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Last Modified: March 18, 2024
Feature Image for February 2024 Sunday Shorts: Sunday Shorts is written in light blue text on a black background. To the left of the text is the book cover for The Definition of Beautiful (Freehand Books).
Sunday Shorts: The Definition of Beautiful

This month’s Read Alberta Sunday Short, “Gusts of Wind in a Perfect Storm,” is excerpted from The Definition of Beautiful by Charlotte Bellows.

Gusts of Wind in a Perfect Storm

It takes an unlikely set of circumstances for a tornado to form. To start, there must be enough moisture in the air. From there, the vapour condenses into liquid; a lifting mechanism in the atmosphere causes air to rise, which makes it expand and cool. Warmer air near the earth’s surface and colder air high in the atmosphere results in instability, with the warm air pushing upward. Only with sharp changes in wind speed or direction will that updraft start to spin, but if it does, you’ve got a natural disaster that has the potential to destroy everything it comes across.

Eating disorders are similar. Expose a human being to a set of events that happen to fit together in a way that is so horribly perfect, and the unlucky person spins out, at its mercy.

I remember the first time I really paid attention to my weight. I was nine years old, with a sudden, strong dislike for my body. It lasted about a year, then went away, temporarily. I remember taking off all my clothes before getting into the shower, and stepping on the scale we used to keep in the bathroom. I’d stare down at the number from above my belly, bloated from dinner, and something inside of me would deflate, crushing disappointment flooding me as the number stared back. I stepped off the scale and turned around to stare in the mirror, ashamed. I didn’t really understand what a normal weight was for a girl of my age — all I knew was that eighty seemed like a huge number. My mind was already a collage of pictures and comments — my mom and her friends — “well don’t you look nice and skinny!” — magazines promoting the secret to a perfect, frail beach body. Even at nine, I’d already come to understand that no one wants a big number when they stand on a scale.

I remember a time when I had a great relationship with food and my body. But I also remember some of the unkind things that were said to me because of that.

Throughout junior high, I was friends with a girl named Mara. She was funny, but occasionally switched over to rude. She also loved to flex the fact that she rarely ate breakfast.

It was the middle of Grade 9, a couple of months before the global pandemic closed everything down. Mara, Olivia, a few other friends, and I were at someone’s house with bowls of takeout poke. I’d been hungry; Olivia and I finished before Mara even got halfway through. I didn’t even notice until Mara stared at my bowl with wide, judgy eyes. She then glanced over at Olivia’s. “You’ve already finished?” she gawked. “Man, you guys are pigs.”

“Hey!” Olivia shot an irritated glance at her. I didn’t think about it much at the time. But later, when things started to get worse, it was all that I could think about whenever I was eating. It happened insidiously. I began going through my daily life, thinking how much better I would look with an eating disorder.

On March 15 COVID-19 was still nothing more than a distant news story, an intriguing word that lurked in the background, only occasionally mentioned in conversation. That evening, though, we received news that the schools were shutting down. I never went back to any of my Grade 9 classrooms. That’s when it all got real; our lifestyle completely changed.

I’d always wanted to be thinner. I’d put it off, though, never having the time or motivation to really commit to changing my body. But now, spending every day at home, I had more than enough time to do whatever I wanted. I chose my goal — to lose weight. Mom was doing it with WeightWatchers. Why couldn’t I join her? Surely it would work well for me, too. Why wouldn’t healthy eating make my life better? Something inside of me quietly added: Because skinnier is prettier, right?

One time I found myself stressed about having a snack when I was hungry. Mom tried to reassure me. “I’m trying to lose weight, so when I’m hungry, maybe I’ll have a glass of water. But you don’t have to lose, so have an apple.”

I had all the time I needed to exercise, too, and I was relentless with it. I never took rest days. I had this mentality that as long as I burned more calories than I ate, the day was a success. I was working towards a goal.

I just hadn’t yet realized what a sinister goal it was.


About the Author

Headshot: Charlotte BellowsCharlotte Bellows wrote The Definition of Beautiful, her debut book, while attending high school. She grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and has left to live her most beautiful life. She may be back.

The Definition of Beautiful: A Memoir

Charlotte Bellows (CA)

Published: Sep 01, 2023 by Freehand Books
ISBN: 9781990601460