Before: I calibrate my childhood in calories consumed, in weight watcher’s points, in pounds. I know there were numbers associated with this before they stuck. My body is a battleground I war with on all sides. People ask what I want to be when I grow up, and I think to myself, “thin”. But I know I am not. Already I know my body is all green lights even when my mouth and head and heart are screaming stop signs. Already I know bodies like mine are more liability than loved. My body is something to be overcome, an obstacle I would claw my way out of, if only I could. But I can’t. We are all each other has ever had– my body and me.
96lbs—2002— Fourth grade, I receive an ID card. I am weighed for this ID. The scale balloons to 96 before the woman with a clipboard, and I panic. One hundred pounds is lurking before me. I can’t stop it so I stand on one leg when I weigh myself in the bathroom later. Seventy-six pounds looks so much better in red numbers. I began purging the year before. Someone somewhere said if you make yourself throw up, you can lose weight. So, I do. It is never an addiction. Habit, maybe? But my index finger meets my throat with precision, calculation. For all the emotion coursing through me, this is a sterile act. Purging is me actively choosing thinness over my health. It is a necessity. With clasped hands, I pray for God to make me small. There’s no fate worse than fat.
130lbs—2004— In fifth grade, we move. I am acutely aware that puberty is near, and while always self-conscious, my social anxiety soars. My hips expand. My formidable thighs are larger than ever. I hate my body more than ever. I hate myself more than ever. Disconnected from my peer group, I retreat to the basement. My nights are counted in bags of Cool Ranch Doritos consumed. My Sundays pass by donuts eaten. I’m insulating my loneliness, trying my best to anesthetize how alien I feel in my own skin. Once, my Girl Scout Troop Leader says, “Don’t you worry your pretty little face”. This is the first time someone has ever called me pretty.
135lbs — 2006– The two years between fifth and seventh-grade stretch my body four inches. Running and dance lean my frame. I’m the fastest girl in the 1600 meter race, but my body is sturdier than the others. Even as exceptional, my body is still other, still alien, still too much. Behind my back, the whole cross country team calls me “thunder thighs”, including the boy I like. A jealous teammate divulges this before a track meet in the hopes it will ruin my performance. It doesn’t, but I weep in my mother’s minivan after the meet. Every crush I have after him is doused in the paralyzing fear that I am too fat to be wanted. I wonder how much less woman I need to be to be wanted– to be picked– to be worthy.
**Even as a twenty-five year old woman, a small part of me blames my body for my singlehood, even on the days I love it most.
168 lbs– 2007– Recovery does not perfect you. Recovery brings you back to life, and life is the furthest thing from perfect. Two suicide attempts in the eighth grade, years of bulimia, cutting, exercising until my legs gave out and I couldn’t walk– all within the year before high school. My thirteen years of life couldn’t hold all my hurt, and so, I broke open. I sought counseling, tried to grow, tried to heal. I enter my freshman year over 30lbs heavier, but they say I’m pretty now. Rather than barking at me, some of my peers call me a slut behind my back. In girl hate, there is no winning. There is this thing, Speech and Debate. It is my safe haven, my Isle of Misfit Toys, my people, and through this experience, I’ll focus on my body less. Pretty falls in my list of priorities. With every tournament, my confidence grows, my spirit bubbles, I am affirmed through other areas than my appearance. My power roars through my talents, through my character, through my values, not my looks.
141lbs— Fall 2011– It’s 11:30am, I’ve just returned from class. I’m three weeks into my Freshman year at Ohio State. Columbus is a bustling metropolis to my suburban scope. Sun pours onto my dorm floor. Gold hues dance along my skin. I shut my eyes, and exhale deeply. This is the first time in so long that I am the only thing I must take care of. I no longer have to carry the mass of everyone else’s tragedies with me. Perhaps I am more than a shallow grave for weaker folks to bury their sins within. My body releases the weight it had carried. It begins without effort or attention, but things quickly sour. I’m involved with a girl who emotionally manipulates me, and even though we aren’t dating, I don’t end the attachment. What if no one ever finds me special again? So few people want me. And even though she tells me my nose is crooked in front of all our friends. Even though she tells me I am getting too skinny, I do not leave. I do not want to be un-special. There’s so much fear on the other side of a toxic affair. Later that year, I see a counselor who announces in our first session that she’s attracted to me (and then heavily contacts me after I quit seeing her), and then an eating disorder specialist who encourages me to drop out of college. “Whose life is it anyway?” I ask myself. Control is a tug of war, and I’m desperate to gain ground. In taking my body back, I think, everything will be ok. I only know how to claim my body with claws because it’s never been handled with care. I restrict five days a week and binge all weekend every weekend. The weekend is another word for excess, indulge, exhale. I pedal the elliptical with a tight grasp. Everything is grasped so tightly. I end my toxic attachment only to wander into assault by a boy took my “no” as a negotiation rather than a boundary. And then I lose my grip on everything.
139 lbs— Summer 2012– Feeding myself is feeding this liability. I’m not safe, even at Ohio State. I’m not safe in Indiana. I live inside a liability. I can’t trust myself or my appetites or my desires. They are all trap doors– each descends into a different destruction. Hours pass on the elliptical machine. I am on a witch hunt for my vulnerabilities. I will starve and sweat every last one of them out. My attitude is venomous, my tongue a stiletto I wield to slice everyone apart. I can feel how I’m hurting people, but I can’t stop hurting enough to change my behavior.
163lbs—Fall 2013– My ambition bit off more than it can chew. My ambition is a selfish beast who hates competition. I curb my exhaustion through eating. This is how I sedate everything overwhelming me. This is how I feed my ego without nourishing myself. This is how I keep quiet while drowning. My weight gain reminds me how rapidly I’m sinking. I’m so disengaged with myself that my body and I are two strangers. I swim beneath a waterfall in Costa Rica in a bikini. The swimsuit is too small and my boobs spill out of the top. I don’t care.
183lbs—Summer 2014—Things swell when hurt. Swelling the physical alarm something is wrong. So much was wrong, and my body got bigger. I find myself alone a lot that summer. I find myself there, where I’m hurt and lonely and don’t fit in. Gradually, my body does not need as much space because I quit abandoning it. It no longer needs to announce itself so loudly.
169lbs — Fall 2014/ Spring 2015– I’m not eating healthfully, but I’m not binging. I eat to survive. Everything is what’s quickest to consume. Three jobs, two majors, eleven activities, three executive roles– no one can balance this much. At 21, especially, I lack the coping skills, the stress management skills. I do not like my body, but I also don’t really consider my body. We are strangers, roommates who happen to co-experience within the same place. I am elsewhere as I speed toward college graduation.
174 lbs— Winter 2016— My body is in Cleveland. My soul is elsewhere. I don’t know where that is. With no spirit to regulate, my appetites are left unchecked. I substitute a social life with food. I’ve always fed off the energy of others, but in this hibernation, I’m ambivalent so much I used to care for.
153lbs— Spring 2016— There are times your soul is a nomad, and all your body can do is be there to welcome it home when it’s ready. I came home to myself. Cares resurge, my ambition and drive and indomitable spirit thaw after the winter. It is spring. I bloom once more. Regular exercise is how I say sorry to my body for abandoning it when it needed me. My body responds, “welcome home”. I return to Columbus that summer. And even though I love my body, I do not respect it. I allow people to treat it like it is theirs. Men handle it like they own it, even when we’re in my home. I cannot reconcile my human craving to be touched, to be adored, with the predatory advances I experience. My past reminds me that even if the grasp is greedy, it’s an honor to be picked. My heart cringes in disagreement.
139lbs— Spring 2017— Dieting is perfectionism with food. For that reason, I excel at dieting. My new workout routine and militant eating habits slenderize my shape. People gush over my weight loss. “Gosh, you’re so skinny!” “YOU LOOK SO GOOD!” My ego glows, but inside, I fume, “did I look bad before?” I know that’s not what they’re saying, but it feels like it. Despite my complicated emotions with my body, I loved it at 153 lbs. The morphing was different, not better. I do not want the shrinking of my body to be its triumph when it’s my body’s survival that merits celebration. “You fought for your body,” they say. No, it is the other way around.
139lbs— Summer 2017— Frenzied chaos overtakes me. A tense situation sours, and the curdling exhumes my eating disorder. Purging resurfaces like something I never forgot. We never really lose our first coping mechanisms. My cells jar at the extremity of my caloric intake. I restrict, only to break into epic binges. He made me feel like nothing, and so, I became a blackhole to food. Walls of Whole Foods cookies, entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s, a pizza just for me— he’s made me so empty I’m never full. Stability is a fossil I am desperate to resuscitate, but I can’t. I try to relieve my stress through exercise, but I stress fracture my foot. Stress fashions me into a porcelain doll. I am breaking in every way.
161lbs—Jan 2018—My trauma’s wake carries a weight. My body holds 161lbs differently than it has before. The clothes I wore when I lost weight still fit. My thighs test the seams of my jeans more, but that’s all. Perhaps my midriff is more dough than granite. Hardship softened me. This is the first weight gain that does not inflate all the worries inside me. I block it from becoming something more than what it is. How gravity relates to my body has no bearing on how I relate to myself.
139lbs —April 2018—Discipline is how I exercise control. There’s stability in tracking what I eat, in regimenting my schedule to exercise. Rigidity feels good. I revert to my walls every so often, grow smaller in the confines of my own control. Nothing flows here, but it isn’t desolate. This is a season of solitude. Three months flashed by, as I worked seven days a week. I labored through confusion and insecurity, through the embarrassment and pain of the fall. All I need is myself in the lean season.
151lbs– Summer 2018— I thought about lying here. I don’t know why I trust you, reader, or if I should. But I do. Still, I wanted to lie to you. I wanted to say I take up less space. But the job of a writer is to tell the truth. Here are some truths about my body:
- It will never be “perfect”. What the hell is perfect anyway? There will always be someone thinner, more toned, prettier. But they
- It is always mine.
- It took me 25 years to allow people to interact with my body in ways that aren’t disrespectful, that my body, in fact deserves to be handled with care and respect. I deserve to be met with care and respect.
I still care how much I weigh. I just do it less. I eat the cake anyway because life is short, and I feel sexier when fed. I eat the cake because I want to, and thats’s reason enough. And I am sexier because I’m happier with a damn cupcake in my hand! I worry about drinking alcohol but sometimes I do. I’m already a great dancer, but Jack Daniels is quite the dance partner. There are times I still decline dates and nights with friends because I’m anxious about food, because, after all this time, I worry about weight gain.
Yet, smallness is not the why of my body. Even when I am self-conscious and vain and I want to feel pretty, I don’t surrender all my joy to this specific number. Because if I tether my worth to a number, why is it weight? Why can’t it be 5:47– my fastest mile (fun fact: ran that at 150lbs because I was too freaking hungry at 139)? Why can’t it be 120lbs– how much I deadlift with relative ease? Or 9179– Days I have lived this breathtaking, heartbreaking, foolish, brave life? The why of my body isn’t any of these numbers. The why of my body is that after all this time, after all these years, it still wakes for me and welcomes oxygen in with both lungs. It dances for me and revels in every embrace I experience. The why of my body is its ability to house trauma and triumph. The why of my body is that, in the end, we are all each other has.