Do(nut) even get me started, you guys.
I stood in front of the mirror restlessly, fretting at the ties of my swimsuit, pulling it higher over my jagged hip bones, searching for the elusive illusion of longer legs. I grabbed at the fleshy backs of my thighs and pulled, watching the gap for which I desperately ached appear. Pull, release, sigh. Pull, release, sigh. A mesmerizing trick. My stomach stretched taut as a drum across my frame, my ribs and my pelvis jutting assertively at awkward angles. At 107 pounds, it was the smallest I’d ever been as an adult—too small, waifish. My clothes draped loosely, and I loOoVvEeDdd it.
To be honest, before college I’d never given much thought to my weight until comments from friends and family about the freshman pounds I’d gained tainted me like antifreeze, sickly sweet, poison.
“Yer lookin’ awf’ly bloomy,” my dad noted before one football game. I had to ask my mom what that even meant. It was decidedly not flattering. My feelings were hurt.
“Looks like you’re not the littlest anymore,” another night from my older sister.
But my sophomore year, a steady diet of sugar free energy drinks and low calorie frozen dinners combined with a young metabolism to melt away the extra girth. Before long, my waist measured twenty-one inches—what I imagine must be roughly equivalent to an emaciated toddler’s. How did all my organs even squeeze in there? We’ll never know. And at first, it was thrilling to see my reflection, a little ball of light dancing and flickering inside of me. But before long, I began to notice that the dimples on my thighs wouldn’t disappear no matter how waifish I became. That elusive gap never stuck no matter how many times I pulled and released. The ball of light grew dimmer and dimmer. And suddenly, small wasn’t small enough. It was clear that if I looked better, I would be better.
If you had asked me at the time if I had an eating disorder, I’d have absolutely said no. Still now, I’m not sure what my answer would be. My weight loss wasn’t intentional, merely a consequence of bad habits and a long walk every day. But I realized how quickly my worth could become inextricably linked to my size. How the way people spoke about my body—even in passing, even positively—tied the two in ways they should never be. I think, with honesty, it was more likely a manifestation of the mental disorder I didn’t know I had, a bid for approval I couldn’t find in myself. But shame is holistic, consumptive. And still now, the shame eats me alive like a parasite, a greedy tapeworm guzzling me away into nothingness.
Because I know what it’s like to stare in the mirror and pick myself apart until only bleeding flesh remains—mental excoriation. My tummy is fuller, undulating in a way that it never did at twenty-one. My hips more rounded. Uchh and I hate it. I hate the cellulite, and I hate the lumps where there used to be smooth lines. I hate the number as it goes up, and up, and up, and I hate the calories as they come down, and down, and down. As women, don’t we all? Haven’t we all stood in the bathroom after a shower—naked, vulnerable—and tugged and bunched and turned to see all angles until we’re dizzy from self loathing and self pity? I pick and I pull and I jerk and I yank until my beautiful body unravels at its tattered seams.
But do you know what I’ve never once focused on? The bones of my inner ear. HAH. Gotcha. Bet you one hundred million dollars you never imagined that would come next. I will take direct deposit, thankyouverymuch. But truly, the inner ear is amazing. Its simplicity is wondrous and complex, so perfectly molded for the job it’s meant to do. And barring some mild tinnitus every now and again, mine works exactly as designed. But I’ve never looked in the mirror and marveled at the valves of my heart opening and closing in time or thanked the nerves in my hands for my fine motor skills. My cells continue to divide continuously, a million microscopic miracles every minute.
I have my people, the ones who have stuck it out on weeks where I’m crawling out of my own skin, on days when I want to crawl in a hole and die there. And not a single one of them gives a *shit* about my body as anything more than wrapping paper for my soul. So why do I care so much? Why am I so consumed with my stretch marks or my wrinkles, my armpit fat, my love handles? I’ve never stared pointedly at my best friend and wished her legs were longer or shamed her to put down that donut. Honestly, the very idea is preposterous, obscene, hysterical. So if I’d never say those things to a friend, why am I so quick to say them to myself?
The truth is, fixating on my figure just becomes a secondary form of control, a shot of heroin to dull the sharp edges. My worth can be measured, analyzed, quantified, by a number on a scale or the sequence of my measurements. A boost, then a velvet glow. But it’s mere moments before I need the next fix. Then another. And another after that. Because when my insides feel empty, all that’s left is the beautiful wrapping paper, a gorgeous, hollow box.
Identity is such a fleeting thing, transitory. At twenty-one, I would’ve said I knew exactly who I was. And maybe I did. But looking back on her with newfangled maturity and perspective, I think “That dumbass had no goddamn idea.” At forty, I imagine I’ll say the same thing about myself now. And I worry about the legacy we leave for our children and ourselves when we fixate so obsessively on our boxes at the neglect of what that does to our minds. Weaponized weight. Ballistic bodies.
In my family, I’m not the cool one. Or the pretty one. The funny one? The practical one? Am I the smart one or the frugal one or the neurotic one? Am I littlest one? And if so, what happens to me when the littlest one becomes big? Who am I then? Am I no one at all?
“You are my one,” my husband says softly when I talk this way, resigned. I hear the pain in his voice when he listens to me berate myself, the way his voice cracks under the pressure of his hurt and mine. His brown eyes like black coffee, rich and deep and warm. Their velvety softness swirls around me, wrapping me tight like a hug. He looks at me with kindness and patience and a hint of exasperation, and I don’t notice his five-day scruff or his nose he insists is too large for his face. Just those eyes, framed by obscenely long eyelashes, that unmask him as the gentle giant he is. It should be a crime for men to have such long lashes. I'm organizing a letter writing campaign.
And maybe I am no one at all. Or his one. Or the funny one, the neurotic one, the sensitive one. Maybe I am complex and broken and kind and funny and smart and grumpy and anxious. Maybe sometimes I am the littlest personality in the room and sometimes I am the biggest. Maybe the world can’t always make space for me because I don’t demand it of myself. Maybe I am human and nuanced in ways that can’t be tied up by a ribbon, or stuffed into a bikini, or marched down a runway. Maybe we all are.
And should I ever have a daughter, I hope that instead of fixating on her weight or her thighs or her stretch marks, she fixates on the way her feet feel as they pound the ground while she runs, the vibration thumping through her like ripples in a pond, her arms pumping at her sides, her muscles burning with heat and joy and life. I hope she fixates on her how her belly jiggles as it rumbles with laughter, aching, shaking her clean through, tears overflowing from crinkled brown eyes rich as black coffee. I hope she fixates on the way her skin glistens in a summer rain, all raised hair and goosebumps, wrapped in a cocoon of wet and pressure and warm and music, marveling at the rumbling thunder, at the wonder of her inner ear.