Zero Is the Number for Eating Disorders

Bobby Burgess had a popular Diaryland account in the late ’90s, early aughts. He once wrote about his love of the dictionary. At some point, he began to travel across the United States, although, I can’t remember where he was originally from. Maybe the Midwest or maybe the East Coast. He spent some time in Hawaii, and then he ended up meeting a girl in California. They became involved, and once, Burgess posted a photo of his new girlfriend on a bridge. Her long hair flapped in the wind. No doubt, he thought she was beautiful. And probably, other people thought so, too.

The woman had an eating disorder, but I doubt Bobby Burgess ever wrote the words “eating disorder.” Instead, he described her philosophy behind the eating disorder. She had this idea that the number zero equaled perfection. And to execute this idea, she tried to fit her body into size zero jeans.

Of all the things Bobby Burgess wrote, that’s the one detail I held onto, two decades later. The detail about the woman who strived to reach zero. I suppose there was something poetic about this philosophy of hers. But of course, in reality, the details of striving toward zero would be horrific. Still, I can see the appeal of this outlook. None of my female friends with eating disorders ever explained their reasons, and yet, I understood on some level, it was usually about control. Either a loss of control or a perversion of control. A way to feel a lot or to feel very little.

Conceptualizing the number zero is an efficient way to distance yourself from the feelings in your body. Zero is like a non-number, like a flat existence, or like a flat stomach. Zero is also neutral. It sits between positive and negative numbers, like a stable entity, like a powerful symbol. But being zero or having zero is another story. To exist in perfection would be to not exist at all.

dreamer, poet, philosopher, writer

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