I’m not a doctor. I'm not trained to know that someone's “too thin” or “unhealthy" just by looking at him or her. But there’s one thing I am, and will always be: I’m anorexic. It’s a label that stays with you, even when you gain back weight and return to normal eating patterns. And as someone who carries that label with her, I found it tough to swallow Tuesday night’s Biggest Loser finale. In fact, even 12 hours after credits rolled, I'm still thinking about Rachel Frederickson's victory.
The Biggest Loser is the only reality show I watch. It compels me for the same reason it does so many viewers: I identify with these transformations. I lost 40 pounds over the course of a few years — about 30 of them unhealthily through restriction and overexercise — and know what it’s like to see your body change, to see your life change, and to want a transformation more than anything else in the world.
Frederickson’s storyline from this season’s BL was instantly compelling: She'd given up her competitive swimming background to follow a boyfriend, and gained weight after they'd broken up — and she wanted a second chance. Watching the 23-year-old, I recognized what I’d wanted, too, when I was overweight: I wanted to live the life of someone normal and thin. I was never as overweight as Rachel, but body dysmorphia is all-consuming. When you’re unhappy and unhealthy, skinny is all you can think about. I identified with Rachel’s spark, her drive, her spirit, her athleticism, and knew she’d carry through to the end.
And, god, she did. When Rachel stepped on stage during the finale in her silver dress, flutter sleeves resting on pointed shoulders, I dropped my spoon back into my soup and sat back on my couch. Her features were so sharp; her shins visible in her legs. I didn’t see Rachel; I flashed instantly back to a picture that had been taken of myself standing outside of a fountain in Savannah, Ga. — one I go back to when I want to remind myself what I looked like when I was at my lowest, most dangerously unhealthy weight.
She glowed. Rachel glowed. And I couldn’t blame her. In that moment, she had all the control in the world. But it was illusory: As she stood, soaking in the applause, she was being praised for a body that she was living in, but that no one believed belonged to her.
I’ve been there.
I stared into my dinner and pushed it aside. I mentally ticked off how many times I've been to the gym this week.
I watched Rachel weigh in with my arms crossed, thinking that, perhaps, I was projecting my own jealousy onto her, and scolded myself for skinny-shaming her. I imagined she’d land at about 120 pounds or so, but when the number ticked to 105, I shut off the TV. I didn’t even wait to see Rachel win. I didn’t want to watch her be celebrated.
I crawled into bed thinking about the number that I’d dropped to when I was at my lowest weight, and fixated on 105, which used to be an important number for me. I used to panic when I went above 105. I took two Advil PMs and went to sleep.
I’m not pulling the eating disorder fire alarm. I don’t have the authority to do that, nor the information to do that, and I, of all people, understand how hypocritical and obnoxious it is to do that. What I am doing, though, is recognizing how Rachel’s figure rocketed me back to my own anorexic past — made me long for the body I used to have. That’s frightening. If a look at her, someone for whom confetti rained down and to whom a quarter-million dollar check is doled out, can have that effect on me, I wonder what it can do to someone who’s even more fragile. I’d rather not know.
Watch Meredith talk about Rachel's win, her past, and the Biggest Loser finale on Huffington Post Live:
Images: Trae Patton/NBC