"I Don’t Want to Grow Up"
How my eating disorder developed in adolescence

By Jenni Schaefer, BS

My world stopped. I finally gave in.

I was defeated, ashamed, guilty.

Underneath my favorite pink and white shirt, I was wearing a bra for the first time and was certain that I would have to wear this uncomfortable contraption everyday for the rest of my life. I remember the day vividly.

"Can everyone tell I am different?" I wondered. "Do they know I am no longer me?"

Afraid to grow up

Somehow a simple item of clothing had stolen my identity. In fact, I felt that anything remotely related to the word "woman" had the power to transform me, an innocent girl, into my worst nightmare. I was terrified of growing up and would do almost anything to slow down, if not stop, the process.

As I approached adolescence, I was afraid of gaining weight—the dreaded fat—in "all the wrong places." I felt awkward and out of place. I thought I was becoming a freak.

From the age of four, I had believed I was fat. So these changes added another dimension to my already distorted body image. My development during adolescence appeared to possess an unmanageable characteristic, yet at the same time, seemed to control my mind with absolute finesse. A film that I watched in fifth grade explained that I should be excited about "blossoming" into womanhood. Blossoming? I felt nothing like a budding flower. I was not excited; I was terrified. And I didn’t think horror movies should be allowed in elementary school.

Focus on weight

My body and its many peculiar changes were completely out of my control. I felt dirty and disgusting. I began attempting to manage my weight as my way of trying to make sense out of everything. I said to myself, "If I’m going to have to grow up, I’m going to have control over what I look like."

By restricting food, I believed I could keep my familiar, child-like body. Unfortunately, as a result of these eating habits, I developed osteopenia, a weakening of the bones. I just wanted to avoid becoming an adult; I did not know I was hurting my adult body in the process. All I knew was that a little girl’s body felt safe and comfortable in the strange, scary adult world. I did not know the first thing about buying groceries, paying bills, or owning a home. (Yes, I was already anxious about these things at 12 years old.) If I remained a child, someone else would buy the milk, send in the electric bill, and make the house payment. I did not even think to ask anyone whether or not I should be worrying about such things.

A false sense of security

I now know that one of the underlying issues of my eating disorder is being an overachiever and thinking I need to do everything just right, without question. As I began feeling lost and inadequate, my eating disorder provided a sense of security. I knew how to control my weight, and nothing could take that from me—not even this mysterious thing called puberty.

To me, puberty meant that I would be forced to enter an unjust society. From a young age, it appeared that a woman had many more standards to uphold than a man and yet did not seem to be respected as much. A woman was expected to dress in pretty clothes, apply her make-up just right, and always wear a smile each time she walked outside of the house. I even noticed that this had a lot to do with impressing men. As a child, I had always been able get dressed, comb my hair quickly, and run outside to play with my brothers. Would this era end soon? My eating disorder was my way to rebel against society and not be reduced to a weak, fragile, and sexual object. I would remain as highly respected as my brothers—running fast outside, not crying in movies, and absolutely never hitting that glass ceiling.


I grew up anyway. My eating disorder only got worse with time until I hit rock bottom at 22 and sought help. With years of therapy and lots of falling down and getting back up again, I was able to finally find freedom. A key part of this process was looking in the mirror and admitting, "I don’t want to grow up. But I am a grown up."

One of the most difficult parts of recovery from my eating disorder has been embracing the fact that I am a woman.

Arriving at this point of acceptance was excruciatingly painful, because I had to face those feelings that I had worked so hard to bury throughout adolescence. I discovered that my body is beautiful and is not a sexual object. I am free to make my own decisions regarding sexuality. In fact, as a grown adult woman, I am free to take advantage of any opportunity in life. The sky is the limit.

I am not defined by an article of clothing underneath a pink and white shirt. My world might have stopped on that dreadful day years ago, but I did not stop growing. No matter how hard I tried I never could stop that process. For that, I am grateful.

I am not defeated. I am not ashamed. I am not guilty.

I am proud.

I am a woman."i