I currently weigh 210 pounds. When I say this out loud to someone (which frankly happens almost never), I generally get one of two responses. If they are a person of average size, they look at me slightly shocked and say they can't believe it because I'm "so thin." But if they're a woman who has ever been much bigger than a size 12, they look at me knowingly and nod. Bodies carry weight, even if it doesn't seem obvious.
My relationship with my weight has been tenuous and challenging since I was about 12 years old. From what I can remember, I went on my first diet around that age. I was headed to middle school and wanted to look like the other girls in my class and attract the boys they attracted. Things only progressed from there, and by the time I was 14 I was dieting frequently, trying to attract the holy grail of middle school girl life: high school boys. (*praise hand emoji* *barf face emoji*)
When I say I was dieting, I definitely don't mean that I was twelve or thirteen learning to eat healthy foods and take care of my body. I mean that I was a pre-teen counting calories and grams of fat religiously, eating only pretzels and salads during the day and then binging on cake frosting at night. I wasn't old enough to join the gym, so I lifted my mom's dumbbells in my room, teaching myself basic calisthenics and simple weightlifting routines. More than anything else at that age, I wanted to be smaller. I wanted to weigh less.
Fast forward 14 years, and I've amassed mounds of evidence that my weight is entirely irrelevant to my success and happiness in the world. I've read about a half million articles on the male gaze and the beauty myth. I've run races at 150 pounds and 190 pounds not noticing much of a difference in my performance. I've met men and women who love my body in its various shapes and forms and affirm that not only is there no need to radically alter myself, but my size makes me especially attractive.
All of that accomplished, however, in many ways, I'm not sure my relationship with my body has changed as a result. It's taken me a decade to kick the cake frosting habit. I still do the same calisthenics I did in my bedroom at 13, though now I do them at the gym and sometimes add HIIT or plyometrics or some other ridiculously-named exercise. When I walk past a mirror or see a candid photo, I immediately scan to see how large my arms or waist look. My first response to a breakup is still to take up an intense gym habit and immediately lose twenty pounds.
I find that women so rarely talk about the challenges of existing at this weird place between loving and hating your body. In my experience, it seems that women are allowed to speak of their bodies in one of two ways: 1) either we should spend lots of time hating on our bodies and an equal amount of time working to sculpt them into leaner, toner machines, or 2) we should be 100% confident in our shape and size at all times with no insecurity allowed.
I don't know how to be either way. Logically, I know I have every reason to love my body, and with my feminist political commitments, I would never hate on my body publicly, because I don't want women to see me doing that and think it's normal or okay. But in my lived experience of my body, I do feel so much insecurity and even shame. I can't muster the invincible confidence that I see body-positive and fat-positive women telling me I should have. I want the latter so badly, but I feel the former so intensely, and I don't know how to reconcile the two.
All of this said, what frustrates me more than anything, I think, is that I've spent almost fifteen years of my life wanting there to be less of me. During the years I should have spend finding myself, I've expended so much energy on losing parts of myself, whether they be pounds, inches or bits of fat on my arms, waist and thighs.
I want to end this essay with an anecdote that addresses the Margaret Atwood quote I opened with way up there at the top.
I recently visited a friend in New York City and stayed in her Brooklyn apartment. After dinner one night, we made banana bread and ate it warm with butter sometime past ten. I ate the first slice with relish, and when she asked if I wanted another, I refused and said that I was fine. A few moments later, she cut herself another generous slice and gently insisted that I do the same. "Indulge," she told me. "I hope you can be indulgent here."
I didn't mention it to her at the time, but her words struck me deeply. I don't think I had ever considered myself someone who could indulge. I wasn't thin like she was. Indulging meant disaster for my body. I had learned to avoid it and taken up binging as a sad substitute.
But that night, on her prodding, I did indulge. I stopped wanting less. I devoured more.
What are your body stories, loves? I hope we can share them together.
GIF by the inspiring Abbey Lossing.