't look as thin as all those girls in the magazines or music videos on MTV. Katie told me I needed to get better, that I was too smart to be damaging my body like this. Maybe just a few more pounds ... then maybe I will feel worthy ... then maybe I could stop. Not now though, if I stop now I will lose all control. I can't do that—not yet I thought. We were 16.

'Mommy, there is this third-grader at school. She is so pretty. She is this skinny.' She lifted her skirt and sucked her stomach in as far as she could.

I stood in the dressing room one winter afternoon trying to find a dress for the winter formal where I attended college. I was shopping with my best friend, Christi. I had stopped fighting with myself. I got over my anorexia after a few years of therapy and self-hate. I liked the dress, but old thoughts were creeping in, trying to grab a hold of me. I used to be so much smaller, my hips were back, and my breasts were full again. I knew I would go to a dangerous place if I stayed there and looked any longer. I took it off, paid for it and couldn't wait to meet my best friend for tuna melts, french fries and wine, something I never would have indulged in a few years ago. I started to taste the guilt. I pushed it away. It kept trying to fight its way to the front of my mind, so I pushed back harder. It was a constant battle. I saw my friend and just like that, all I could think about was our fun, relaxing evening. A small win. "Did you find something, Kathrine?" she asked. We were 21.

I stood in the dressing room one fall evening. I had just gotten engaged. I was working in an office with lots of women. I sat at a desk 50 hours a week and within a month of working there, I had put on a few pounds. I made changes to my diet, started exercising almost every day and dropped the 10 pounds I had gained. I went from feeling tired and sluggish to feeling energized and content. I loved my body most days. I felt like I had balance. Two coworkers told me I looked too skinny, unhealthy even. They asked me why I had lost weight. Was I unhealthy? Was my eating disorder coming back? Wasn't I just trying to take care of myself? I was 26.

I stood in the dressing room pregnant with my third child. There were mirrors completely surrounding me. I had gained 75 pounds and was due any day. I desperately wanted something to wear that would hide some of it, something that wouldn't pull and tug. I didn't recognize myself. I had never been this size. I didn't care, but I did care. I wanted a big healthy boy. I wanted a brownie. I wanted to be those pregnant celebrities who walked around with perfect pregnant bodies that looked like they have not changed except for a basketball-sized bump. Was I letting myself go? Should I care more? I was 31.

I stood in the dressing room while all my kids were at school. I was taking my time. It was luxurious. I had just started running again, I eat clean most days, my mood swings weren't so severe, and food and negative thoughts played such a tiny role on my life. I felt I could take on anything. I stripped down and stood completely naked. I analyzed every inch, every muscle. I noticed where my body wanted to curve. I saw myself, that was it. Nothing else. I had let it all go: the baggage, the negativity, what others saw, what society thought I should be. There was no one there with me. I was over it. I was tired of that voice. I was more. I saw my 7-year-old self, my 13-year-old self and every version of myself overlaid on my body. I saw me—just me. And I thought, finally. I was 38.

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My daughter stood in the dressing room with me. She was talking about how much she loved school as I was helping her try on clothes. She was looking at her reflection, interrupted herself and said, "Mommy, there is this third-grader at school. She is so pretty. She is this skinny." She lifted her skirt and sucked her stomach in as far as she could. Her ribs were protruding, stomach concave. She changed positions, stood sideways. She looked pleased with what she saw. She was 5.

She will not be like me. I refuse to let her live for 38 years before she feels beautiful. I will do everything in my power to stop her from comparing herself. I will teach her to see that her self-worth is not measured this way, that she is more, that she gets to set her own definition of beautiful.

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