I’m Not Hungry
By Adelle Xiao
Discussed: disordered eating, fatphobia
A short story about finding my voice.
I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast that morning, the timbre of your voice, or whether the sun was shining. I do remember that we wandered around Central Park, dead leaves crumbling and crunching under the soles of our sneakers, filling the silence with anticipation as I dreaded the questions I knew you would begin to ask. The questions you always asked.
Do you know how skinny you are? How was your morning? You didn’t eat breakfast, did you? Don’t lie, I know you didn’t eat—can’t you at least be honest with me? You have to eat.
I knew that I was short and skinny, but it had never really mattered to me until I met you—it was all you ever talked about. I mumbled that my morning was good and that I had eaten breakfast—the truth—but you refused to believe me because you just knew. I wanted you to like me for who I was, not to judge me for who I wasn’t. I wanted you to see more than my skinniness; most of all, I wanted you to believe me.
Don’t wear skinny jeans anymore; they make your legs look like twigs—why would you wear them? God, you lost weight, didn’t you? Why can’t you just listen to me? Is it really that hard to gain weight? You’re hungry, aren’t you? Doesn’t matter, here, have the sandwich I brought. If you don’t eat it, I’ll force feed it to you. You have to eat.
I told you that I was uncomfortable and not hungry, but I still ate your ham and cheese sandwich because that was what you wanted. I knew that I couldn’t control the fact that you thought skinny jeans weren’t flattering on me, and that you refused to believe that I hadn’t lost weight. But when you said it was my fault, I believed you. Your questions pierced me one by one, plucking the words out of my mouth and forcing me to swallow a guilty conscience. I forced the food down with a heavy chest, the weight of wrongness lurching its way through my body and crawling out of my skin.
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When I got home, I stripped off the skinny jeans and buried them deep in the closet two rooms away. You have to eat. Your voice chased me to the kitchen and delighted in my instantaneous misery as I pulled the fridge door and lost myself in food, rejecting my body’s protests as the heaviness threatened to suffocate and consume me alive. You have to eat. I willed the crevices between my ribs to disappear, my eyes tracing the outlines of my body with hatred. You have to eat. I staggered to the bathroom in a feeble attempt to escape you, only steadied by my reflection in the toilet bowl’s blank stillness and the floor’s coldness against my bare feet.
The food spilled back out of my mouth and into the toilet bowl, disrupting my stagnant reflection. I sat on the floor, my head spinning as I feebly flushed the toilet. Deep down, I knew that you wouldn’t stop telling me to eat, no matter how much I wished for the opposite. I knew that I shouldn’t have let your perceptions define me—your words only held power over me because I let them. I finally felt light again. I walked out the bathroom, taking deep heaving breaths, devouring the air that I hadn’t realized I was missing.
Shakily, I dug out my skinny jeans from the closet and wore them the next day, ignoring you when you tapped me on the shoulder during history class to demand that I eat. Over time, I learned to not let your perceptions of me define who I was. I learned to mean it when I said, “I’m not hungry.”
This piece was based on an experience I had a few years ago with a boy who constantly commented on my body and weight, and my journey in separating how he defined me with how I saw myself. There were a lot of things I had to say about this relationship, and I had to experiment a lot with the flow and format of the story.
Born and raised in New York City, Adelle Xiao is currently a sophomore in high school in Manhattan. She most often writes personal essays, memoirs and poetry about experiences that are important to her. When she is not writing, Adelle spends most of her time making art, playing the violin and doing various forms of volunteer work.