When I was 27 years old, I weighed somewhere around 165lbs. I was occasionally distressed by this, but after I’d had my much-needed breast reduction around age 25, I actually didn’t care that much about the rest of me. That breast reduction made my life so much better, and I had a really amazing supportive (female, feminist) partner, and I liked my hair and my leather jacket and mostly, other than occasionally—catastrophically—comparing myself to Jennifer Aniston, I was fine.
Then, at 28, I went through a major breakup, a major life change, and a major stress period, and I lost around 30lbs very rapidly. People were worried. I was too stressed about my life stuff to care, and it took me over a year to really even realize the weight loss; I’d still go into changerooms with a size 12, only to slowly ask for smaller and smaller sizes ‘til I hit my new ‘normal’.
I kept the weight off through a couple of means: first, I started roller derby and actually overdid it. I remember almost fainting on the track one day and finally talking to a dietician, who informed me that a smoothie and toast wasn’t enough food for an endurance athlete. Secondly, after so many stressed-out months where I literally couldn’t stomach food, my body now rejected anything greasy or fatty or super sugary. So it was nigh impossible to gain the weight back.
Nearly six years has passed, and during that time I lost even more weight. It wasn’t on purpose, just a by-product of my new love of athletics, plus the loving work of my nutritionist who had retaught me how to eat. Knowing my proclivity for freaking out about weight (in my early twenties I’d gone down some dark paths), I never weighed myself except for at my yearly check-up…but I know my smallest was a size 5. This was somewhere down about ten pounds lower than my doctor was okay with. But for a lifelong ‘hefty’ girl, this was a novel and kind of exciting experience. I could always find clothes at the stores I liked; I could make anything look like the catalogues did; I sometimes couldn’t find clothes that were small enough.
THE WORLD FOR A SKINNY CHICK
I learned how different life is for a skinny chick in this culture: more attention from strangers, more kindness from salespeople, more times I could woo someone into helping me out with something like a parking ticket or a good deal on home repairs. I know it’s wrong to revel in the fact that you’ve just found yourself amongst a privileged population. I know the ‘pretty person bubble’ is a real and insidious reality of our culture, and I know it’s wrong that I participated. But after years of fitting into a role more akin to Natalie on Facts of Life, I was honestly just soaking it in.
Occasionally I’d see a picture of myself and feel a tickle of hot fear run up my spine. Who was this waif with the spiky hair? I found myself a little turned off by my own thinned features, and then confounded when some people continued to tell me how good I was looking. I'd tell people I was getting a bit worried, and I'd hear, "Oh, you don't look sick." But the thing is, we don't have an accurate measure anymore for what's 'too thin'. No one's opinion could be trusted.
THE GAME CHANGES
Then this year, after a lot of work with a naturopath whose been helping me with some internal health challenges, I gained a little weight back. Just one size up, really. About 8lbs extra. Eight pounds. My roller skates probably weigh less. Yet it killed me.
I asked my naturopath what was going on. “Too skinny,” he said in his usual clipped fashion. “You needed to gain weight. Way too skinny.” I couldn’t argue. I knew what I’d looked like at my lowest. You could see that I’d crossed over into a place my body didn’t want to be.
So why did I still die a little inside when he said that?
WHAT I'VE GOT TO SAY
I have spent a few months now, obsessing over this change. Eight pounds of flesh have taken up more space in my mind at some points than my job, my dog, my love life…it has kept me up at night and startled me awake in the morning. And all this thinking has brought to light a handful of truths I can no longer deny:
1. I will never be skinny enough. If you play the weight=beauty, or weight=self worth game, I’m telling you it’ll just spiral out of control. No one who worries about weight ever thinks they’re skinny enough. I watched my mother’s generation obsess over diet fads; I’m watching my generation obsess over magic foods/paleo diets/gluten avoidance/raw food theories, under the guise of health but with the understanding that ‘healthy’ is supposed to look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
2. It is true, but ridiculous, that the size of my jeans affects whether I feel ready to be part of the world that day. That’s all I have to say about that.
3. I will never have a flat belly. I have endometriosis. This means I’ll be forever round-bellied. Oh, and genetics—I’m already one of the thinnest women in two generations of women. Genetics and disease mean that I will never look like I have a twelve year old’s abdomen. And that kills me and I have no idea how to actually mean it when I say “It doesn’t matter.” How do I own and accept something that I’m told, daily and hourly, is unacceptably repugnant? I have no answer here.
4. I am unintentionally hypocritical. I was part of the marketing team for a movie called Muffin Top a year or so ago—a movie that heavily promotes body acceptance and self love. I remember getting ready for a meeting one day and having a total meltdown about my body shape. I remember thinking, How can I be working on this movie and thinking like this at the same time? How can I be both part of the problem and the solution?
This post isn’t groundbreaking. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been said a hundred times by a hundred women (and men). I don’t know why I wanted to write it so badly. Maybe so I’ll hear myself and hold myself accountable and maybe someone else out there will read this, relate to it, and feel a little less shame for being so hopelessly incapable of embodying her own feminist ideals, like me right now.
My first step is going to be jean shopping. Long ago I heard a Fat Activist say that when your jeans don’t fit anymore, it’s time to get new jeans. That may seem like a small step towards upholding my feminist ideals, but it’s a giant step for this girl right here.