DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story discusses eating disorders and may be potentially triggering. Please proceed with caution. Written for the July 2014 Ficathon on LJ.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To emeraldorchids[at]outlook.com
August 1, 2011
I'd like to take this opportunity to share a personal story with youa story which is relevant to each and every issue of Runway. Today, too many women struggle with their self-image, and I feel at some level, the models I personally choose to appear in this magazine are to blame. Not them, personally, but the way in which those images come to define our standards of beauty.
Perfection is defined as "the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects; the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible."
Over the course of my career, I've witnessed perfection and perfectionism in all its forms: the perfect photo, the perfect article, the perfect headline, the perfect model, a perfectly happy relationship, the list goes on. It wasn't until this past year, however, that I recognized perfection for the ugliness it truly is.
Last summer, my family and I were vacationing at our home in East Hampton. It was a perfectly normal morning; the air was cool, but the warmth of the sun signaled a hot summer day. I was curled up on my adirondack chair out on our beach, reading Hillary Clinton's latest book, and my daughters were somewhere in the house, texting with their friends, listening to music, or in Caroline's case, still asleep. My partner planned to join us later that evening.
I remember everything about that day, even down to smell of the sea breeze.
Around mid-morning, Cassidy, my youngest, came out and sat next to my chair. She wiggled her toes down into the sand and looked upwards, into the sky. At the time, I recall thinking how absolutely perfect my teenage daughter was, so young and happy and carefree. I folded the corner of the page I was reading and set my book down. I asked if she knew what she and her sister wanted to do that afternoon. I remember the way she smiled at me when I called her "Cassie," a nickname she knew I rarely used.
"Mom," she said, "if I tell you something, do you promise not to get upset?" I told her not to be ridiculous, as long as it wasn't a tattoo. I chuckled, but Cassidy didn't. I leaned over and smiled, softly brushing the hair away from her eyes. I promised her I wouldn't be upset.
"Mom, it's not a tattoo. It's Caroline. I'm really scared," she said. I felt a chill through my entire body with her words. I asked what was wrong, and she just shook her head and looked away. As a mother, my instinct was to fear the worst, but I couldn't even identify what "the worst" was in this case.
I sat down on the sand next to my daughter and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. She cried on my shoulder for a few minutes until I gave her a little hug and kissed the top of her head. I urged her to tell me what was going on. "I promise you I won't be upset. I love you and your sister more than anything in this worldyou know that," I told her. And that was the truth: they would always be my perfect little angels.
"I think Caroline's anorexic," she said.
Everything in my world came to a screeching halt. The memory still makes me shiver. I asked if she was sure, though that was only a natural response. I knew Cassidy wouldn't say anything unless she was sure. She was terrified, and so was I.
We sat in silence for a long time. I told myself that I needed to save the guilt for another time, that I needed to focus on doing whatever I could to help my beautiful, troubled daughter.
Once I began looking, all the signs were there: weight loss, loose-fitting clothing, fatigue, absence at mealtime, obsessive exercising. The more I wished that it wasn't true, the more I knew that it was, and that I had caused it all. I went out to the car that afternoon for some privacy, and I cried for hours to my partner.
Years before my daughters were born, I felt the pressure to be thin. I was the new Editor-in-Chief, and I was twice the size of the models in my magazine. It didn't matter that I was 5' 6" and 110 pounds, or that I was only a size two. I restricted my diet and forced myself to exercise every morning at 4:30 AM. I skipped meals and even tried diet pills. No matter what I did, I couldn't drop to a smaller size. Eventually, I became pregnant. Once the twins were born, the pressure subsided, but, it never truly disappeared.
As my daughters grew up, I tried to impart healthy food and exercise habits so they wouldn't struggle as I did. Minimize sugar intake, increase fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. We only had cookies and candy on special occasions. I made sure they were involved in sports to stay active, and we would even participate in various 5k run/walks as a family. My childhood was very different. Underweight children typically meant that a family couldn't afford to put food on the table, so my mother was constantly trying to fatten us up. What she cooked, we ate; there was no waste or leftovers. I didn't want to force feed my children. I wanted to show them healthy portion sizes and let them learn what it felt like to be full. I thought I was doing the right thing, preventing obesity and related health complications.
But now, I would take high cholesterol over anorexia any day.
I never intended any damage. I only ever wanted what was best for them. The worst part about it all is I should have known better. Eating disorders are unfortunately too common in the fashion industry and have been for years. I knew the signs, I knew the dangers, and yet, I thought it would never happen to me. I thought I would see it a mile away and stop it before it had a chance to takeover. I never dreamed that it could happen to one of my girls.
That afternoon when Cassidy first came to me, I sat down with Caroline. I told her we loved her, and then I told her we were going to get helpI didn't even have to say what for. She cried, and apologized to me.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I know it must be so disappointing for someone like you to have such a fat daughter."
In that moment, I learned the depth of her illness, and I was at a loss for how to respond.
I took a temporary leave from my Editor-in-Chief duties, and the reason was quite clearly twofold: I needed to be available to look after my daughter, and I needed to distance our family from the negative body images sustained by the fashion industry. There was so much I wanted to do to change that, but I knew that first, I needed to start at home.
Initially, I took Caroline to her physician for a complete workup. I wanted to believe her when she said it had only been going on for the past few months, but I needed the reassurance that her body was still functioning. Some of her results were abnormal, but the doctor said it was nothing to cause any alarm in a growing young woman. Next, we saw a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. Caroline attended therapy sessions three times a week for the remainder of the summer, and once school began, she would go twice a week after school. The therapist explained that we wouldn't see a change overnight, and urged me to be patient and give her body time to adjust.
I waited. I was patient. Caroline kept dropping weight.
Just six weeks into her eighth grade year, Caroline was admitted to a treatment center in Boston. I rented a loft a few blocks from the center and arranged for Dalton to work with both Caroline and Cassidy via email. I knew neither daughter would do well to be separated at this point, so Cassidy came with.
For the first few days, I stayed with her around the clock. She was evaluated by physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, counselors, and nurses. She didn't want to be there. She said was fine, that I was being too overprotective. I was "hovering," she said. What she meant was what we were both thinking: if I would have been hovering, maybe we wouldn't be here. Maybe I could have seen it sooner and could have helped.
For days, everyone begged her to eat and drink. Her heart rate was dropping dangerously low, and she would get out of breath from simply putting on a sweater. At least at home, she was eating a few bites everyday. At the treatment center, though, she was flat out refusing everything except limited quantities of water. After her morning individual therapy session on the third day, though, something changed. I was sitting on the sofa in her room when she returned, in a wheelchair because she was too weak to walk. I asked how it went, and she moved to sit next to me, resting her head on my shoulder.
"Mom, I don't want to die," she said.
With those six words, she stirred the strongest emotions of fear and hope I've ever experienced. I hugged her and kissed her and smiled at her through my tears as I promised I wouldn't let that happen. It was a turning point: Caroline actually wanted to get better. That night, she allowed the nurses to insert a nasogastric tube for nutritional support. For the first time in months, I fell asleep with the certainty that she would survive the night.
After that, Cassidy and I continued to visit Caroline regularly, and we tried to give her some time to herself, too. Most treatment programs I researched required the patient's separation from familyseeing your family would be the reward for eating. Perhaps it was selfish of me, but I couldn't put my daughter or myself through that.
I think Caroline was grateful for our presence. Cassidy usually attended group therapy with her, while I sat with her in the evenings while she was fed by the machines. At least we knew she wasn't going to die of starvation. She was putting on a small amount of weight, and she was getting stronger. However, Caroline still could not bring herself to put food into her mouth. She told me that the added weight made it feel like she was failing. The nasogastric tube was keeping her alive, so why did she need to consume even more calories?
Personally, I struggled to grasp my daughter's condition. I wanted to find the cause, to blame somethingthe way I raised her, something she saw in a magazine, something someone said to her. I struggled to keep my focus on her and not myself. In all honesty, I had never devoted every single second of my daywaking or notto another person. (Caroline, of course, was the one to point that out.) Whenever I wanted to cry and scream and kick because life was hard, I was reminded that it was harder for Caroline, and I would save the crying and screaming for my daily phone call to my partner.
Through it all, Cassidy struggled, too. While it was difficult for her to see her identical twin sister like this, hooked up to a feeding tube, we both knew it was a lot harder for Caroline. My girls have both been so brave and honest this past year, but I can't help but think of what might have happened if Cassidy didn't speak up that day. Most nights, in the loft that was not our home, Cassidy and I fell asleep, reassuring each other that it wasn't our fault. Silently, I still blamed myself.
Eventually, we worked through some of Caroline's deeper issues, namely her perfectionism, and she began to take small amounts of food and protein shakes as we weaned her from the tube. The three of us began taking afternoon excursions in the city for a change of scenery, and my partner even drove up from the city to join us once or twice. It was that little reminder for Caroline that the eating disorder was preventing her from living the life she wanted to live. If she wanted to fully recover, she would need to develop healthy behaviors.
Until she made that decision, I had to keep her safe.
After almost three months in Boston, Caroline was released on a restricted diet, and we returned home to New York just in time for Christmas. We still had a long road ahead of us, but things were looking up. Caroline and Cassidy spent some time catching up with their friends over break, and every time they were meeting friends for pizza or coffee or lunch or dinner, I could see Caroline's struggle. "Why does everything have to center around food?" she would ask. I didn't have an answer. I tried to give her space. She promised she would come to me if she was feeling a relapse. I knew I needed to trust her, but I never thought it would be so difficult.
January was our two steps backwards. Everything we worked so hard on at the treatment center had fallen apart. The girls were no longer talking to each other because of an argument over how many calories Cassidy consumed each day. I was growing upset with Cassidy for not being supportive enough, and I struggled to control my frustration with Caroline when she would talk about how "huge" or "disgusting" she felt, or when she refused to eat in the presence of anyone else. We soon realized that she wasn't sticking to the restricted diet as she promised, and I lost the ability to cope with her. I was exhausted. One night, we found her passed out on the floor in the guest bathroom at 2:00 AM. While my partner got her to drink some water, I called her doctor in Boston.
"I need help with Caroline," I admitted.
The doctor said we could come the following day. I explained to Cassidy that morning that she would be staying with her father for a while. This was something I needed to do with Caroline, and I needed to focus all of my energy on helping her. Cassidy understood and wished her sister well. I could still see the fear in her eyes when they hugged goodbyeit was fear of never seeing her again. I promised myself I would never let Caroline see that look in my eyes. We packed our bags and drove out to Boston that night.
At the center, Caroline was given the exact same room she had been in a month earlier. I remember her looking around and saying, "They did this intentionallyjust to fuck with me, didn't they?" I nodded in agreement, praying that this time it would work.
Her second stay was, in many ways, more difficult than the first. Failure and disappointment hung thick in the air. Didn't someone once say that the definition of "insanity" was doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results? That's what it felt like for me, and I can only imagine what Caroline was going through.
In our group therapy sessions, though, I forced myself to dig a little deeper. Something had to change. Caroline said that she first thought about losing weight when I brought them with me to some of the shows at Fashion Week in 2009. We were all backstage after Calvin Klein, and the models were changing into their street clothes. While I was talking with Francisco, Caroline apparently overheard some of the models talking about how few calories they consumed and how happy they were when they could see at least six ribs.
"At first I though they were crazy," Caroline said, "but then when we were trying on dresses for our birthday party, I looked over my shoulder in the mirror and didn't see anything just my back. I thought, 'god, I'm so fat you can't even see any of my ribs.'"
I knew it would have been pointless to ask Caroline why she didn't talk to me about it. I could only look at her and cry. Up until that point, I had been keeping it together in front of her, but after that, I couldn't hold back my emotions. We cried a lot that night, and for many nights after that. She later told me that seeing me so upset felt worse than feeling "huge," and it's one of the things that helped her through refeeding.
After just nine weeks, Caroline was again released under close supervision, and we traveled back home to New York.
Learning to trust my daughter again was difficult. A mother already walks a fine line between protecting her daughters and allowing their independence; the eating disorder only complicated things. Through the ups and downs of the past few months, I eventually learned to accept the fact that Caroline needed to make her own decisions. She needed to choose to get better, and finally, she did.
So, here we are, thirteen months into our journey. In a few weeks, school begins. I can hardly believe my beautiful baby girls are in high school. Caroline is doing much better. Just the other day she came into the living room and announced that we needed to take a shopping trip because her bras are too small. She is slowly gaining weight. She is healthy. She is alive. I know that for her, the journey continues each and every day of her life. There is no cure for anorexia nervosa, but she reassures me that she is in control now. And I trust her.
On my daughters' fourteenth birthday, Caroline was briefly hospitalized for an infection that resulted from a broken wrist she sustained falling down the stairs. She didn't fall because she hadn't been eatingshe fell because she was practicing walking in stilettos while she balanced a book on her head. In the hospital that night, Caroline told me she's not perfect and that she doesn't want to be. I am fifty-four years old, and I still struggle with that. Sometimes, I think my daughters are stronger than I am. I know Caroline is.
As a woman who spent her entire career dedicated to the pursuit of perfection, let me offer this warning that perfection is a dangerous road. Nothing exists without fault or flaw, and seeking to remove those defects is an impossible and life-threatening task.
Caroline (who, by the way, has given me permission to share her story here) told me she wants to help other young girls learn healthy lifestyle habits and maintain positive body images. I am beyond thrilled to be working on a new project with her, which we will hopefully announce at the end of this year. She's asked our entire family to get involved, and we are all too happy to support her in this. My heart is overflowing with pride.
The past year has been an emotional whirlwind to say the least, and it's prompted me to step back and reevaluate what's important in life. Without question, that is my family, and so I have officially resigned as Editor-in-Chief of Runway, effective September 1, 2011. For three decades, this magazine was my life, and I thank all of you for making it such an incredible journey.
I would not have been able to survive this year without the constant, unwavering love and support from my partner. Though often miles away, you were my strength. I know I speak for Caroline and Cassidy, too, when I say thank you.
"Well, what do you think?"
"It's beautiful," Andrea said, wiping a tear from her eye. "I'm so proud of you."
Miranda softly shook her head as she took the advance copy from her and placed it back in her bag.
"Come here," Andrea said, tugging her onto the couch. She hugged her and pressed a kiss to her lips. "I mean thatI am very proud of you, Miranda. It takes an incredible amount of courage to be so honest."
Again, she shook her head. "It's Caroline who has the courage," she said, squeezing the young woman's hand.
"Mom? Do you know where myoh, sorry" Caroline said, stopping turning back towards the doorway.
"Care, it's okay, your mom and I were just talking," Andrea said. "What do you need?"
Caroline leaned against the doorframe. "I was just trying to find my iPod. Cassie and I are going for a run in the park," she said.
Miranda looked up, and Andrea could feel that she was holding her breath. "Not too long, right?" Andrea asked.
"No, of course not, Andy. I know," she said, looking down.
Miranda exhaled and leaned into the young woman's arms. "Okay, just checking. And I think you left your iPod in our bathroom by the tub," Andrea said.
"Ah, okay, thanks!"
"Wait, Caroline, come back here for a second," Miranda said. The fourteen-year-old came back into the room and sat on the ottoman. "I just let Andrea read my final Editor's Note."
"Oh? What'd you think?" she asked.
Andrea smiled and squeezed Miranda's hand. "I told your mom that it's beautiful, and that I'm so proud of both of you. Come here," she said, holding her arms out.
Caroline sat on the couch between them, and Andrea hugged her tightly, as did Miranda. "Guys, don't squish me!"
Andrea loosened her grip and kissed Caroline on the cheek. "Sweetheart, I love you so much." After a few minutes, she pulled away and softly brushed the redhead's cheek. "Go grab your iPod so you can get your run in before it gets too hot out. I'll make some of that fresh kale-celery-apple juice when you two get back, okay?"
"Yep, sounds good. We'll be back in an hour or so," she said, climbing off the couch and heading out of the study.
Miranda took a deep breath and laid her head on Andrea's chest. "Just when I think I can't possibly love you any more than I already do," she said, "you prove me wrong. I can't believe it took me fifty years to find you."
Andrea smiled and kissed the top of Miranda's head. "Well, aren't I lucky? I found you in half the time."
"Oh my god," Miranda said, rolling her eyes and grinning. "But in all seriousness, I still can't quite believe that you're still here after this past year."
"Really? Do you think I would just give up on you three?"
"Well, I was incredibly rude to you, and I said some hurtful things, especially when I told you I didn't have time for you anymore," she said.
"Yeah, but I understood. Your daughter was just admitted for 24/7 treatment at a center in Boston, and you had no idea how long you would be gone. You were scared. I knew you didn't intend to be hurtful," Andrea said.
"How many phone calls did you get from me where I couldn't even choke out any words? And yet, you stayed on the line, comforting me."
"Miranda, it was the least I could do. You know I would have been there with my arms wrapped around you if I could have. Not a minute went by that I wasn't thinking about you or Caroline."
She reached up and wiped the tears from her eye. "You could have went on with your lifeI all but told you to. But you didn't move on, even though I didn't once ask how you were doing or what was going on in your life," Miranda said. "I was horrible to you."
"It doesn't matter. I was waiting, and I'd wait all over againlongerif I had to. Don't you get it? You are my life. You and Caroline and Cassidy. There is no going on without you."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Miranda was still wiping away her tears.
"What are you thinking about?"
"How I should have used your name in my note instead of referring to you as my 'partner.' It's not like we have anything to hide. Everyone who matters already knows," Miranda said.
"Oh, don't worry about that. The note was about Caroline and unhealthy perfectionism. Mentioning me by name would have made it about your coming out instead."
"I could have ambiguously referred to you as 'Andy,'" she said with a smirk.
Andrea laughed. "Honestly, it doesn't matter to me. As long as we know in our hearts " Her voice drifted off as she gently twirled the gold engagement ring on her finger.
Miranda pushed herself up and kissed the younger woman with an intensity she hadn't felt in weeks. "The girls won't be back for an hour," she whispered, kissing her again and gently tugging on her lip. "Shall we?"
Andrea smiled and stood, taking her hand and leading her back to their bedroom. This, she thought, was better than "perfect"this was love.
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