Content warning: This piece contains eating disorders, self-harm, pedophilia, child grooming and child endangerment.
Disclaimer: The author has changed some names in this piece. Specific weights have been censored, as they are an unnecessary trigger.
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Listen to the poem this piece is based on:
carve my initials into your thighs
My childhood bedroom has lilac purple walls and a black and white desk. It’s almost empty now, but there are still remnants of my childhood clinging to the pink floral sheets, the vaguely heart-shaped bloodstain on the wooden floor, the pastel curtains covered in dust. It’s hard to think that this room was the place where everything went wrong. I remember pulling back the curtains and gasping for air during my first panic attack, remember hurting myself for the first time on the floor by my closet. The nostalgia hangs heavily throughout.
This bedroom was the first place I ever thought I wasn’t good enough. It’s amazing how such a small room can hold so much pain.
I am twelve years old. I lie in between my floral sheets, tears rolling down my cheeks. There’s a nightlight on in the hallway. My door is three-quarters of the way closed. This is the time before the fights with my parents about it being closed all the way; the time before the door came between us. The night light in the hallway casts a slice of light across my face and onto the wall beside my bed. My upper thigh stings. I toy with the cat print band-aid over the first cut I have ever given myself. Besides that cut, my thighs and arms are still smooth, unscarred.
I’m going to make them care. The thought pops into my mind. Who they are? I don’t fully remember. It might have been my parents, classmates, asshole first boyfriend, friends, all of the above. All I know is I didn’t feel like I was enough. I’m not sure exactly when this started, but it’s been a theme throughout my life. That night, I signed up to tumblr.com for the first time. I searched up things like pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (pro-bulimia), which essentially encourage eating disorders, thinspo, and thinspiration, which are pictures of sick, emaciated girls posted to trigger others. These terms would rule my life for the next seven years. I tried to wrap my fingers all the way around my bicep, measure the gap between my thighs, run my hand across each individual rib like a glissando on a grand piano, counting keys.
Eating disorders don’t always come from a place of weight insecurity, although they often morph into that. They often come from a place of control.
And I have never felt in control.
When I was younger, I was described as a perfectionist. I would align every eraser on my desk perfectly, check to make sure my morning alarm was on over and over during the night, and hold my breath for as long as possible every evening to make sure god didn’t kill my family. This was later diagnosed as childhood OCD, but that’s beside the point. I think this need for perfection and order and control may have come from my parents’ dogmatic religious views.
“If it’s out of your hands, then it’s in God’s,” my mother always used to say, her hands resting lightly on the back of the church pew. I stare down at the cherry red carpet, spotted with white. My boots are still soaking wet from the cold Canadian winter outside.
I spent hours upon hours praying for my mother’s god to ease the anxiety in my mind. The ever-persistent worrying about every possibility became all-consuming.
When my mother’s god went silent, my god, Anorexia, became louder.
i am fourteen and sad
log onto tumblr dot com
wish my stomach would flatten
like these girls
who are pressed/ pressed/ pressed lilies
tall stems and thin flammable petals doused in vodka
Pro-eating disorder Tumblr is a strange concept. On the surface it’s a bunch of mostly preteen and teenage girls, posting about their eating disorders and mental health battles. Seems wholesome, like a support group of sorts. But it’s a competition. I remember the sense of dread I got any time someone skinnier than me posted a picture. The jealousy when someone’s height was higher, but weight was lower. The feeling of inferiority when someone’s daily calorie limit was significantly less than my own.
It’s a race to see who can kill themselves the fastest.
Posts telling me to skip dinner and wake up thinner, low-calorie meal replacements for everything, how to hide starvation from your parents, where to buy illegal diet pills, and god, so many posts about apple cider vinegar. Apparently, it has some magical weight-loss powers by promoting fat burning in the body. I just found it plain gross.
A lot of the friends I made on Tumblr disappeared. Randomly, one day, their messages would just stop appearing. Their status would go to “inactive,” and all my messages would be left on delivered. I think not knowing is sometimes worse than knowing, especially in a situation like this. These are friends who updated me on their hospital visits, stats, and how their pet dog was doing. I can remember each of their names, and what weight they were when they stopped answering. I wonder if they were like me and just had their accounts banned one too many times and ran out of email addresses to make new ones. Or if it’s something darker, the fatal part of eating disorders all who are sick know about and acknowledge, as if it’s a glowing exit sign in a long hallway we will never fully reach the end of.
The smell of the freshly painted high school changeroom makes me nauseous. I sit on the bench beside my best friend Rachel. I take off my badminton shirt, the white fabric clinging to me with sweat. I lean down to untie my shoes. Rachel gasps.
“Jules,” her voice is taut with worry, “What happened to your back?”
I look up at her, unsure of what she’s talking about. Her hand touches my spine, feeling up and down, touching each vertebra as she passes by.
“It’s bruised here,” she presses down on the bottom of my spine. I wince in pain.
“I must have been sitting wrong,” I say. She doesn’t buy it; she never did.
That night, I put my phone down on my floor. I shiver and lay down on my back with my knees up. The hardwood is cold on my bare spine. It hurts, but I keep doing sit-ups until the bruises on my spine can’t take it anymore.
I obsessively did sit-ups every night for years. The skin across my spine was always red, angry, and bruised. It became a familiar, comforting pain. When I was 18, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the lower spine from it, a permanent degenerative condition that typically affects people over 50, according to spine-health.com.
It stopped being a game. It stopped being a fun competition. It was a reality check about the real, deadly consequences.
The reality is, according to NEDIC.ca, people with eating disorders between the ages of 15 and 24 have a 10 per cent higher chance of dying than their peers. And one in five anorexia sufferers dies prematurely.
For years, I lost weight, gained a bit, then lost it again. The more depressed I became, the more weight I lost. But then when I was happier, I would gain it back, and become depressed about it. It was a vicious cycle.
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 sparked my worst relapse into anorexia ever. I wasn’t alone, though. In 2021, CBC released articles from various provinces about the exponential rise in eating disorders over the pandemic.
Failing grades paired with isolation and losing the last few months of my high school experience really took its toll on my mental health. I thought it couldn’t get any worse.
And then I met him.
May 23, 2020. I sit outside, my eyes closed against the warm spring air. It smells like lilacs and acrylic paint. I open my phone camera and look up at the mirror I’ve been painting. Pink, fluffy clouds frame my face. I stand up and start taking pictures in the newly painted mirror. My body has begun to show signs of relapse; it’s like I’m shrinking into myself. I turn myself to show the skinniest angles. I then cut out my face from each picture, edit the lighting a bit, and post some of them to Tumblr.
That night, I am lying in bed, my door closed, when I receive a message that would forever change my life.
“Hey. You could be a model if you lost more weight. Let me make you perfect. -G”
I click on the user’s profile, looking to find any information on him. His profile is just reposts of different anime memes.
I bite, anyways, and message back.
“How will you do that? Make me perfect?”
His response is swift.
“By telling you the truth. And the truth is that you’re fat.”
I then gave him my Snapchat. And thus started the worst year of my life.
i am seventeen
is it really grooming/ if i let you in/
the prettiest of pandemic romances
stranger danger is
but a whisper in the distance
when you call me pretty
For my own protection, I will refer to him as G. G is a Dutchman, he lives 6,487 kilometres away, but the longer we spoke, the closer he felt. G is now 30 years old. He was 28 when we met, and I was 17. He told me he was an anorexia coach and would guide me while I lost weight. Anorexia coaches are not uncommon in these spaces. In 2016, a lawsuit was raised against a man from Germany, who lured underage girls with eating disorders under the guise of being an anorexia coach, and then sexually abused and raped them. This prompted a study to be done in the Netherlands — coincidentally where G is from — where investigators posed as underaged girls on pro-ana websites. These fake profiles garnered attention from numerous predatory men in a short amount of time, asking for nude photos or sex in exchange for weight loss advice.
Like in most grooming situations, G started off really sweet. He complimented me, praised me when I lost weight and convinced me that I didn’t need anyone but him.
I made him promise to keep everything platonic and non-sexual between us. He kept his promise for a few weeks until he convinced me to start sending him slightly explicit pictures to prove I was losing weight. G encouraged me every day, telling me how much to eat, when to throw up, and how many sit-ups to do each night.
Feederism is a fetish where someone gets aroused by feeding someone else, usually until they become morbidly obese to the point of immobility. G is the opposite. He has a fetish for anorexia. Skinny, emaciated girls, whose diets and life he controls. It’s disgusting.
Anorexia took away pretty much all my development as a woman. That’s one of the main reasons G was attracted to me: I still looked like a child.
i am seventeen and you
a messed up pedophilic romcom
on tumblr dot com
i am lilac
of your words presses down
on my stomach until i can’t stand
G stopped being nice to me once I hit my lowest weight ever. My significant weight loss stopped being enough, and he wanted more. He wanted me to feed his fetish more. He began threatening me with violence and blackmail, saying that he would send pictures of me to my family, then leave and find someone skinnier unless I did what he said.
your good morning texts/
if you try to leave i’ll make you kill yourself”
I saw no other option. If my religious family saw my pictures, I thought I would lose everything.
I sit on my bed, shaking. It’s a Friday night, and my parents are upstairs watching an old detective movie. I stare up at the plastic glow in the dark stars spattering my ceiling. I count them over and over again. There are 26. I put them up there when I was eight years old.
My phone vibrates beside me. I turn and look; it’s a message from G.
smoke curls out of your mouth
show me how skinny you should look for daddy
i can smell it through my screen
cheshire cat gleams
from halfway across the world
you will be perfect/
you need me/
When I graduated high school in June of 2020, I had lost over a quarter of my already low body weight since meeting G a month prior.
this is the beautiful part
grad dress too big
girl too small
xray/ mri/ bloodwork/ needles
like a petal
grandfather too scared to hug me
says a breeze could break me
but isn’t that the point
weight/ grades/ will to live/ plummet
you smile at me/ proud/
god/ i love you /
you’re literally the perfect fit for me/
i’m honestly lucky/
i understand you better than anyone/
In July, the weight of what I was going through really hit. I was a shell of who I once was. I stayed in my room all day, talking to G because he would get mad if I left.
My mother called me into the living room late one night. I had thought she was asleep and had left my room to get some water from the kitchen.
“Julie. We need to talk.” She still refused to call me by my preferred name.
I sit down nervously. I hadn’t really spoken to her for a couple of weeks at this point.
“What in God’s name is going on with you?” Her voice breaks, “You aren’t talking to us anymore. You never leave your room, you never eat. Sweetie, we’re just so, so worried.”
“I’m fine,” I lie, unconvincingly. She rests her hand on my arm and squeezes gently.
“No, you’re not. Why are you doing this to us again? Did Dad and I do something wrong?” This argument had happened a few times since I first got sick, and it happened a few times after this, too. For some reason, my parents were convinced that my mental health issues happened just to spite them. No matter how many times I assured them that wasn’t the case.
“Who is making you do this?”
I froze. How could she know about G? I gripped my phone, wondering if somehow, she had gone through it and found the messages. I was wrong, though.
“I’m not talking human, Julie,” My heart sank as she continued, “I’m talking like, demonic.”
I literally laughed out loud. I was convinced that my parents had finally caught on. That maybe there was hope.
In a way, though, my mother was right.
this is the dirty part/
prop my phone up
show you my
pretty picture of self-destruction
fingers down my throat
look for some sort of worth
but all that comes up
i can feel your anger through the screen/
“you can do much better than that/ i could barely see anything”
When grooming occurs, it’s about building up trust and codependency. As I became more and more isolated from my family and friends, I relied on G and anorexia to keep me company. I began to trust him. The beginnings of Stockholm syndrome set in. I began to think G loved me. And I started to do anything I could to prove that I loved him too.
this is the uncomfortable part/
i have phone calls with you for lunch
it’s nice to see your face/
show me your ribs/
you call me your perfect little girl
we talk about anime
while i undress
your perfect manic pixie e-girl
open/ exposed/ trying not to cry/ you try to make me cry/
my teen body
you love every second of it/
i get off the phone
turn on my online class
turn off my camera
how can i ever forgive myself
for what you do to me
According to Cybertip.ca, between 2019 and 2020 in Winnipeg, the creation and distribution of child pornography rose 27 per cent, and the cases of children being lured via the internet rose 19 per cent. G, if convicted, could face prison time and be registered as a sex offender.
In May of 2021, I was added on Snapchat by a young girl. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll call her Cassie. She messaged me, asking if I knew G.
I stopped in my tracks, my breath quickening. In the next few hours, while G was asleep, I got to know Cassie a bit. She was 15 years old and lived much closer to him than I did. G had contacted her on Tumblr about three months prior and had done the exact same thing to her that he did to me.
I tried to stop it, but my face flushed with jealousy. Why wasn’t I enough for him?
Then I remembered that this was a 15-year-old girl. She was scared, just like I was. This wasn’t like Tumblr; this wasn’t a competition.
“We’re going to be okay. I’m going to go to the police and get us out of this. I promise, Cassie. We’re going to get out of this. Together.”
I never spoke to her again. She removed me, scared that G would find out we had spoken. Guilt still gnaws at me every time I think about how I left her behind.
In April of 2021, I tried to escape for the first time. I went to the police station and told them I wanted to report a case of online pedophilia, abuse, and child endangerment. It took a lot for me to get to this point. My hands shook the whole way there.
The police officer at the front desk gave me a card and told me to call one of the non-emergency numbers on it. I went to a friend’s house and called. The officer on the line told me they would dispatch someone to my location within the next couple of hours to take a statement and open a case.
No one ever came.
i am eighteen
and your red flags are my favourite color
the weight of your love presses down on me
until i can’t breathe
from halfway across the world tightens with each message/
you are worthless without me/
you are nothing without me/
In October of 2021, I started dating someone behind G’s back, and it felt like another step towards rebellion and freedom. I had been planning on flying out to meet G the following May.
While sitting on top of a church on our first date, I told him everything about G. He listened, nothing more. When I was done, he grabbed my hand and looked me gently in the eyes. His lips were slightly discoloured from the cold, and I thought about how badly I wanted to be with him instead of G.
I wanted to live.
I was on call with a crisis line the next night, and everything came pouring out. The abuse, the disorder, my entire mental health past splayed out for some poor crisis line worker to hear.
I was sobbing on the floor of my apartment. I had moved out of my parents’ home a couple of months before. I missed the lilac walls of my childhood room, the sounds of people always present. My new room was too big, too empty, too silent.
“I give you permission to leave him,” The crisis line worker’s voice was gentle, “You don’t need anyone’s permission, but if it helps, you have mine.”
I started sobbing harder and hung up the phone.
i am nineteen
you make me believe i deserve this
and can’t leave
frail skin stretched over my bones
am i perfect enough for you yet/
The day after I spoke with the crisis line worker, I blocked G. On everything. The next week I was bombarded with messages from alternate accounts he made on everything from Instagram to LinkedIn, telling me to kill myself, threatening to leak my pictures and videos, and him playing the victim. I miss G, in the same way I miss being sick. I miss the comfort of relying on starvation to make me feel worthy.
My boyfriend breathes heavily beside me. I cling to the last moments of heavy sleep before turning around to look at him. The light from the living room hits his face in a way that reminds me of the night we first met, on top of the church. Sensing I’m awake, my cat walks in, pushing my door open all the way. He jumps onto my bed; his dark fur makes him look like just another spot on my cow print comforter. I smile slightly, amazed at how perfect my life is in this moment.
My limbs are heavier than usual, I try to remember the night before, but everything feels foggy. I look past my boyfriend’s steadily rising and falling chest and see my bottle of Ativan on my nightstand.
Everything comes rushing back.
Flashes of uneven, panicked, breaths. Looking around the nightclub and seeing G everywhere. Running off the dancefloor, convinced he was going to kill me. Being escorted out and trying to walk home. Collapsing to the sidewalk screaming, pleading for help, but only seeing G.
I panic again for a moment, looking around my room to see if the psychosis is gone or not. I don’t see G anywhere, though. A lead ball of guilt hangs heavily in my sternum, as I think about Cassie, still trapped with G. The best thing I can do for her, though, is to recover fully so I can face going to the police again. I turn onto my side and pull my now purring cat to my chest. My boyfriend turns too, wrapping his arms around me, tightly. I match my breathing to his, slow and steady. In and out. In and out. In and out.
6,487 kilometers. 6,487 kilometers. 6,487 kilometers.
I am safe now.