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Personal Essay | Recovering Beauty

By Charlotte Fraser

My boss sighs at the front desk. I ask her what’s wrong. “Oh, nothing,” she says, “I just feel dizzy. I had breakfast, though!” She then tells me her breakfast was a hard boiled egg and a banana. “I should be good till 3,” she says with confidence. I walk away, telling my brain to shut up before words come out of my mouth. She doesn’t get it, Charlotte; it’s not her fault.

I sit in my doctor’s office. The nurse asks to take my weight while asking how much exercise I get each day. I tell her to not tell me my weight – her response is “like you have any weight to be ashamed of” – and that I don’t exercise officially anymore – her response is then “I want to look good and be lazy, too, geez!” I clench my fists and breathe deep. She doesn’t understand, Charlotte; it’s not her fault.

I sit in the lunchroom at aesthetician school and quickly decide to forgo my packed lunch and eat out as my classmates start discussing detoxes, raw diets, and ketogenic meal prepping. I don’t have the heart to pass along my diet tips, and hearing theirs makes me shaky.

Having a job in the beauty industry as a recovering anorexic is a constant struggle. I come to the table with the mindset of wanting to help every person feel beautiful and powerful in their skin, whether that’s through regular facials or the occasional Brazilian wax. My job, however, is NOT to guilt you, change you, or make you feel inferior. I’m not here to offer a series of facial peels to get rid of your freckles, and I’m not here to tell you you’re ugly. I’m here to reinforce the idea that you’re beautiful.

Because I know way, way too well what it’s like to not have that.

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My anorexic tendencies began when I was in grade school. Before my tenth birthday, I knew that guzzling down drinks filled me up and kept me from being hungry. I constantly had mints and gum in my purse in middle and high school to keep my awful ketoacidic rotgut breath from killing everyone around me while tricking my brain into thinking I was full. I missed two growth spurts. Like the scene in Skins where Cassie shows Sid how to push around food, I was a master at the cut and distract. Socializing took priority over chewing. Whenever my weight was above 115, I would have panic attacks. All of this stemmed from my father putting me on fad diets in order to make me a better competitive swimmer. None of them worked.

It hasn’t been until the past year that I could get on a scale and see my weight without being horrified or panicking. I’m 25, and dealing with the effects of nearly twenty years of anorexia is a hard pill to swallow – mainly because the triggers never go away. Ever. Food is a necessity to live. The media vomits its unwanted advice everywhere. Family members comment on how you look. Peers go on cleanses and detoxes. People post workout pictures. And each time, a person with an eating disorder has to quiet the overbearing, obnoxiously loud voice in their head telling them, “Look at your fat, lazy self and look at how awesome they are! Why aren’t you doing that, lazy bum?”

Shake it off, Charlotte. You’re at work.

My next client walks in. Eleven years old, and enough pubic hair that her mother brought her in because she was unsure what to do. I hug her and understand. My body developed VERY quickly. No ten year old should be worried about shaving before swimming, but I did. I help her relax. Explain what I’m doing. Make sure she understands that there is absolutely no pressure – that I’ll only take off as much as she wants. I reassure her mother that no, we are not doing a Brazilian wax on her baby girl today. After clippers and two strips of wax, the formerly shy girl is bubbly, confident, and brilliant – only 30 points shy of Einstein’s IQ, she tells me with a smile. Her mom is relieved that her daughter can enjoy the beach. And I just helped a young girl feel more at home in her body. This is what makes my job worth it.

I get a text from my fiancé. “What do you want to eat for dinner?” It’s an innocent blue bubble, and I still have to stop myself from immediately saying, “I don’t need any, I’ve had plenty to eat today.” It’s still often hard for me to distinguish between hunger and nausea. My fiancé and I have gotten into serious arguments where he stares me down until I eat something, even though I feel full, because he knows I haven’t had enough to eat that day.

I started modeling as I was coming to grips with the fact that I was anorexic. I had no problem avoiding the food tables at shows, and that was a plus in my agent’s book. I still have a hard time eating in front of people – especially those I don’t know. I eventually got fired for making my agent feel dumb (I regret NOTHING), but I’ve always wondered if it was because my body wasn’t good enough. I didn’t exactly have much chest or butt since I was a swimmer.

Today marks almost four months until my wedding. I’m not on any diets, I definitely don’t have a workout plan, and I refuse to do a cleanse or detox. But you bet I’m setting myself up for at-home spa sessions at least once a week to deep clean my skin, treat my hair, and just relax. Because while I may not fully believe it, I’m beautiful and deserve it, dammit. Now, where’s my Turkish delight and marzipan? This girl has a date with Archer and a sheet mask in a bubble bath.

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Charlotte Smith is an esthetician licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s married to a lumberjack version of Deadpool, is obsessed with huskies, is straight up in quarter-life crisis mode, and loves pretty much anything that could be considered creepy.

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