The shower trick. Step one: hang towel. Step two: Turn on shower. Step three: take index finger and jam down throat. Step four: vomit. Step five: feel skinny. Step six: look in mirror. Step seven: nothing changes.
Health class and guidance counselors and parents said, bad, bad, bad. But jealous girl at the bar said, results.
It was never her father who she caught sneaking a scoop of ice cream at two o’clock in the morning while rubbing her eyes in a dreary stumble to use the bathroom. Her mother was the one who kept calories on the hush, hush. Eating was something to be ashamed of. Ladies were never caught exceeding their daily quota of fats and sugars. Cover your mouth when you chew, don’t eat everything on your plate, always deny dessert, and become invisible.
In those stolen moments with the house all to herself, she would prance down the stairs, grab a loaf of bread and start devouring its contents. Suddenly bread was not enough; there were cookies hidden in the back of the pantry. Her stomach hated her but her mind told her that these moments were precious and far between when no one was around to judge and dare to think that she was not a woman.
Because femininity is defined by what is not there. It is defined by the love handles that do not exist, or God forbid, a tummy rolling out over the buttons of jeans. While it is not there, you are considered a woman. You are beautiful and acceptable to talk to and dance with and be around other beautiful people.
So she uses the shower trick to become a real woman. Although, the trick doesn’t matter because neither option makes her a man. Neither option allows her to eat in the light of day like her brother does, milling around draining bag after bag of Doritos. He has the freedom to make a second breakfast burrito without his mother saying, “Really? But you just had one.” He eats when he is hungry, unimpeded by the thoughts and comments racing around his head. His primordial instincts allow him into passageways his sister has only seen from afar.
Swirling chunks of graham cracker funnel around the center of the toilet. Their ugly faces stare back at her, their too-sweet taste and grainy texture still clinging to her lips as the saliva drips down to meet them.
She is ashamed.
She is no better than the rest of them. “Of course anyone could look like that model if they threw up after every meal,” she has said many times before. But the words are a lie. Not everyone can look like that, even using the shower trick. Some people still have bra bulges that cling messily to the backs of dresses. Some people have thighs that sound like Velcro when removed from plastic seats, even when it is not summertime.
She plunges two fingers down her throat, tickling her uvula back and forth, not stopping when the familiar churn it her stomach kicks up. More crackers join the party in the toilet. With one whoosh of the toilet flushing, she braves a glance in the mirror. All she sees is her body, the same, and a face hidden by tears.