I am 14-years-old, 5’8, and 185 pounds. The only pants that fit over my thighs are outdated and torn. I’ve been an awkward kid my whole life, but now I am a teenager with braces, butterfly clips and obesity. It is hard. I try my best to ignore the fact that I don’t look like everyone else, but still pray every night for a better body so that I might have a boyfriend other than “Chad,” my fictional lover “from the city.”
Then one day my wish comes true. I don’t know if it’s hormones or a bona fide miracle from Jesus, but between my Junior and Senior years of high school, I lose a whole 45 pounds. That’s like one Justin Bieber.
The first thing I do is buy a normal sized jean jacket. It is thrilling and strange. Gone are the days of “Well, at least you have a nice smile!”, and for the first time in my life–boys notice me. All of a sudden I am popular, pretty, and picked first in gym class despite being a truly terrible athlete. All the balls are literally in my court, staring at my miniskirt and making awkward conversation about my “different look.”
The rest is predictable. I get drunk on the power and obsessed with being thin. It’s all I think about day and night, resulting in some really creative diets including the “The Sleep Diet,” “The Saltine Diet,” and perhaps most repelling, “The Refried Beans Diet.” By the end of college, I have dabbled in all the dark eating arts; bulimia, anorexia, dipping cotton balls in orange juice and calling it “lunch.” I am a jack of all trades.
Most notable is my long relationship with laxatives. For years I pop these pills into my digestive system to “cleanse” all the calories after meals. The problem is that they are A) habit forming and B) will ruin your body and cause you to shit your pants in the school cafeteria. They also do not work. My weight goes up and down like a yo-yo due to false hope over these tiny pills. When I finally quit cold turkey, I have a weakened metabolism and lasting damage to my bowels.
Enter the children. The first thing I do when I get pregnant is promise myself I’ll stop abusing my body. The months before my wedding I had been eating less than 500 calories a day, barely enough to walk up a flight of stairs without passing out. I couldn’t do that while caring for a baby. And so I look down at my stomach, say Honey, it’s just not worth it, and promptly gain 75 pounds.
I’ve been sporting a pear shape ever since.
A few weeks ago I was asked to write about body image and how it’s changed over the years. Despite spending the past three decades being too big or too small, here are some things I know for sure:
1) Eating too little will make you feel like shit.
2) Eating too much will make you feel like shit.
3) It doesn’t matter how much therapy, exercise, or humor you pour into yourself–body issues do not disappear. They are with you for life. Amy Poehler calls it “the demon.”
Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.” Sometimes you say, “Demon, I promise you I will let you remind me of my ugliness, but right now I am having hot sex so I will check in later.
The demon is annoying but I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be everything. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to life than thigh gap. Also, spending thirty years in a woman’s body has taught me a few things. For example, how to buy appropriate sized clothing. Pro tip: squeezing into a smaller size out of vanity could result in a situation that requires scissors or your uncle’s butcher knife. Similarly, how to avoid fad diets. Take it from an expert dieter, juice cleanses and 30 day fixes do nothing more than give you temporary weight loss and diarrhea. Doctors, science, and years of research are actually telling the truth. Healthy eating and exercise are the only ways to truly lose weight. I know it’s the worst.
There is no way to go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self that binge eating colace will cause her 30-year-old self to shit her pants at the grocery store. All I can do now is laugh and maybe become a motivational speaker for teenage youths who think Angelina’s arms are normal. I can think of no better way to dissuade someone from laxative abuse than describing the particulars of throwing out your underwear in the Costco bathroom. The details are truly horrifying.
The image we have of ourselves is always shifting. May we continue to grow into our bodies, forgive our arms, and celebrate our working bones.
We are always a work in progress.