Seven Anorexics

Issue No. 17 | Spring 2012 Prosetry Contest Winner


To explain anorexia to you if you didn’t understand, it’s like wearing a dress full of tears. 

Tear (noun):  a rip or slash, a pulled apart

space through which one can see.

Tear (noun):  a drop of saline, a clear fluid

appearing in or flowing from the eyes as a result

of emotion, esp. grief.


Tears or tears, it’s all the same.  The dress is transparent with millions of heavy metal buttons up the front.  You spend hours on those buttons, starting at the bottom, meticulous, your fingers raw, preparing to go out in the world safely covered.  You could spend your whole life squinting down at those unfaltering, silver clasps and never realize you’ve chosen a dress that will always show you naked.  You’re buttoning and buttoning and buttoning, every day, all day long, frantic in the middle of a winter street.

Seven anorexics walk into the store. Seven anorexics walk into the store at separate times through the late July afternoon. I’m behind the counter.  I could stare at them for hours.  The seventh anorexic’s knees are bigger than her thighs.  Her feet poke out like rabbit claws from open toed sandals.  I can see her whole collarbone, the broken-pipe stretch of it, where it connects to her shoulders, the places people would kiss if they ever wanted to kiss her. 

It happens all day.  A girl walks into the store.  A girl and her mother walk into the store.  A girl and her friends walk into the store.  A girl with thick hair walks into the store.  A girl in a soccer jersey, a girl in 3 inch heel boots, a girl in baggy jeans, a girl from Iowa State, a girl from Canada, a girl from the farm, a city girl, a girl from the sea, a girl with a book, a hairbrush, a cell phone, walks into the store.  There’s a woman from Dallas, a woman from San Francisco, Vancouver, Massachusetts, Alaska, a woman on Lexapro, a woman on birth control, a woman with a snipped credit card, a woman with her two gay man friends, a woman who almost died, a woman with her husband, a woman with a chocolate bar, a woman humming, a woman losing her hair, a woman so happy she doesn’t recognize the feeling, a woman imagining this feeling, a woman in red, a woman in brown, a woman in a map of her life that, until now, until today, has been made up of everyone else’s lives, a woman about to drive away, then another woman, another woman, and another woman walk into the store. Women all day. 

Even when I’m happy, even when I’m inspired, or satisfied, when I see the women, I love the anorexic ones best. Just for a moment. Even after recovery, it’s our faces that make us obvious to each other: when the shadow of your loneliest world crawls in there, into your whole face, when your face eats the rest of your body. 



Alice Neiley is an alumni of the University of Vermont who now lives and writes out of Provincetown, Massachusetts. She works hard, teaches yoga, writes poetry, and is working on a creative nonfiction book about the body, anorexia and recovery.  Her nonfiction work was recently featured at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, Scholars Program.


p style=”text-align: justify;”>Guest Editor: David Wagoner has published 18 books of poems, most recently A Map of the night (U. of Illinois Press, 2008) and ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola.  He won the Lilly Prize in 1991 and has won six yearly prizes from Poetry (Chicago).  He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years.  He has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and twice for the National Book Award.  He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to its end in 2002.  He is professor emeritus of English at the U. of Washington and teaches in the low-residency MFA Program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.

Alice Neiley

2 Replies to “Seven Anorexics”

  1. This prosetry manages to put into words the inner turmoil of a mental illness that inflicts so many people. The simile of a “dress full of tears” is chilling while captivating the exposure an anorexic feels. The double meaning of “tears” and the definitions provided are heart-wrenching, not to mention a unique and effective technique to integrate into this piece. It’s all just beautifully written and has the potential to help people actually understand the perspective of someone who suffers from anorexia.

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