As I sit in the waiting room at the tiny University physician’s office, I feel like a walking stereotype. I’m a dance major at a large liberal arts school, and I recently had to confide in one of my instructors about my eating disorder. I’m irritated with myself but I don’t quite know why. Eating disorders persist despite the victims intelligence, confidence, happiness, and desire to be healthy. I keep repeating that it’s not my fault; I’m not making fellow dancers “look bad,” and I’m not a burden for needing to seek help.
My eating disorder had started over a year ago, when I realized that dance in college was a whole ‘nother ball game, so to speak. No matter what I told myself about how talented I was, I couldn’t help but think that I would be as talented as my intimidating classmates if I could just be more thin. More beautiful. More graceful. Lean. What started as a promise to eat healthy spiraled into near-starvation, compulsive exercise, and eventually vomiting. After coming back from a summer dance intensive feeling ill and looking like a string bean, I was forced to have “the talk” with one of my favorite professors. She said that I would have to see one of the university’s physicians to get a letter of approval for my participation that semester. I whined, but there was nothing I could say to change her mind. She was kind but firm about the requirement. “It’ll be fine,” she had promised with a reassuring smile, “Dr. (let’s call her Doom) is fantastic.”
So, there I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, at 9am sharp on a Monday, pretending to study from my Italian textbook while listening to my heart thud in my chest. When my name was called, I shuffled down the narrow hallway into a small exam room. My backpack and rain coat were drowning my small frame, and I kept my eyes down. My palms were sweaty and my heart was thumping ever faster, but I promised myself that the appointment would only take 20 minutes. I’d promise that I was getting better- eating more- and she would let me go. The doctor hadn’t quite greeted me yet. She was sizing me up while applying an inhuman amount of hand sanitizer to both hands. The doctor was tall, with sharp facial features and a cold, demanding stare. I felt about two inches tall when I looked up at her from the exam table. I know that she works for the university’s athletic department. She’s probably used to fixing the broken bones of soccer stars and managing the illnesses of football players four times her size. I imagine that she’d rather be doing anything but talking to little, silly me. Finally, she breaks the awkward silence.
“So… your professor sent you here for an eating disorder?”
I choose not to answer because what she really did was make a statement, and I’m not going to reward the obvious with an answer. Seemingly annoyed by my blank stare, she says, with zero emotion or tenderness, “So what is it that you do? I mean, are you not eating? Are you vomiting?”
My face scrunches up in annoyance. No way in H-E-doublehockeysticks am I going to let this judgmental jerk get an answer out of me.
“Uhm. Yeah I guess.” I’m purposely vague and my nervousness has been replaced with straight irritation. I can feel my eyes narrowing involuntarily, as if my inner defensive brat can’t help but punish the rude question with an evil stare.
The doctor sighs and tells me that she needs to weigh me. I silently acquiesce. She has me sit back on the exam table, and explains in a business-like fashion that she has to check my throat for signs of trauma. We do the tongue depressor thing, she pokes around my throat with her cold fingers, and she stabs at my abdomen to see if anything hurts. I keep my eyes on the ceiling, feigning disinterest in this whole process. On the inside, I’m simmering with embarrassment. She finally backs up again, and returns to her favorite position: arms crossed and face set in a blank, intimidating stare.
“Physically, you look okay right now,” she says slowly, “but I have to warn you that with the vomiting and–”
“I’m not stupid!” I spit, interrupting her impending lecture, “I know that it’s bad for me. I’m working on it.” She looks a little irritated at the interruption, but she shifts tactics smoothly.
“Look. If you want to exercise the way that your schedule demands, it’s really not sustainable for you to not eat.” She continues her lecture, but all I can hear is her patronizing tone and all that I can really focus on is her un-amused stare. I have never felt so ridiculous before.
“FINE!” I interrupt for a second time, “I know I’m an idiot, ok? I know I have to eat. I didn’t need to come to the doctor because there’s nothing really wrong with me. My professor made me schedule this appointment, and I know you don’t want to talk to some dumb skinny dancer about how foolish she’s being. As long as I’m good to return to dance class, I don’t need anything else. I’m sure you have plenty of better things to do with your time and I’m sorry I had to come annoy you about my ineptitude. I’m obviously having a hard time, and you’re kind of being a jerk. You’re talking to me like… like… I’m the scum of the earth or something. So I can just go or whatever. If I’m fine to dance and all.” When I finish my tirade, it dawns on me that perhaps I didn’t need to speak quite so loudly. Dr. Doom’s eyebrows are raised, but she doesn’t look particularly surprised, nor does she necessarily look angry. The silence in the room is deafening.
“Ok,” says Dr. Doom, still eerily calm, “why don’t you stand on the ground and turn around for me?” I look back at her with wide eyes. “Stand up,” she repeats, “and turn around.” I don’t know what else to do at this point, so I stand up and turn around slowly. “Put your hands on the exam table,” she instructs calmly. I do. “I’m going to pull your pants down, and I’m going to spank you,” she says matter-of-factly. “Eating disorders are about control,” she explains, “and in my exam room, I’m in control. I’m sorry that you didn’t get the sympathy that you were hoping for, but I’m trying to do my job. I’m trying to make sure that you’re healthy and capable of performing your usual activities. So now, you are going to stay still and stay silent, and I am going to spank you for how incredibly rude you’ve been.” It is a very good thing that I’m already bent over, because I feel extremely lightheaded. Can doctors spank people?!?! I’m too humiliated to speak, so I wait to see if she is going to say anything. “I need your consent,” she finally says, “and this isn’t medical treatment, it’s a personal offer to give you something that you obviously need.” Her voice is still amazingly businesslike, a little exasperated perhaps. I’m not sure what options I have at this point.
“Oh. Ok. Ye- I mean, sure.” My voice is suddenly quiet and whiny, in stark contrast to my bold proclamations less than two minutes ago. Having gotten the go-ahead from yours truly, Dr. Doom takes a step closer to me. With one hand on the exam table next to me, she raises her right hand and brings it down with an alarmingly painful crack. “AH, OW!” I exclaim automatically.
“You will get precisely one reminder to be quiet,” she says in a low voice, pinching my inner thigh painfully for emphasis.
“Ok, sorry!” I whisper urgently, letting my breath out slowly as she raises her hand again. SMACK! Geez, it’s painful when she hits me. I was never spanked as a child, but good Lord I didn’t think it would hurt so darn much. SMACK. SMACK. SMACK. No one else was in the waiting room, but I wonder if the receptionist can hear. SMACK SMACK SMACK. My embarrassment is driven from my mind temporarily as I try to adjust to the pain. Dr. Doom keeps spanking both cheeks- and the tops of my thighs- while I will wiggle and breathe heavily. She moves her second hand to my lower back as she continues to smack my bare bottom. As painful as the spanking is, I feel oddly serene under her control. Like the only thing that I have to focus on is submitting to her authority, and my previously complicated emotions have simplified. SMACK SMACK SMACK.
“Do you know why you’re being spanked?” she asks, not stopping the onslaught of smacks.
“I was rude to you and it was disrespectful,” I squeak out.
“Good girl. I’m spanking you because you were rude, and also because you need to learn a lesson about control. Learning to let go is going to help you. So *SMACK SMACK* will eating.” Her swats have slowed down since I have stopped wiggling. The pain and embarrassment and stress of the whole morning get to me and I start to cry. She delivers a few more swats to the back of each of my thighs.
“I’m sorry,” I mumble into the silence.
“What’s that?” she asks, her voice finally the softest it has been all morning.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “Actually, I was apologizing for crying because you don’t seem like the type of person who would appreciate a crybaby, but while I’m at it, I’m also sorry for… you know… snapping at you and stuff. I know you were just doing your job. I shouldn’t have taken my nervousness out on you. I’m just embarrassed and frustrated and scared, ya know…” I start to cry harder after my admission rushes out of my mouth, and she rubs my back gently.
“It’s ok,” she finally whispers, “everything is fine. I sometimes forget to be mindful of sensitive topics. I’m a pretty straightforward person.”
“No… really?” I ask with a sarcastic smile. She smiles for the first time all morning and laughs.
“Stand up,” she says kindly, helping me up into standing position. I feel incredibly awkward standing in front of her with my leggings pulled halfway down, but I look up at her and wait for more instructions rather than adjusting them. “I’m not a psychologist,” she says carefully, “and you need to see the university psychologist. But I do know when a brat needs a spanking, and you were begging for one this morning.”
“Y-yes, Ma’am. Uh… thank you?” I mumble awkwardly, looking between Dr. Doom and the ground.
“Pull your pants up,” she says with a small smile. “I’m going to write a letter to your dance teacher that you’re ok to participate for now, but I’m expecting you to see the psychologist… and the dietitian.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I will,” I nod emphatically.
“And why don’t I give you my business card in case you have any questions,” she offers kindly. “You’re won’t be bothering me,” she emphasizes, briefly putting her hand under my chin. I nod gratefully and she hands me a tissue.
“Do you, like, want a hug or something?” I ask timidly as she moves to open the door and release me back into the world. She laughs and opens her arms slightly, so I take that as a yes. I quickly wrap my arms around her tall frame, pressing my cheek against her chest. She pats me gently on the back and holds me until I am ready to pull away.
“Be good. Take care of yourself,” she says as she walks me back to the reception area.
“Ok. Thank you,” I say with sincerity. And with that, I head back out into the bright September sunshine. My bottom is still stinging, but I hold onto her business card and smile. That was a strange appointment, I think to myself, but I might actually be back to see Dr. Doom. Maybe her doom was just what I needed to get better.