Illustration: Rame Abdulkader.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

On the homepage of YouTube, there’s a new “What I Eat in a Day” video. She presses it even though she already knows she’s going to regret it four seconds in. For most of the video, she’s looking at the woman’s body instead of the food. Mesmerized by the lean stomach, she unconsciously touches her own and grimaces at the softness there. As she watches nut butter and blueberries go into a blender, she wonders if she could stick to a diet properly if she was just never invited out to eat ever again. She knows she can’t.

Instagram next—her fingers already know the drill. She’s muted everyone she knows in real life so that only the influencers remain. It’s motivation, she tells herself, with just a helpful spoonful of jealousy mixed in. One of the pictures is not like the other—she looks into the profile. It definitely looks like this model has gained weight—she considers, then presses unfollow.

On the TV, the girls are being just the right amount of whiny to look cute but not bratty. She scrutinizes their hairline, their cheeks, their thighs, their calves. She can’t stop herself; she’s lifting the phone and opening the camera app. She almost cries; she’s forgotten how fat her face is, how little definition her cheekbones have. She flips back to the influencers and wills herself to forget once more.

Too soon, the hearts on her phone turn from white to red—she’s looked through these pictures before. She throws her phone aside and concentrates on the other screen. She wishes everyone could just be uglier.

She had been greeted with a bowl of fruit when she came home. It was the same routine every day: “No thanks, I’m full.”

“Full? Fruit isn’t food; you can eat fruit even when you’re full!”

Some days she wants to cry, to scream that the banana and grapefruit have a hundred calories each, the mango double that. But she followed the process; the obligatory taking of the fruit, the hiding of the fruit, and finally the replacing of the fruit.

“Look how fat you are now,” her mom had (jokingly?) complained when, just for fun, she had convinced her to try on her old prom dress. She had laughed hollowly. She didn’t have to look.

There’s fried chicken at the table now and she is a madwoman, tearing into the legs and breasts like a sex-crazed serial killer with their first victim. With every bite, she hates herself. She feels weak, disgusting, ashamed, guilty, but euphoric. And she doesn’t stop. She just makes sure to drink enough water between bites—for afterwards.

By the end of the day, the bathroom seems like a second home, with its bottle of white vinegar and box of baking soda standing next to the bowl, ready accomplices. It’s been coming easier lately. The key is in knowing just how to tense your stomach muscles; it’s unnaturally natural.

She pauses. For a brief second, she wonders if maybe today’s the day she can finally “just stop.”

But she already knows she’s going to be dreaming about the cakes she wants to eat first thing tomorrow morning. And she feels way too full. She leans over the toilet and empties the contents of her stomach.

Brielle Huang.