A shadow of herself
YOU South Africa|27 January 2022
‘A skeleton covered in skin’ – that’s how a mom describes the daughter she lost to bulimia
By Jana Van Der Merwe, Photography by Papi Morake

It was an off-the-cuff remark not meant for her ears. But when the Centurion mom overheard the words spoken to a young girl in a mall, it broke her heart and ignited her fury.

“Wow, you got so fat over the holidays,” she heard a man saying to a young woman. The comment unleashed a flood of emotions in Liza de Jager (51). For the first time since her daughter died of bulimia, she felt she could finally talk about her pain and took to social media.

“I’m begging all men, dads who have sons, to teach them never to tell a girl or woman she’s fat,” she wrote online.

Her impassioned Facebook plea was accompanied by three pictures of her firstborn, Claudia Haller. In the first, taken in 2009, Claudia had just finished her matric exams. In the photo she’s wearing a swimsuit – a happy, healthy teenager smiling into the camera.

No one could have guessed that she’d develop an eating disorder that would see her wasting away over the next decade.

In the second picture, taken in 2017, Claudia’s rail-thin body is clear evidence of the war she’s waging with herself – a battle she eventually lost when she died in her sleep on 6 August 2019, a shadow of her former self.

She was 27 years old.

“She was 1,78m tall and weighed 32kg when she went to heaven,” Liza says on social media. “Imagine you’re hugging a skeleton covered in skin and with each hug she says, ‘Ouch, it hurts’.”

Liza’s moving post has touched a nerve. She’s been inundated with messages she tells us when we meet in a Pretoria restaurant.

“So many moms and daughters are inboxing me, but I haven’t been able to respond yet,” she says.

“How can I help them if I couldn’t save my own daughter?”

Liza is still trying to process losing Claudia. “Why didn’t she listen to me? I begged and pleaded with her,” she says. “But it was like talking to a wall.”

Liza lost her daughter, Claudia, to bulimia in 2019.

Single mom Liza also has a younger daughter, who she prefers not to name. She was close with both girls.

“I was always telling my children they’re perfect as they are,” Liza says. “I’d say, ‘You’re beautiful – inside and out.’”

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