Laura Labate

Wasting Away

By Laura Labate

Writing 111: Writing Seminar

“Mom, I’ve been waiting outside to use the bathroom for almost ten minutes now, but Carly won’t get out! If I’m late to Girl Scouts, I won’t get a badge this week.”

I walked back and forth anxiously awaiting. My mom’s expressions didn’t convey any sense of urgency.

While simultaneously folding laundry she said, “Well, knock and let her know you need to use the restroom.”

“I did knock, but I don’t think she can hear me. The faucet is running.” My mother froze and the laundry hit the floor.

“The faucet is running again?”

Confused by my mother’s reaction I replied, “Well yeah, it has been for the past few minutes?”

“Laura, please go upstairs. I need to have a conversation with your cousin.” Unaware of what had just transpired, I walked upstairs, taking my time with each step to potentially overhear pieces of my mom’s conversation with Carly. My mom

knew better than to begin talking before she heard my door shut.

I hope Mom doesn’t find out I leave the water running when I brush my teeth. I’ll be the next one in trouble.

I assumed the confrontation was about wasting water. Mom always told us to turn the water off while we brushed

our teeth, but when I heard the severity of aggravation in my Mom’s voice I knew this

wasn’t about wasting water.                                                        

“This habit will never die if someone doesn’t set some rules in this house. You will not leave the table until thirty minutes after eating. And as long as you live in my home you will not use my bathroom to destroy your body. Go somewhere else if you want to do that.”

I kept my ear pressed against the door. As my face tightened, the formation of tears consumed my attention. I wandered into a state of confusion. A state filled with questions but no answers. A state of denial, as I began to convince myself my mom was being too strict on Carly, my role model, who would never purposely behave in an inappropriate manner.Trying to erase such images from my mind, I reverted my attention back to the present. My upper- body jolted backwards after hearing the garage door slam. I ran to the window to watch Carly’s car exit the driveway and recklessly speed away. I would’ve done the same thing, Carly. Mom gets mad too easily.


“Honey, promise me you will never do this to yourself or us.”

Their refusal to release the stare into my eyes signaled high levels of concern.

I nervously laughed to ease the tension. “Throw-up? Why would I ever want that taste in my mouth?”

Without even a soft smile, their eyes remained locked on mine, “I know it sounds silly to you. It doesn’t make much sense to us either.”

“Then why does she do it?” “She isn’t very happy with the person she is on the inside or outside.”

Taken aback by this discovery, I resorted to my usual stance, which was to defend Carly. But I didn’t know how. There

was so much I couldn’t understand at the age of ten.

“She isn’t the first girl to feel this way about herself and she won’t be the last.”

“Laura, you need to tell Dad and me if you ever find yourself wanting to look…” My mom paused and glared over at my father as if to ask for his approval to complete her thought. After gaining confirmation from a simple head nod she continued, “…you know, skinnier. You don’t want to end up in trouble like Carly.”

“Ok, I promise.”


My father nervously fidgeted at the dinner table, seeming uninterested in my complaints about another uneventful high school soccer practice. Assuming he was preoccupied due to a busy day at work, I cleaned off my plate and headed towards the stairs.

“Wait Laura, give me a second to talk to you. Please?”

Knowing the SAT practice test wasn’t going to take itself, I hurriedly replied, “What is it?”

As I caught a glimpse of my father’s nerves frozen in his lack of facial

expressions, I knew the topic that had been preoccupying his thoughts was about to surface.

“I don’t really know how to preface this and I don’t mean to worry you, but lately you’ve seemed distant. Perhaps anxious or upset about something?”

The silence was quickly broken as he scrambled to find words to justify his controversial statement.

“…Listen I know you’re worried about the college search, but is there something else going on you’re keeping from Mom and me?”

I felt trapped. When did I become so transparent? I reassured myself I hadn’t. My dad overanalyzed everything. He was too invested. I fought with the truth that was too strong to ignore. He knew me better than anyone else, and there was no one’s opinion I valued more. The battle with my thoughts continued, as I desperately tried to avoid the pain and shame that came with exposure.

“You said it best yourself, Dad.” I bit my lip, combating the temptation to let my guard down. “…It’s the college search.”

I turned around and headed back for the stairs. I stopped myself as I heard a familiar voice, “Laura, you need to tell Dad and me if you ever find yourself wanting to look…you know, skinnier.”

That’s when I decided to be vulnerable. I turned around and sat down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to convey my discontent with my appearance, but I could no longer feel trapped in such isolation. After all, I never was the type to break a promise.


Why and how? The two questions that continuously float within me when I try to gauge the root of such superficial insecurities. I witnessed the most detrimental aspects of an eating disorder at a young age, yet here I am admitting to my parents I can’t find comfort in my weight or body type. But perhaps even worse, I can’t find the source of the discomfort. I try to place fault elsewhere to ease the stress of my parents and myself. As I search for answers, I attempt to recall encounters with my friends or family that may have triggered some of these insecurities, but nothing comes to mind. I was never the punchline of a joke, I was never told I needed to cut weight, I was never told I eat too much. With this failure to account for an incident to blame, I turned to the obvious culprit: the media.

Carly grew up in Las Vegas until she turned twenty-three and decided to move into our home to help take care of my grandparents. I blamed Carly’s eating disorder on her upbringing in the Las Vegas culture. Vegas is a culture which thrives off the objectification of female bodies. But are they alone in doing so? While Vegas did exacerbate the situation, it did not give birth to such a complexity. The thin ideal is an American value so widely adopted through media misrepresentations and through false connections between thinness and health (Levine and Murmen, 9).

While the American obsession with thinness and appearance is not a new fad, it has become increasingly detrimental to people’s health, over the years. According to an editorial in a January issue of Plus Model Magazine where research was conducted to prove the severity of change amongst size and weight over past decades, Lovett writes, “Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23 percent less.” As new techniques and advancements are made available to the public, people race to explore these new ways to better their look. Photo-editing applications for smart phones capitalize on this growing need for people to portray their bodies in the most flattering manner possible. Unfortunately, our culture’s depiction of “flattering bodies” doesn’t stray too far from emaciated bodies. This is evident in the statistic, “The average weight of a female super model with a height of 5’9 is 110 pounds” (Effron. Sec. Reaching New Heights). This statistic would place the model at a severe risk for malnourishment. It is this I wish the girl next to me in Starbucks knew, as she moves her fingers closer together on her phone screen, narrowing the size of her waist in a picture with help from the free mobile app Slim Trim.


The silence had the loudest presence in the room as my parents attempted to comprehend the incomprehensible. As the minutes dragged out, an immediate sense of regret consumed me. The voices of anguish were overwhelming. You said it best yourself, every teenage girl has felt this way at some point or another. Why did you think you were any different? Why would you put your parents in such a situation?

“Laura?” my mom repeated. “…What did we do to…”

She choked on her words, overcome by emotions. She swallowed and tried again, “Where did we go wrong?”

My dad unwillingly said, “Was it that comment I made on vacation about snacking too much because I didn’t…”

I interrupted him. “I can’t respond to questions I myself haven’t found the answers to.” Once again I headed for the steps, this time feeling I had just made a detrimental mistake. My secret was out. Now I must prepare for the myriad of concerns and judgments that will follow shortly.

I couldn’t help but wonder what benefits people like the girl in Starbucks on Wake Forest Campus felt they were gaining from apps such as Slim Trim,so I turned to the internet, ironically, in hopes of receiving clarity.  My google search read: “Relationship between body editing apps and body dissatisfaction.” The top five results were suggested body editing apps, with the fifth being a Forbes article titled “20 of The Best Photo Editing Apps Mobile Devices.” I think the top search results were enough to provide me with an answer.

After actively searching to find a report addressing the repercussions of editing devices and social media, I came across a text from the Journal of Eating Disorders titled “Selfies and Social Media: relationships between self-image editing and photo-investment and body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint.” The findings in this article began resonating with me, because they stressed the influence of factors that may not be as transparent as self-editing apps. The simple act of posting on social media and scrolling through a feed of images is a process known as photo investment, a process I am all too familiar with. The journal explained even those who refrain from editing their photos are internalizing ways in which their picture will be received by others (Mclean, Photo Investment). Am I portraying myself accurately in this photo? If not, I’ll use a different one. I cringed at the reading as I kept skimming over parallels between my actions and the actions of the individuals mentioned. My internal emphasis on appearance, specifically people’s body features, models the factors manifested in eating disorders. Turns out my actions didn’t stray too far from the girl in Starbucks. I may not have been resorting to an app to slim my body, but I was resorting to unhealthy eating behaviors. See Mom and Dad, I told you this wasn’t your fault. I sat on the edge of my bed, anticipating a knock on the door any minute now. “What was the point of that? What did I think they were going to be able to do? Solve a problem I have yet to distinctively identify? Besides they’ll never really understand the feelings of discontentment I’m enduring.” Sure enough the knock came. It was only a matter of time.

My dad hesitantly entered my room, despite my lack of a response to his knock.

“I get it.”

I kept my eyes locked onto the floor and responded, “Thanks, Dad.”

“No, Laura, like, I get it.”

He took another step in the room. “I struggled with eating issues in college, but never told you because I feltyou had seen the consequences enough, having watched Carly destroy her life.”

He’s lying. Body dissatisfaction to such an extent is individual to females among my generation due to the growing demands and pressures from media. Yet in front of me stands a fifty-year old man who just confessed to having an eating disorder years ago. It never occurred to me that “the relationships between mass media, negative body image, and unhealthy behaviors in males are receiving increasing attention” (Levine and Murnen 10).

Every feeling of isolation I had pent up inside me slowly disintegrated. So many of these insecurities and issues exist within Americans; it is just a matter of recognizing their existence. But perhaps the hardest part is sharing individual stories.p

Individuals can be blamed, our media can be blamed, and our food industry can be blamed, but until we as a nation choose to shift our values, blame is useless. This is a societal problem to which we have become blind because we are ingrained with the correlation between beauty and bodies. The facts tell the story. Until people begin to question the institution, we will remain a country that spends $70 million annually on dieting (Wolchover).

You may not believe our media has led to a nation consumed by body dissatisfaction, but all you have to do is look at countries that have not placed such an emphasis on thinness. “Fiji is an ideal setting to study the impact of media. Television was not introduced in the remote provinces of Fiji until the mid-1990s. Over the next three years, teenage girls went from viewing being overweight positively to viewing it negatively, and 74% thought of themselves as too fat. Many decided to diet” (Fletcher, Contagious Eating Disorders: The Health Consequences of Media Exposure). I believe it’s essential that people step outside of the bubble of the thin ideal and recognize how removed we are from health and normalcy. The longer we remain blind to the issue, the more control we grant the industry which has created such corruption. How can we fight back? How can we regain control over our personal desires? It will require making an effort to speak out against the wrongdoings. “A number of business, media, and government entities have launched campaigns to promote positive self-perceptions of weight and appearance” (Fletcher, Fighting Back: Efforts to Counter Media-Induced Insecurity). The National Eating Disorder Association has begun orchestrating National Eating Disorder Awareness week, in an attempt to educate those unaware of the extent to which our nation struggles with eating issues. The more we are surrounded by images and signs promoting true health and body positivity, the more likely we can drown out the current media’s dangerous influence. A complete eradication of the media is not only unrealistic, but it is also unnecessary. If we can construct a society where the positive messages in the media trump the negative ones, we can begin to mend our nation’s issues.                      

I sit staring at the faucet running, although this time I’m in control. The faucet can’t run forever. I’ve been given the strength to turn it off. No longer will I allow myself to waste away, like the water dripping down the drain one drop at a time.

Works Cited

Levine, Michael P., and Sarah K. Murnen. “‘Everybody Knows That Mass Media Are/Are Not [Pick One] a Cause of Eating Disorders’: A Critical Review of Evidence For a Causal Link Between Media, Negative Body Image, And Disordered Eating In Females.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 28.1 (2009): 9-42. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.

Lovett, Edward. “Most Models Meet Criteria for Anorexia, Size 6 Is Plus Size: Magazine.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Effron, Lauren. “Fashion Models: By the Numbers.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Mclean, Siân A., et al. “Photoshopping the Selfie: Self Photo Editing and Photo Investment Are Associated with Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent Girls.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 48.8 (2015): 1132-140. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Wolchover, Natalie. “The Real Skinny: Expert Traces America’s Thin Obsession.” Live Science. N.p., 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

Fletcher, Anne. “Women’s Body Image and BMI: 100 Years in the US.” Rehabs. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

A Word from Laura

Headshot of Laura Labate

Prior to Writing 111, writing was never a fluid process for me. With each new assignment, I contemplated which words and phrases were worth selecting. I wanted to appeal to my audi- ence by presenting a scholarly voice, yet when I attempted to do so I strayed away from the mes- sages I aimed to convey. This resulted in choppy writing. The action felt forced, and it became increasingly frustrating. I felt I had thoughts and opinions worth sharing, yet somehow they got lost on paper amongst the verbose rubbage. It was not until entering this course that I began
to view the writing process as less of a burden- some chore and more of an opportunity to give your reader a glimpse of your intrinsic, unfiltered mindset.
Perhaps it was the foreign liberties I was granted, when choosing the subject which I was to write about, or perhaps it was the revision and drafting process I adopted through class instructions. Professor Elisabeth Whitehead did an incredible job teaching by analyzing the works and talents of already established authors. Classes were brilliant constructions of discussion and implementation. After reading “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, the class was instructed to construct a narration/ research paper utilizing the storytelling techniques Walls mastered in her memoir. When I discovered our next task was a narration piece, I immediate brainstormed stories that would ignite emotion and passion. I believe Walls’ piece is such a work of art due to its honesty and exposure. From here it wasn’t difficult to choose the topic of my piece, for it is a topic that practically consumes my waking emotions, and the topic was: my eating disorder. Although the choice was an easy one, it is not to say it did not come with hesitations. I spoke with Elisabeth shortly after deciding and asked her who in the class if anyone was going to read this piece. She comforted me by saying, whoever I wish to read it.
Elisabeth’s response served as my safety net during the writing process and I believe it to be the reason I felt comfortable enough to include the details that may seem miniscule on the surface but internally evoked the most emo- tion. After thinking further about who I wanted my audience to be, I let my guard down. What a unique opportunity I was given? Here was a chance to discuss a taboo topic, I had so badly wanted people to recognize and further explore. While forming an intimate relationship with my audience, feelings of isolation diminished.
Make the writing process not just one your audience will benefit from, but one you will as well. If you want to be heard and you want your words to be remembered, you must be willing to write from the heart, not the thesaurus. I recog- nize this trite statement is easier said than done, but I believe the simplest way to develop these skills is by reading the works of those who have mastered them. There is an abundance of incredi- ble authors to explore and learn from. There is no shame in allowing others to assist your growth as a writer.
Be bold. Tell the story that hasn’t been told; the one that ignites meaningful conversations and discussions. The more
intensity you allow your reader to feel, the more memorable your work will become.

From Professor Elisabeth Whitehead


Narrative Advocacy

Writing the truth is a political act…If you write the truth you will change the world. If you write privately, you change your own inner world, and that changes the outer world. If you write publically, you give voice to what is, and that assists what is becoming.

-Pat Schneider

For your third paper, develop an argument built on the foundation of personal narrative on an issue of concern to you.

Narrative arguments make it possible for writers to illustrate a point by appealing to their audience, invoking experience, and creating a sense of identification with the controversy at hand. Key to creating an effective narrative argument is establishing credibility (your audience must believe you and trust your presentation) and establishing representativeness (the audience needs to understand that your narrative reflects a larger problem beyond the scope of its events).

Choose a subject that is tightly focused. You will want to keep your work balanced rhetorically by accompanying the emotional appeal of your story with strong credibility and with logical evidence (both anecdotal and researched) to support your claims.

Think in terms of an experience that made you realize that something was wrong or that something needed to be changed, and from which you gained essential knowledge about yourself and about the workings of the world around you. Tell a story that allows you to establish your position on the controversy and provide support for your claims. A well-told story often engages in vivid description. Create presence in your details. Your readers should really feel that they too, by reading your account, are there beside you, and can hear, see, smell, and touch those surroundings. Clean and vivid details can help set scene and tone. Therefore, be specific, descriptive, and engaging.

Successful papers will provide a rhetorically balanced narrative argument and will be clearly and engagingly written. You should conduct enough research to provide relevant, external support for your position. Your paper should include at least three sources (books, magazines, journals, newspapers, interviews, films, and/or texts from the academic databases), but use as many sources as you need. One of your sources can be from a credible website. At least one of your sources must be from the databases. If you choose to use more than three sources, you can use additional website sources.

Using MLA style, incorporate in-text parenthetical citations and include a works cited page. Papers should be 5-7 pages long. In your folders include: final paper, two drafts with your changes marked, and a copy of your sources with your annotations. (Or you can include a copy/paste document with the source material you used, rather than printing out all of your sources. But I want to see all of your source information in its original form.) Your final grade for the paper will be reduced one step for each element that is missing.

Professor Commentary

“But perhaps the hardest part is sharing individual stories.”

In the process of writing this narrative—in choosing the topic, in fully committing to the journey of writing it, in sharing it with her classmates in a workshop setting, and now in sharing her experience with a more public audience—Laura enacts her larger advocacy. She shows us the importance of inquiry, in looking plainly and directly at ourselves and our culture, even when it might make us deeply uncomfortable. She shows us the importance of sharing stories and in becoming vulnerable. It was her father’s brave decision to share his own challenges with body image as a college student that allowed her to not feel isolated anymore. And through her writing, and through exposure of her own struggles, she might do the same for another who reads this narrative.

So much of the strength of this essay depends on honesty of voice. Most of the narrative is told through dialogue, and even more effectively, internal dialogue. There is the feeling that the speaker is telling us everything; she doesn’t hide. She also draws our attention to the cyclical nature of the disease, by subtly shifting us into different scenes over different time periods, and showing us similarities and parallel experiences, images, and dialogue that run through the different narratives. This enhances the feeling of continuity, as we see experiences repeat, with a cousin, with the author herself, and with her father. As Laura introduces her commitment to understanding her experience, she introduces her research as a form of inquiry: “I can’t respond to questions I myself haven’t found the answers to.” She uses her writing experience as a means to come closer to understanding, rather than simply reporting what she already knows. And as such, the research is well integrated, as a part of the process of discovery.









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