Yesterday, I woke up kind of uneasy. I was scheduled to do a weigh-in, which I had signed up for on a whim, because I thought maybe I had eaten too much this holiday season and should hold myself accountable. Now I have no problem with other people doing something like this, but when I woke up, it didn’t feel right for me. (And I want to be very clear that the other folks involved would never ever make me feel like crap about myself, this is my shit right here). The thing is, other than for doctor's appointments, I haven't been on scale since 2010. I know how much I weigh theoretically, but like many folx I have a long and storied history with the scale. I am 30 and I don’t even remember what it’s like to go a day without thinking about how much space I take up.
It started a long time ago, when I was little, wearing blue plaid shorts and a matching polo. It was summer and my family was in Vermont. I spent most days with the horses down the road, or trekking through the woods listening for bears. I had grown up in the suburbs and had no idea what a bear sounded like, but knew enough to be cautious. I was also just starting to feel self conscious about my body and so I was listening to what others said about theirs. It was somehow even scarier than the bears. This was the summer that I learned that my mother hated her thighs. Now my mother is tall and very thin, she always has been. And while we are starting to look more alike as I age, we have always had some things in common and our thighs are one of them (or two of them, as it were). I spent a long time as a teenager pissed that she hadn't bothered to pass on the blue eyes, the razor sharp cheekbones, or the fast metabolism instead (Note: I love my thighs now, they help me lift things and are therefore, very rad).
But before I heard my mother talk about her thighs, it had never occurred to me that my legs were anything other than legs, which thankfully took me from one spot to the next and frequently got scraped up when I tripped over rocks. Now I knew they could be wrong. They could be bad. They could stick together when it was too hot outside and jiggle when I marched with a purpose. I did not wear a pair of shorts again from that summer until I was 22 years old. If they were wrong, I would just hide them I thought, then no one would know. But I knew.
When I was in middle school, I remember sitting in history class and watching a girl named Shayla slide into the desk next to mine. She wore a striped tank top and jeans and when she sat, her stomach stayed flat. There was no skin spilling out at the top of her jeans. Her tank top didn't bulge, it sat smooth, a little concave even on her skin. This was the year I became obsessed with having a flat stomach, with getting smaller and smaller. Looking back now I think that after the thing I'd survived, the thing that never left me in those days, also made me want to disappear. If I had been smaller, maybe he wouldn't have noticed me. If I'd been smaller, maybe I could have sunk right through that mattress and slid right out of that room before he noticed. Small meant hard to see, small meant safe.
I have a friend who lived through extreme physical abuse when he was a child. He combatted those feelings of fear and anger by getting big. He exercised, he ate, he became one of the most physically large and intimidating people I've ever met. You see, when threatened, society told him to get big and me to get small. Told him to take up more space and me to disappear. But I couldn't disappear, no matter how hard I tried. Just like being big never made him any less scared. Not really.
Next came high school, and I want to make it clear that I don't take eating disorders lightly, they have almost taken many people I love dearly from me and from the world too soon. I have watched that pain and that struggle up close and I know it's nothing to be flippant about. And while I know I've had problematic eating patterns, I have not fought the fight they have and I am in total awe that they have stared this thing down. But in high school, I would log onto my desktop computer and look at anorexia websites, hoping they would trigger something in me to make me want less. I'd heard that could happen, that those images could be so triggering that they could cause disordered eating. Make me less hungry. Somehow.
Because what felt like my biggest personal failing at the time was that I was always hungry. And girls aren't supposed to be hungry. We were supposed to say "Oh no, just the salad" and be totally satisfied. But I was never satisfied, always ravenous, and I hated what I thought that said about me. In my head, I wasn't thin enough to have “earned” ravenous. So I kept searching those sites, looking at girls who were close to dying and wondering why I couldn't have their willpower. Wishing something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy on myself. The teenage mind is funny like that. Still, I started calorie restricting, living on diet soda and 90 calorie yogurts and running for hours on our basement treadmill, watching VH1 nostalgia shows and occasionally making myself throw up. Hunger was a pain I understood.
Then came college. In college, we'd cram people in cars to go to parties, like so many sweaty sardines in going-out tops. Often the girls would sit on laps, as we careened down dark roads, nine to a car, to the nearest frat party in the suburbs outside of DC. I hated those rides. Not because they were sweaty. Not because they were dangerous. Though they were both. But because I have always hated sitting on people's laps, some continual haunting that said I was too large. That I would crush someone or make their leg go numb and they would be too embarrassed to tell me. Those car rides were a personal hell that I endured almost nightly. I'd grab any chair, handle or window ledge I could to avoid putting my full weight on the person below me. The door would open and we'd spill out into the night and I'd drink to forget what that felt like. To compensate, I did the age-old defense. Attack before you're attacked.
Thanks to the technology of early-stage social media, I can look back on my assholery with ease. I was mean, I was cruel, I was downright abhorrent. I was so worried that someone might judge my body that I distracted everyone I could by judging everyone else's, usually loudly. I am so deeply sorry for the things I said and did back then, and while this doesn't make up for it, know that it was from a place of deep pain and insecurity. I hated everyone so I wouldn't remember how much I hated myself. But of course, it came back to me, as those things tend to do. There was an anonymous gossip website back then and I remember reading terrible comments about myself on there and having to pretend they didn't bother me, looking into every face I passed on campus and wondering who could be that mean, while I myself, continued to be just that mean, sans anonymity. But I wasn’t big on irony then.
In 2008 in an attempt to be healthy which I thought meant skinny, I cut grains, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, carb-heavy veggies, and fruit. I also cut out meals, replacing them with protein shakes. I hit the gym twice a day. And I lost weight. A lot of weight, which was the only thing that ever motivated me to kick the booze for a few weeks. And somehow as I got smaller and smaller, people were proud of me. They asked what I was doing, and I'd tell them…conveniently leaving out the time I had a panic attack because I had eaten an extra snack of 12 almonds (TWELVE) and couldn't make it to the gym that day.
There's a picture of me from that year, at my thinnest, in a white cocktail dress, size zero, dancing. If you look quickly, I look happy. I hadn't eaten in a few days to fit into that dress and the second I had a bit of bread and bit of booze, it had felt uncomfortable and tight. The second I could get a jacket on, I'd unzipped the dress in the back, acutely aware that this was what failure felt like. What I see in that picture is paper happiness, thin and flimsy, but I still could barely hold it up. I was weighing myself at least twice a day at this point, and frequently dissolving into hysterics about not being able to break 110lbs. I took caffeine pills, laxatives and once even got a colonic to lose weight (Because RuPaul recommended it in his book. Seriously, do NOT take medical advice from RuPaul. Business advice, makeup advice, personal branding advice, yes. Medical advice? No. Moral is: 0/10, would NOT recommend. So just don’t okay?).
Eventually I found the Whole30, and it cleared my skin of eczema and helped my joints stop aching from my autoimmune condition. I found what worked for me, but never quite healed my relationship with food. I was still a hidden eater, I’d hide food and my eating and hate myself for it. I wasn’t supposed to feel that shame anymore, so why was it still there? And when I got sober, I thought I'd immediately get thinner. Most of me knew that this wasn't my priority, that I'd die if I didn't stop living this way. But another part of me also thought it might be a nice plus to be the smug sober person who looks great in a swimsuit. (Have I mentioned I'm an asshole? I'm an asshole). But it didn't happen that way.
This was my first sobriety attempt where I did real work on myself, my trauma, and my patterns. It hurt and it felt vulnerable. I ate a lot of banana bread. And I gained weight, because usually when you are holding onto a thing happening? The universe is a total genius and delivers you the exact opposite of that thing so that you can see what an asshole you're being.
I got sober. I sat with myself when my skin was crawling and when I felt like I had no skin at all. I sat naked in front of mirrors, I filled notebooks with my words, and I cried a whole fucking lot. I read books and I've had hard conversations. I've apologized, fucked up and apologized some more. I have hurt. I have healed. Not quite at peace but definitely not at war anymore. Movement isn't a punishment anymore. Food, most of the time, is just food, delicious, wonderful food that I eat when I am hungry or it just looks really fucking good.
My point is this, I am trying my very best to be okay with my body. I am trying my very best to put the part of me that is proud of what it can do ahead of the parts that are critical about how it looks. I am trying to silence the part of me that says that sobriety should come with a thinner me. That value and thinness go together. That there is any physical part of me that can say any damn thing about my human worth. But there were a million moments like the ones I've listed here and they have stuck their hooks in me deeply, and it's going to take awhile to chip away at that. I want to acknowledge that. I don't want to pretend I'm fine. That's what got me into this.
And so yesterday, when I thought about stepping on a scale, I thought back on the day that little me I threw away all of her shorts, the days of twice daily weigh-ins and skipping meals and counting almonds, and for one quick second, the part of me who loves that this body, 30-ish lbs heavier now, that can squat 230lbs and carry 3 bags of mulch to the yard at a time, and open all it's own jars, and I thought I could handle a weigh-in, dietary rules, and charts of my progress. But the quiet part of me, the one I'm learning to trust more every day said "Baby love, you don't have anything to prove". Because saying No to something that doesn’t feel right for me and my body? Is all the progress I am interested in.
Because that small, quiet voice knows that I still cringed when the doctor said I "carry the weight well" (Note: I no longer go to that doctor, I am not a masochist and it turns out that she was a Ph.Douchebag). That I still cut meals when I'm stressed out. The thing is…I can lose weight. I know all of the tricks and tips. It's easy to me now, comfortingly familiar even. But what's much harder, is sitting with where I'm at right now and letting this be okay. With letting this body be a good body not because of what it could be, but because of what it is, right now.
There is such a rush this time of year to be "healthy", or to claim the trappings of "health", and I want to remind myself (and maybe you if you need it) that it is healthy to avoid things and people that make you feel like shit. That kick you into a shame spiral like that super buff dude from 300. You can say no, even if you've already said yes, because you get to protect yourself first. No matter what and always. So, I decided not to get on a scale yesterday. Instead, I got a massage and ate some spinach and some Godiva truffles and wrote this, and decided that I contain fucking multitudes okay? And my multitudes wear the hell out of a pair of shorts.