I couldn't even look at the scale today.
I remember hearing an adult very close to me--a female adult very close to me--tell me, when I was turning 11 years old, that this was the age at which most girls "start to balloon."
I danced 10-20 hours a week from then until I was 22 years old. I was 108 pounds graduating from high school. Too skinny, most people said. Bean pole, my ballet teacher called me. Grasshopper, my best friend called me.
In middle school, I read a book about Axell-Crowne Syndrome, Life in the Fat Lane. I thought: that'll never happen to me, but how horrible that it happened to this character. I learned about self-image issues. I learned about anorexia and how you're not supposed to have it. I learned about bulimia and how you're not supposed to hide it. I got tiny boobs that I saw through my leotard.
In high school, I was too busy being anxious about my acne to care about my weight. I thought: it's okay that I have zits in my T-zone, because I won't get them around the rest of my face. Then they spread toward the outside of my face, lined my jawline like green plastic army soldiers swarming for a battle. I was nerdy. I had a big mouth. I was uncool. I was perpetually tardy. My mom told me not to eat junk food. I ate it anyway and never got bigger.
Freshman year of college, I gained 10 pounds. At first I was afraid of them--then I noticed I'd started getting hips. Boobs. I was getting curves. 118 pounds and I was afraid more than anything else about acne. I was put on Accutane. My face got flaky and I had to remind myself, every day, that I wasn't ugly. I had a boyfriend. Someone liked me, right?
The longer the relationship went on, though, the more I thought my boyfriend only told me I was beautiful because I had low self-esteem. I always wore makeup. I didn't read magazines, hardly watched TV, but I knew my acne made me undesirable. If I wore makeup, I was pretty. But I didn't have that natural beauty everyone was starting to talk about. Mine was fabricated. Came from a plastic box and a brush. Everyone was just too kind to tell me the truth.
I fluctuated between 118-123 pounds in undergrad. Gained weight when I stopped ballet, lost it all when I started it again. My now-husband told me after we were married that he'd actually liked it when I gained weight. But I knew the truth. He was just being nice to me, because he loved me. Because I'm his wife. Because I have depression, and anxiety, and who knew what would set me off.
I was 22 when I "retired" from dance. I took an office job that summer, noticed my calves turning from muscle to fat. I saw how the other women in the office were heavy, promised myself I would never get heavier than...well, than "too heavy." Than was otherwise considered "healthy." I remembered how I knew this couple growing up--the husband would tease the wife by calling her "healthy," and she always said he was really saying she was fat. Fat was an insult. Yo momma so fat she could eat a house and still not be full. It was always yo momma. Did people's dads never get fat? You could be a fat man and be popular in the media. The only fat women in the media were funny women. I'd gained a sense of humor, but I wasn't funny.
Once, a few years ago, one of my best friends told me she would trade me bodies. She's curvy and beautiful and has impossibly creamy skin and freckles and I always envied her boobs. I reminded her I had acne. She re-thought what she originally told me and agreed that we could keep our own problems.
In grad school I ranged from 123-130 pounds. I knew this was about right, but I was starting to become self-conscious. I still had acne and now I was gaining weight? At least it was going to my boobs. Boobs, boobs, boobs, that's all anyone cares about, boobs. Boobs and a flat belly. Tone those abs, ads told me on the Internet. Get rid of belly fat with this one simple trick! I knew it was never that easy. I started doing fake pilates in my apartment. I knew when I stopped dancing I would succumb to the same problems the rest of women had. I'd managed to escape them all my life, but now I was just like everybody else. I had to work out. Eat right. Cut carbs. No bread, no pizza, no beer, no cheese.
There was a $2 pizza-and-beer night at the pizzeria a five-minute walk from my apartment in grad school. I ate the damn pizza. I drank the damn beer.
I got an office job. I saw my old dance colleagues getting jobs, getting ripped. They had ideal dancer bodies. I told myself what I'd always told myself: that that life was too hard, that I preferred aiming for a writing career than a dance career, that my knees couldn't take it anymore, that I'd gotten out just in time. My depression got worse. My anxiety doubled. I exercised, but not enough. The same amount I'd always exercised outside of dance, only now I wasn't dancing. Now I was getting older. Now I was letting myself get fat.
The worst part was: I had always thought that the women who had fat in my life were beautiful. I always told them they were beautiful, refused to let them think that they weren't. Easy for me to say. I was thin. On the light side of my weight class.
Three months ago, I switched antidepressants. I had already gained 5-10 pounds from having an office job; my husband said it looked good on me. I sometimes believed him, enjoying how my butt filled out my jeans more, just like the women I saw in the media, just like a woman. I didn't have girls' hips anymore. My doctor told me this new medication would make me gain weight, and that was the worst I would have to deal with.
Bring it on, I said.
Yesterday, I cried.
I felt out-of-control. Too much sugar, not enough exercise. The scale said 145 two weeks ago. The last time I checked, it said 141, but I couldn't bring myself to look today. My husband told me that this is perfectly average for my height-vs-age category, and showed me evidence, but even so I can't stop thinking about the cellulite that crawls all over the backs of my thighs like fire ants around a dropped morsel of chocolate, how it's taken over my belly and I can see it sometimes through a tight shirt, a white shirt. How I have a "mushroom top" that falls over the sides of my jeans, how I avoid wearing those jeans with a tight shirt because I know I'm going to "feel fat." How I can see my double chin. How there are folds in my sides that exist when I'm just standing up.
And then I saw this video.
Two best friends wrote down what they hated most about their own bodies and read out loud what the other one wrote. And I thought: why the hell am I doing this to myself? I'm a hypocrite. I can't tell my friends to feel good about their bodies if I don't feel good about mine. I would never say any of the things I tell myself to my best friends, and they would never say any of the things they tell themselves to me. We're good to each other. We love each other. We're all a global community of women who have bodies, and enough is enough.
Now, if only we could love ourselves.
I wish I could say that I refuse to feel bad about the folds of my body. I wish I could put my foot down, insist that I will never feel bad about my body again, and make it so.
But the fact of the matter is that I'm still constantly exposed to media. As long as media exists, so will unreasonable expectations of beauty. So will unreasonable expectations for myself.
Today, I jogged 1.68 miles. I came home and ate meatloaf and vegetables and a chocolate chip cookie. I had a few other cookies this morning. But who cares? The models from the media aren't looking into my webcam and judging me for the number of cookies I eat. Hell, they have people photoshopping them.
Today, I refuse to look at the scale because I jogged 1.68 miles, and I feel sore, and it feels great. I refuse to care about numbers because they're just numbers, and I know I eat enough vegetables. Maybe I'll only exercise once a week sometimes. Maybe I'll skip a week. Maybe other weeks I'll exercise three times in a week. As long as my vital organs are fine, who the hell cares?
Today, I commit to talking to myself the same way I talk to my friends. At 141, seeing my body out-of-scale is ridiculous, and by putting myself down, I'm only telling my friends who happen to have higher numbers than me feel bad about themselves, which is ridiculous, because I know some of the most amazing women (and men, and non-binary people) in the world. Today I realize: only I can decide to let myself feel better about myself. And today, I give myself that permission.
PART OF THIS COMPLETE BREAKFAST
Blog not recommended for sober consumption.