ISSUE Anorexia is especially common among teenage girls, and frustration runs deep among their families
“N o thank you, I'm full,” says the daughter, her very long and thin arms stubbornly crossed, her voice shaky, weak with hunger. Well, maybe I'm simply imagining the last bit, but the arms are mere sticks, and the exasperating ‘no, thank you, I'm full' fight happens at every meal. ‘You'll fall ill' we warn; ‘you won't grow very tall' we plead. ‘Multi-vitamins. And fruit juice fortified with calcium' she replies, having clearly done her research. ‘I'll drink it, as long as it doesn't contain sugar'. And, gathering her spidery limbs about her narrow frame, she flounces off to her room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
We get the message of course. So we simply sit around the table, ignoring our growling tummies, looking from chubby childhood pictures of the daughter, to the untouched potatoes (her favourite, not so long ago) and the fat, glistening pooris deflating in disappointment. “If it's any comfort, all the mothers said the kids fussed more now, at 13, than they did at three. All they care is how small their waist is!” I venture. “Even the boys?” asks a surprised husband. “Oh no! The boys, apparently, are eating like horses.” Suddenly, the husband is smiling. ‘Threptin' he says excitedly. ‘We'll feed her Threptin biscuits. It might even put an ounce of flesh on our little bag-of-bones'. Tomorrow, we promise ourselves, we will start the Threptin diet.I slip in half a dozen diskettes – as it's called on the tin – into the “ kutti lunch” dabba the next day. “What's for lunch?” asks the daughter. “Cucumber and tomato whole-bread sandwiches, no butter, just low-cal spread, I remember darling,” I say soothingly. “And for break? Carrot batons?” she asks. “Erm, it's actually a special biscuit appa got you,” I say slowly, the breath catching. ‘Ugh, look at the colour of those things!' she remarks, and with a breezy ‘ta' is gone for the day. She's back in the evening, her eyes searching. ‘Can you please show me the special biscuit tin?' she asks a little too-sweetly. ‘It's in the fridge' I reply, distractedly, the misbehaving mixer taking all my attention. ‘These are high-cal, they make you put on weight' she says in a voice I don't really like, reading the small writing at the back of the old-fashioned tin. ‘I'm not ill or anything, why are you feeding me these?' she demands. ‘Darling you're way too thin. We're very worried, appa and I. You should be growing taller, filling out, your body needs fuel now, don't deprive it, not now, not ever,' I explain. ‘Look, I'm fine' she says, sucking in a non-existent tummy as she crosses a full-length mirror, ‘I'm eating loads of veggies, aren't I? I'm just asking you not to make pooris. I might just end up looking like one!' ‘It didn't work, your wonderful ‘lets just slip in some high-cal supplements' strategy' I later tell the husband. ‘Ballet' he says, fidgeting with his Blackberry. ‘Tell her it will keep her trim. Let's just hope all the dancing will make her hungry'. The next day, we stand outside the Russian Cultural Centre, where little girls in pink-tutus are running around under the trees. The daughter is the tallest ‘child'; the others look up to her. Literally. The trial-class is a great success, she loves ballet. In fact, she loves it so much, she can't stop practising. She does her stretches as soon as she gets up, before she leaves for school, as soon as she's back, before ballet class, after ballet class and at dinner, holding carrot-batons on one hand, while with the other, she neatly lifts the left leg into the air. ‘Drop it' I yell. The carrot falls from surprised fingers. ‘The leg' I bark. ‘It's good for your waist, you should probably try it mamma' she says. ‘Anyway, I'm very hungry today. Ballet was fun, and my teacher said exams were coming. I need energy, she told me to eat well' she says and spoons in another heaped tablespoon of rice. We had won the battle. For now.