Vulnerable and powerful, The Strength in Weakness is an unflinching personal narrative written by one of my female students about her dangerous attempts to achieve the physical perfection.
In the age of social media, the social pressures to conform to conventional notions of beauty are dangerously high for teenagers, especially for females.
The Strength in Weakness captures the physical and emotional pain that girls often endure to as they desperately try to satisfy society’s unrealistic demands of beauty.
Meet the Writer
Sydney Flyge is 12th grade student at Robbinsville High School (New Jersey) and plans on attending Clemson University or the University of Washington in the fall of 2018.
Sydney intends to double major in psychology and Nutritional Science in hopes of, one day, being able to help people overcome obstacles pertaining to nutrition and mental health, as someone once helped her.
Pat, pat, pat, pat
The sound of footsteps hitting the pavement matched the beat of the music infiltrating my ears. A dull ache enveloped my quadriceps and calf muscles. The ache slowly spread like a drop of food coloring on a paper towel, across my stomach, up my back, eventually reaching my deltoids and biceps.
Pat, pat, pat, pat.
The aching intensified.
My muscles screaming
I did not enjoy the struggle of my run.
The slow, thumping drum beats in my temples matched those of my heart, decelerating with every passing step. I realized that the dull ache of starvation in all of my muscles meant that I could feel them breaking down. The outer edges of my vision blackened each time my foot made contact with asphalt. Trapped, surrounded by trees in a cornfield on the middle school’s property in the dead of summer, I thought about dying.
And I remember realizing that no one would find me there.
I accelerated with the intention of making it only as far as the Pond Road Middle School parking lot. A place where my mom, or an ambulance, could easily pick me up.
I dug deep to overcome the shallow breaths depriving my starving muscles and organs of oxygen, I made it the half mile it took to get back to the parking lot.
I was lucky.
Surprised at my own accomplishment upon reaching the access road between the middle school and high school, I heard a familiar voice in the back of my head. She said: You just made it a half mile, what’s the one and a half more it takes to get home? If you quit now you’re weak. If you call your mom, she will get upset. You do not want to make her upset do you? And then she will tell your dad. And when he gets home he’ll shovel that fattening protein powder into a blender bottle and ask you to drink it in front of him. Do you know how many calories are in that protein powder? Don’t be weak.
My legs carried me the last mile and a half home. 8 miles. I had to eat a tangerine prior to entering the shower, to avoid collapsing.
In the moments between the tangerine and passing a mirror en route to the shower, my emaciated frame was covered by a thin, yet visible, layer of fat.
Frail shaking fingers grazed the skin under my belly button. My abdominal muscles, although toned and hollow, felt squishy. Suddenly I could no longer see the grooves in between every rib, my predominant collar bone vanished, my thighs thickened and my face swelled.
Exiting the shower, I dried myself and labored to my bedroom. Dressed in underwear and a fitted tank top, I stood gaping at my reflection. Contemplating the image before me for what could have been hours, I studied every crevice, every limb, from every angle.
I uncapped a black expo marker and began marking up my reflection. I circled my thighs, my obliques, my neck, the backs of my arms. My problem areas. With imperfections to remove, I needed to fake my usual ailments to escape dinner.
“I feel nauseous.”
“Well maybe you need to put something in your tummy?” My mom returned hopelessly.
“That would make it worse,” I started, “I think I’ll just go to bed early.”
“Okay” She agreed with silent protest.
Once upstairs and safely on the other side of my bedroom door, I turned the lock and approached my closet. Pushing aside heavy jackets to reveal the weights I had hidden on the shelves behind them. The bruises lining my spine from muscling through a thousands of sit-ups.
I stopped after I burned 35.
I had worked off the tangerine.
But then her voice echoed in the back of my mind. You could keep going. No one would know. Don’t be weak.
My luck lasted for months. Allowing me to push and push without any potentially lethal consequences.
Pat, pat, pat pat.
Then, one day my luck ran out.
Pat, pat, pa—.
And that was the luckiest thing that ever could have happened to me.
For months my mind forced my body to run itself into the ground.
And it took years to repair the damage.
But you will have to wait to hear the rest of the story.
My mom is calling me to dinner.