An Undergraduate Literary Journal from UW-Milwaukee

All the Girls Are Fat in Heaven

by Madison Dettlinger

When you are sixteen and sixty-five pounds, you are all shadows. You are angles and holes and the bones of your clavicle poking out so sharply that they could be wings and you could be an angel or a broken bird, or both.

Sixteen and sixty-five pounds feels good. It feels like symmetry. Sixteen. Sixty-five. Like poetry.

It feels like winning.

October 19, 2012
1 pc. avocado toast
2 carrots
1 cup strawberry smoothie
2 bowls popcorn

When you’re sixteen and sixty-five pounds, you have to hide sometimes. From your friends, your teachers, especially your parents. You wonder if it’s obvious, but you hope it’s not. They want to send you to treatment again. Treatment makes you weak.

The thing about not eating is it takes strength. Secret strength, too, which is the hardest kind. You are at war with the Hunger and one of you has to lose. If you eat something small at breakfast—a piece of toast, a granola bar, a bowl of sugar-free oatmeal—then go five hours without eating, you can go the rest of the day. The Hunger will do battle with you. It will toss and roll and growl and come alive inside you. But if you make it to five hours, something

amazing happens, where the Hunger admits defeat and falls silent and you have won. You’ll feel dizzy and lightheaded and far, far away from anything and everything, but you have won.

You will fight this battle again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. And you will win. You are strong. You are a silent warrior.

November 3, 2012
1 skinny vanilla latte
1 bag almonds
2 bowls Special K w. Red Berries
1 piece German chocolate cake (slipped bc it was Kaley’s birthday but made myself throw up after party)

You’re starting to notice that people whisper when they’re around you. Or they give each other looks when they see you, then stop talking right away. You’re worried about losing your friends, that they’re beginning to realize what you already know—that you are worthless.

At dinner you distract your parents with conversation and pull apart your food, which is lasagna. You learned this technique from your roommate at the center in Tulsa. If you cut up your food into pieces and spread it out like paint across the plate, it looks like you’ve eaten more than you have. You tell your parents about the A- you got on your history paper so they don’t notice that you’ve only eaten two bites, then you go upstairs to your room and stand naked in front of the mirror.

You are almost where you want to be, with xylophone ribs and sharp, angled cheekbones. You’ll never be beautiful, but if you keep trying, maybe one day you’ll be acceptable. The only problem is the hips. When you pinch your skin there, you don’t feel the strong, solid arch of bone but skin and tissue and fat. Loose and bulging like a tumor. A cancer.

November 17, 2012
½ cup scrambled egg whites
1 energy bar
½ apple
4 pistachio nuts

Two years ago, when you first starting taking control of everything, back when you were weak and weighed 127 pounds, you got compliments. Especially after you dropped to 100. Your friends, your parents. They asked if you’d been working out, and you nodded and smiled even though you hadn’t. You’d been stealing laxatives from your dad’s medicine cabinet and pretending to be doing homework at lunchtime so you could go to the library and dump your brown lunch bag in the trash.

Your friends said they were jealous, especially that first summer when you wore a bikini, and everyone said they wished they looked like you, even though when you looked in the mirror all you could see were more places on your body you didn’t want to exist.

People used to compliment you, but no one does anymore. You wonder if maybe you’ve gotten fatter. If the scale is broken, if all of this progress is just one elaborate lie, or maybe you were even bigger than you thought when you started. You don’t say this at counseling, but afterward, when your mother weighs you, and the scale reads 73 because of the weights you’ve got strapped across each thigh, you almost believe it. Later, when the scale you hide underneath your bed reads 62, you think you should feel relieved, but all you can think of is that patch of fat on your hip and how you feel it growing inside of you and taking over and all you want to do is destroy it.

November 29, 2012
1 pc. peanut butter toast
3 almonds

Another thing you learned from your roommate in Tulsa was about controlling the Hunger. Sometimes it’s hard to make it to five hours. Sometimes, when you work out, five hours doesn’t quiet the Hunger at all.

Your roommate showed you this app. You pull it up now. It’s a simple concept, a mindless game called “Feed the Fish.” The screen lights up, a vibrant blue. Four brightly colored fish appear and start moving in random patterns. Red fish, blue fish, like the Dr. Seuss book your dad used to read you. You press a finger to the screen and a cluster of dots appears, then the dots sink lower in the water. Fish food. You watch as the creatures come writhing toward it and take note of their desperation. You keep playing until one of the fish gets overfed. When this happens, the fish explodes into rainbow confetti and the game ends and you don’t feel hungry anymore.

December 5, 2012
1 bowl Skinnypop (better alternative to popcorn. eat w. large glass of water and will stay full for hrs)
½ cup almonds
1 skinny vanilla latte

Look at what you’re about to eat. Are you hungry? Are you really hungry? Could you go without it? Think of how great you’ll feel. Think how great you’ll look. Push it to one side. Down a pint of water. Now. Right now. Halve the plate. Throw one half away. Now look back at the food. Still hungry? Go look in the mirror. Right now. Turn to the side. List from top to bottom which bits you want to change. Write them down. Read it. Twice. Go brush your teeth. Drink another glass of water. Do ten sit-ups. Don’t you feel great? Yeah, look at you. Look at the

food. You don’t wanna eat that. How great do you feel? How good are you doing? Throw the other half away. Give it to someone else. Put it away somewhere. I bet you feel good now. Ten more sit-ups. Go and take a shower. Look at yourself in the mirror. Turn to the side. That’s gonna look so much better tomorrow morning. Think about what happens when you eat something. You chew it, you swallow, it goes into your stomach. Then slowly your body absorbs all those calories, all that sugar, all that fat. Go look in the mirror. Poke your belly. Squeeze your arms and legs. Have a glass of water. Delicious, refreshing, filling water. Free of calories. Super healthy. Now, think of someone skinny. Super beautiful. You’re gonna look like her. Now think of someone fat. Someone you’ve seen, someone you know, someone famous. You aren’t her. She envies you. She wants to be you. Look at you—you’re fucking beautiful. Get up. Stretch. Feel your ribs. Think of that fat person. Think of all the fat covering her body. Chubby. Fat. Chunky. Squishy. Gross. Obese. Tubby. Plump. Thick. Porky. You are not one of them.

You read this post online once, and now it serves as an affirmation. If you want to get rid of that patch of fat on your hips, you’ll have to do even better. You copy the words down in the food journal you hide under your bed and read it every morning now, memorize it. At lunch, you sneak away to an empty classroom on the third floor each day and do crunches until you feel weak.

Your best friend Emma is starting to worry, you can tell, but you ignore her. Emma is tall and blonde and beautiful, and she’ll never understand.

“You coming to lunch today?” she asks one day after English, third period. You hear the suspicion in her voice.

“I’m going to the library again, actually,” you say, trying to sound casual. “I’ve got a giant paper for Civ I need to finish.”

Emma sighs. “Are you eating?” she asks.

“Yes,” you lie, rolling your eyes. “I told you, I’ve just been really focused on school right now, trying to make up for my time off last semester.”

Emma doesn’t believe you, so you let out a long, exaggerated sigh and show her the lunch you’ve packed simply to throw away later. You force yourself to start eating chips, pasting on a smile that says, “Emma, you’re being ridiculous.” You eat almost the whole bag before she laughs and tells you to stop.

“Ok,” Emma says. “You’re right, I’m being crazy. I just worry about you, you know?”

You tell her you do know, but that you’re ok now. You’re fine. That’s what you tell everyone. I’m fine. Later you throw everything away but the bag of chips. You turn it over to look at the nutrition facts and suddenly you can feel it on you—the salt, the butter, the fat. You go to the bathroom and scrub and scrub and scrub at your fingertips but the oil won’t go away.

December 21, 2012
½ almond butter sandwich
1 banana
1 cup black coffee

One last thing, you think. One last thing, and it’ll be enough. You’re standing in front of the mirror again. This time in a cotton t-shirt and sweatpants that used to fit, but now fall low on your body, below your waist. All you can see is your hips. The left one, specifically, where that bulge of fat sits, crawling around, waiting to lay eggs inside of you and multiply, and you cannot, not for one more second, let it stay there.

But you’ve been doing everything in your power to make it go away and nothing is working. You dig around with your pointer finger until you can make out the structure of your hip bone. Hard, concrete. There’s something there, waiting underneath all your mistakes and imperfections.

You don’t think the way normal people do anymore. In concrete notions and associations and memories and the cause-and-effect flash-forwards that spring from the hypothetical. You think do or more often do not do. Now, you think, get it off me. You think kitchen. You think scissors. You think cut. You think blood. You think oh god oh god what did I do you think darkness.

January 5, 2012
1 bowl carrots
IV-calories unknown

You’ve been in the hospital for so long you treat it like home. You were here for Christmas, when the nurses cut tiny snowflakes out of white construction paper and pasted them on your window. The short one with the dull brown hair and faint Russian accent made you a Christmas card and set it on your bedside table while you pretended to be asleep. Your parents brought gifts, but your mother cried and cried when she saw that the baby blue cashmere sweater she brought you hung low off your arms like leaves on a willow tree.

She does that a lot now. Gone is the cheerful, painted-on smile you saw in Tulsa, and Cleveland, and, before that, Dallas. You push aside the regret you feel as you watch her, napping in the bedside chair to your left. A string of drool droops from the corner of her mouth where her head has lolled to the side. You decide to watch TV while there’s no one here to monitor you, reaching a hand toward the switch on the wall to dim the cold, clinical hospital lights. You could almost pretend you were somewhere else, like your living room couch, if not for the smell, which is harsh and sanitizing, like the smell of the frogs you dissected in Biology in eighth grade. You remember the way the knife cut through the little creature like butter, its tiny, nut-shaped heart, and you think about how all we are is parts.

You explore the various channels, looking for something to take you away. MTV. A tall, thin blonde woman in a pink tank top and tiny denim cutoffs laughs at something said by her counterpart, a tan, sandy-haired Ken-doll type, with a thick, muscled body meant to take up the screen. You think how the job of girls is to make yourselves small, to make room for the giant men to save you or pass you by.

January 6, 2012

Today is the first day back from school after Christmas break, and you won’t be returning. You won’t let Emma visit you in the hospital, but she texts you constantly, and this morning when you wake up, you’ve got a new message on your phone. A photo of two lipsticks, one a maroon color, the other the soft light pink of a ballet slipper. “Which one? J” reads the text. You send back a vote for the pink and wait for her response, thinking of the other girls in your grade, pressing bronzer on their bodies, newly tan from a vacation to Florida or the Bahamas, burning their hair into straight lines or wide, looping curls, preparing to present themselves to the boys. The careless affect they’ll adopt as they walk through the halls, covering over the desperate, aching need of girlhood with drugstore mascara and a sense of having returned with a new identity.

You keep flipping channels, but find that you can’t escape the skinny bodies no matter where you go, so you settle on a daytime soap and watch. January 12, 2012

Your father is watching, crying softly as they hold you down by the shoulders. The Russian nurse is your enemy now. You’ve pulled out your IV again, and you keep your lips pursed tight in case they come at you with the milk. They murmur about heart disease, their voices crooning, blending together as they try to keep you calm. It’s suicide, they tell you, as if you don’t already know. February 1, 2012

There’s a kind of relief in being in hospice care, a feeling of inevitability. The doctors explain about your body no longer being able to process food. They use the term “reject.” For the first time in your life, you feel like your body’s finally on your side. “We’ll be rejects together,” you think inanely. And you wonder whether they’re right, and all this was was a kind of slow suicide, from the time you were eight years old and first played with a Barbie, to now, lying in the white covers of your childhood bedroom, surrounded by monitors.

You take a disturbing pleasure in the drama of everything. Friends and family members make the weepy-eyed pilgrimage to your bedside, sitting there next to you as if in a scene from a black-and-white movie. You don’t like seeing your parents with their hollowed-out faces, so you try not to think about the things you’ll take from them when you’re gone. After, you tell yourself, there will be Facebook posts, memories shrouded in sepia, a scholarship or a bench plastered with your name at the high school. Watery-eyed boys will, too late, declare their love for you. People will weep for you.

In their memories, you will finally be beautiful.


Before the IVs, before the jutted bones and crumbling teeth and flesh stretched across the body like plastic wrap, there was a day at the beach. Before there were crowds, before the greedy

laughter of boys over a too-small bathing suit, there was just you, your parents, and the ocean—spread out wide before you, dipping and rolling and unequivocally large, taking up space without apology.

It might be nice to go back there again, you think.


Madison Dettlinger is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied English, Political Science, and Creative Writing. She enjoys traveling, writing comedy and fiction, and spending all her money on books.