(Photo: Anna Kavalinuas)
This week, I’m sharing a piece from Anna Kavaliunas. She wrote this essay in the midst of a big transition in her life, as you’ll see. So often, we feel the need to run and hide from our missteps or willfully ignore them, but stories like this show how important it is to fully acknowledge our pasts, even (or especially) when they are painful. Click through to read Anna’s story. — KM
Most vegans would never admit that their lifestyle is all a front to be thin. Of course, there are many reasons people choose the lifestyle: a stand against animal abuse, to support local farms, or to bring down big, bad corporate food overlords. But in reality, there is a whole subset of vegans who chose it simply to look good in a J. Crew bandeau bikini — myself included. For us, vanity trumps ethics. Changing the world is a nice residual effect.
I’d like to think the idea of going vegan occurred to me after watching some harrowing documentary or eating $10 worth of 25-cent chicken wings. In fact, it was moving across the country that inspired me. I’d recently transplanted from my lifelong preppy East Coast environment out to L.A. There, I soon became intrigued not just by the popularity of veganism on the West Coast, but by the trendiness of “No” — no meat, no dairy, no gluten, no refined sugars, maybe some air, if you’re lucky.
I gladly joined the ranks of the no-animal-product eaters — all of whom were seemingly lithe, beautiful, and filled with ethereal energy. But what I didn’t realize was that by becoming vegan, I was committing to more than just a dietary change. I was saying goodbye to my entire identity. Back home, I’d been the girl who’d break apart crab legs with ease, drench the meat in butter and Old Bay, wash it down with a cold Stella, and still look good in her Lilly Pulitzer seersucker dress. That’s who I thought I was. Now, I was walking away from that girl to become a thinner one.
“You’re so L.A.!” my East Coast comrades said when I told them about my new lifestyle. After the big announcement, they designated me a stereotypical West Coast hippie. I became paranoid around them, imagining that everything I did was being noted and picked apart, from turning down Chenin Blanc for a Matcha latte to trading my sensible chinos for Uggs with jean shorts (something I’m still not proud of). To them, being vegan meant I was losing my edge, my groundedness, and my drive. It meant I was living up in the clouds, one step away from quitting my stable job to go do yoga in Costa Rica. Little did they know, I was just as driven as ever. Now, it was the thought of looking like those perfect L.A. vegans shopping for sprouted grains next to me at Whole Foods that I was driving toward.
I dove head-first into the bottomless world of tempeh and pea protein. Being vegan justified me declining junk food (and unwanted calories) and eventually, turning down almost all food. Veganism was easy for someone like me, who craves control. It gave me strict parameters, and as the weight began to fall off, nobody questioned it. I was skinner than I’d ever been: chest bones popping out, birthing hips whittled away. Who cared what my old friends thought when I looked this good in a crop top?
The compliments poured in, and I was addicted. But once people got used to the new me, the praise began to wane. I, in turn, became more restrictive, to be more thin. First it was vegan, then gluten-free vegan, then raw vegan. I was obsessed with food, counting every calorie, even though I was eating like a baby rabbit. I planned my life around the gym, exercising up to three hours a day.