Imagine preparing for battle. You gather your armaments and artillery. You memorize coordinates and codes. There exists a language of men fallen and the words are just beyond your reach. You practice drills, phases of attack — once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. You remind yourself of the rules of engagement because there are still rules, even in the dirtiest of wars raged. But it’s the degree to which you abuse them, the rules, that breaks you in ways you never imagined you could be broken.
Three decades you’ve been at this. Pillaging. You’ve been fighting since you were able to hold the weight of a weapon in your hand. Only the war is here, in your house. Even closer still. The war, war, war you wage is within and against your own body. And like any war, you’ve made a mess of it. The losses are incalculable. The armory ossifies. The weapon you once held up proudly as a child shakes and writhes in your hand. Was it a knife you used to carve and whittle away flesh from bone? Or was it duct tape to keep your mouth shut, the refrigerator shut, and so on?
You have suitcases of issues. Come. Feel their weight. In the first case, mother. The second, weight. The third is love, but sometimes this eludes you because you’ve always considered love and loss flip-sides of the same coin.
For a time, you were lucky. Your mother never passed judgments about being big or small — she just wanted you to be healthy. In sixth grade, you were the first among your friends to bleed. At first, it was the boys who took notice of your body that had started to bloom. The world became loud with their wants and your job was to navigate the goings-on beneath their swim trunks and trousers. Back then, all you wanted to do was stretch a wall over your skin. Then came the girls with tape measures snaking their hips. You were 32, 34, 36 inches and so on.
You were 12 and you’re a body filled with woman and weight. One summer you spent days swimming from one end of a sixteen-foot pool to the other. For much of your brief life, you were someone everyone ignored until the day you stepped into the courtyard of your new junior high school and all the girls gushed over your thinness. You’re so pretty. You’re so thin. And then thin and pretty became their own coin, a cruel kind of currency.
You moved to Long Island where all the girls were white, preened, and subsisting on Diet Coke. You don’t have the right accent (she sounds street), the right hair (why is her hair like that?), or money to buy the Guess, Lucky, and Z Cavaracci jeans or the slouchy socks that cost $10 at Stern’s (what is she wearing?). So you foraged for hot Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, bagels drenched in butter, and the two cheeseburger meal at McDonald’s because food doesn’t taunt, hurt, or question. While everyone was playing sports, mall-trolling, and prank-calling from houses in Five Towns, you spent evenings in a car with your pop driving from one fast food joint to another. The wiped-down tables at Roy Roger’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and KFC became your church and tabernacle and you remember a time when you got a blood test and the doctor told you that you didn’t have enough sodium in your body and you got so so sick trying to down half a glass of iodized salt.
You moved to a dorm room in a college where everyone hailed from the kind of homes that put your heart on pause. You were required to be thin, but not too thin like Audra whose hair fell out in chunks. She was quietly removed from the property. Hospitalized. No, no, we can’t be like that. We can’t make a disturbance in every place or take up too much space.
You’re good at purging. You started with the cookies and cinnamon buns. Behind a locked bathroom door you felt relieved after the expulsion. Okay, it’s all gone. You’re okay now, you think. Calories without consequences. There was an hour between the moment you came home and your family followed, and your sickness occupied the space between the two. You don’t love the purging, but you revel in the clean-up that was on the level of forensics. The spraying, the wiping down, the antiseptic quality of things. You smelled of bleach, toothpaste, and bad decisions.
It never happened. You were never here. No one could prove what you had done.
Until you shared a suite with friends and they started to ask questions about the things you did, specifically to yourself, in between classes. It was easy to purge after a night out because you could blame it on the drink. Your friends were always too black-out drunk to notice. Daylight was different. Look at me breaking the rules.
Why were you throwing up? your roommate asked. I’m sick, you said, and this was partly, nearly completely, true. I don’t believe you, she pressed. Do you want to end up like Audra, she asked, to which you replied, I’m not fucking Audra. You’re not the girl everyone whispered about. You’re not the girl whose boyfriend begged her to eat. You’re not the girl who lost her period. You’re normal, okay?
You’re not that girl.
You graduated from college and everyone scattered. Dots on a map. Law school, home, and the recognition that most of your friendships were built on geography and convenience. You moved to an apartment in Riverdale and played the CDs you used to play in college. You fixed mojitos and margaritas in blenders — drinks you could dance to. Someone, you can’t remember who, made a comment about your thighs, how they bulged beneath your shorts and then you signed up for a Bally’s gym membership, ran five miles a day, and subsisted on water, yogurt, bananas, and Lean Cuisine. You bought a tape measure and took notes of your waist, hips, and thighs. Within in a year, you went from a size 8 to a 0.
Still, you wished clothes were cut smaller. Negative integers. You remained thin like this for nearly a decade. You became that girl. I don’t feel here.
You seized and shook on a cold bathroom floor from the pills the doctor prescribed you. Trazodone, Celexa, and red wine made for strange bedfellows. While your boyfriend called your doctor and shouted, what the fuck is wrong with her, you remembered a picture of his former lover, a blond model. She was thin, thin, thin and he would remind you of this. He would look at her image and then at you as if to say, you’re not, not, not. Once, a man on a subway platform yelled that you were fat, a fucking house, and you can’t recall what you shouted back, but what remained were two words: I know.
You never asked for this body, this blood, handfuls of skin you can grab from your hips. You don’t understand it. This was one of the few things your mother got right. Size never mattered. Who you were mattered. What you did mattered. The kind of woman you would become mattered. Size never factored into the equation, she couldn’t be bothered with it. Rather, she regarded weight as something you simply gained or lost. Fat, skinny, stout, stocky — to her these were adjectives, not weapons. Why would you battle with your body if there was a war raging outside your door? She believed the whole of you was your ally, the one true thing you could love and trust and here you are holding parts of yourself. Hating yourself. Wanting to disappear within the folds of your clothes.
Where did it come from — this hatred of skin and flesh? This cruel captivity in which you’ve placed yourself. You could guess. The options are obvious. Perhaps the question is why still? Why are you able to see, love and refuse to vilify anyone else’s size other than your own?
You think about this a lot — the language of body. You follow smart, bold, and beautiful women who convey that words could be wounds. The way we talk about our body and the shape of it has the propensity to hate and alienate those on either side of the scale spectrum. You’ve stopped complimenting people on their weight loss. You’re genuinely happy that this generation has ushered in real conversations about body, inclusion, and representation. You can see disorder in others. You can even see it in yourself. But logic doesn’t play here. Something still gnaws. You whisper to yourself words of war. You are not beautiful. You lack discipline. You are unworthy.
You were in your mid-thirties when you took a job at a company for betterment. You were good, really good, at what you did and the company grew and grew and grew and you became the first female partner. The friend who helped you get the interview and put in a good word stood on the sidelines, watching you. She used to comment on your tiny waist, how clothes just fit. Over the years your waist ballooned and she thinned down to bone, and she made comment, possibly two, about how skinny she’d become and how much you’ve grown. You regard your friend with a kind of hatred you hadn’t fathomed existed. She held your body over your head like a pendulum — all because she thought this was the one way she could win. You had partnership and a team of people who valued you and your work and she had size 2 coats. You give her credit. This was perhaps her one brilliant move — turning your hatred of your body against you. Shining a light on it. Waving her weight on it.
You were devastated. Not because of what she’d done, but because you believed it. You gave into the worst parts of yourself. The parts you fought so hard to diminish.
Suppose your body is a house. It’s a life’s work to build it from a blueprint. Lay down the floorboards. Hang the drapes. Tighten the pipes. So why would you wreck it? Leave it in a state of disrepair, closed for renovations, nobody lives here anymore. Every day you remind yourself that weight is neither good or bad, it just is. Anything is dangerous when taken to its extreme, but we’re not talking about that here. We’re talking about occupying a body that is a house with all its bulbs burning bright and blueberry pie in the oven, and hey, want to come on in? Sit beside me on this couch and let me tell you how I placed my weapons down, one by one, and began to love this body, this house, this life?
This is the moment when the war turns into work.
You are 42 and you want to fall back in love with this one able body you’re privileged to have, this one sweeping, crazy life.