1. When I was in junior high, I used to wish that something would happen to me that would make me too sad to eat.
I’d read about women who were too sad to eat. Or too sick. I was never too anything to eat.
2. When I was a child, all the women I knew were on a diet at one time or another. My babysitter ate grapefruit and cottage cheese for months and never got any smaller. My teachers were drinking tea to fill up. No one ever ran, then, to lose weight. Which is what they all wanted: to lose weight. No one wanted to be stronger or healthier or happier.
3. My first diet was over the summer before the fourth grade. All of my girl friends marveled at how great I looked when I came back to school. (In the fourth grade.) My school picture that year has a wide mouthed smile. By fifth grade, I was fat again. I am slumped in that picture. My smile is close-mouthed. To me, I look like I am apologizing with my whole body.
4. I remember looking for a very long time, over several months, at this photograph of a “teen” model–it was an ad for clothes in Teen Vogue or the like, one of those fake European brands, all pastels and white, Venezia maybe–who I secretly thought I looked like, a little, in the face. I wished so hard that I could wake up and have her body, too.
5. As a child, if I got new clothes, they were husky or “extra large.” But I also got hand-me-downs from adult women, friends of my mother’s. By the fifth grade I could wear the jeans of a grown woman. They were of course, far too long, so I had to roll them up. But in time, they too would cut into my soft, terrible stomach.
6. The insults and slights were legion. From the third grade into my thirties. I took them all in. I absorbed the opinions of others and believed them true. In time, no one had to tell me. I knew what I was.
7. My junior year of high school, I had to take a P.E. class, and so I signed up for aerobics, because by then, Jane Fonda and Kathy Smith had convinced women that happiness was not grapefruit and cottage cheese flavored. It was not a flavor at all, in fact, but a sound: 4/4 time and Robert Palmer singing “All she wants to do is dance.” I look at my prom pictures and think, I looked great. But I don’t remember if I thought that I did. There were no plus-sized clothes for high school girls when I was in high school. Usually, I hid under the baggiest mens jeans and old man blazers I could find at thrift stores. I may have been relieved that the dress fit at all–but that’s not the same as happy.
8. My mother eschewed all fat in any food for a year once, while I was in high school. We went shopping together, after, so she could buy a dress for a cruise or award dinner at work. She bought a red, fitted shiny number with one shoulder strap and a ruffle at the knee. It was a size 8, and she was ecstatic. She looked great.
But then the regular cheese and milk came back into the house. I stopped going to aerobics the second my GPA didn’t count on it. I suspect (and fear) that deep down, I am a person who will always hate her body, so I maintain a body that is easy to hate.
9. In college I wore dresses so that I wouldn’t feel breathless and squeezed in half all day. I did a lot of walking then, and lived with a vegetarian. I learned new recipes and got tighter, more compact. I started to shake my ass when I walked. I started to get attention from guys who weren’t just into fat girls. I met a man who wanted to marry me–I remember once, in his car, he went on a rant about how he thought fat people were gross and lazy. I remember thinking, He doesn’t think I’m fat! And then, But, he will find out someday that I am. We married, and I stopped walking everywhere, because he had a car. I ate crawfish etouffe and beignets. I got even fatter than I’d been before.
I left him, for a lot of reasons, not just the part about living in fear that I disgusted him.
10. I started walking again. Eventually, The Gap came out with boyfriend jeans. Around that time, I began to lose a lot of weight (again). Between the low rise jeans and the “regular” size, it was a revelation in comfort. I realized that I had never had pants that didn’t cut into my stomach.
11. Roxane Gay recently wrote, “My body is wildly undisciplined and I deny myself nearly everything I desire.” I read that sentence over and over, feeling the same longing that I’d looked at that young model with–she of the dark eyebrows and light hair and bow mouth, but also the straight body that did not balloon out in all the wrong places. YES. I DO THIS, TOO, I thought. As though admitting it would fix me.
12. Several years ago, I lost around 50 pounds by eating better and running, and have kept most of them off–though ten or fifteen will perhaps always hang over me like a sword of Damocles. I live in fear of my body. (Exercise is an entirely different subject with which I am uncomfortable. This is about food.)
13. When I was at my smallest, I was treated very differently. I started a new job, and my coworkers wanted to take me out. They wanted me to come hiking with them. They wanted to go out for drinks. They wanted to talk over lunch about their terrible girlfriends or boyfriends. They wanted to help me stock the boxes on the top shelves, and help me close down the department so we could all leave together. Some of that was my confidence. Some of that was not.
14. I am still not thin, but now people don’t believe I was ever big. You look fine, they say. I can’t even imagine that, they say. I imagine it every single morning when I wake up. And every single time I put food into my mouth. I have no idea how to stop.