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When I stepped onto the scale and it read 169.8 pounds I nearly flew off of it. My heartbeat quickened. I felt the way you feel when you look over the edge of a tall building, or you’re sitting on a ledge with you’re feet dangling out. For a moment there was no floor.
But the next moment I was pounding across it, taking four determined steps directly towards the scale, and leaping onto it. I couldn’t be 169.8. The scale must be broken. I demanded a recount.
I stepped back and glared, arms folded, icy. I peed and forced myself to poop. Surely that’s what the problem was. Clearly my bladder and intestines were full, and the eleven pounds the scale was accusing me of gaining were being held hostage there.
For good measure I took off my clothes too. Who knew how much a t-shirt and yoga pants could weigh?
The scale smiled coolly at me. “Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten so much cookie dough.” I stepped back. “Or Hot Tamales,” she snickered.
I pushed a hand through my hair and stared at myself in the mirror, stepping back, to inspect what 169.8 looked like. I knew my thighs were getting out of hand, that the size 8 shorts which dug in and rode up this summer fit me fine last year, that my pooch was slowly but surely expanding. Fat was covering my body like some type of evil goo. Stretching out and enveloping me like some type of science project, extending a hand towards my face, threatening to suffocate me…
And my arms sucked.
I threw on my clothes and stalked out of the bathroom huffily. I knew what 169.8 felt like. It felt humiliating. I didn’t have to be on the Biggest Loser scale in a stretched out sports bra and pair of spandex barely covering my gut having my weight broadcasted to the entire country to feel like everybody could tell that I’d f***ed my body up. I flashed back to the horrified look on a friends face when I tried on a pair of shorts entirely too short in American Apparel, her eyes zeroing in on my thighs. “I mean, if you’re comfortable enough with your body to wear them then you should get them, but like, I wouldn’t be that comfortable with my body.” I’d chalked it up to her usual b****iness and taken the shorts off, but what was left unsaid jumped on my back and tackled me now.
“Holy s***, you’ve blown up!”
169.8. I outweighed her by 45 pounds. I could’ve died.
How come my mom got to lose so much weight when she separated from my father while I clearly ate myself into oblivion?
I was angry again. How could my f***ing friends let me gain eleven pounds? A quiet, “Hey girl, maybe you shouldn’t have another brownie, you’re turning into a fat f*** and it’s not cute,” would have been highly appreciated. Maybe then it wouldn’t be the end of June and I wouldn’t be legitimately overweight.
159. That was my highest comfortable weight; even though I told people I weighed 150. It certainly didn’t qualify me as a size four, but I could still feel hot as a size eight. After all, I did have a butt, which I loved, and my chubby cheeks were just a part of what made me me. If thighs and arm jiggle and a pooch came with it, who was I to complain? I could weigh 159, eat sweets everyday and be happy. 159 was the best thing that ever happened to me.
But all good things must come to an end, and I wasn’t a fool. You can’t weigh 20 pounds more than what you tell people you weigh. And I couldn’t tell people I weighed more than 150 pounds. That was the highest weight I was comfortable speaking out loud, even if I had to whisper “plus 9” afterwards every time.
Plus, it’s impolite to ask a woman how much she weighs.
I found myself caught in the paradox that many bigger girls find themselves in. Could I be the confident, outspoken girl who dressed however the f*** she felt like and prided herself on being who she said she was, not who others told me to be, and still want to lose weight? Could I hate my body but still love myself? Was it possible to be a nonconformist who wanted desperately to conform to society’s perception of physical beauty? Is there anything wrong with just wanting to feel pretty?
That’s all I wanted, and if I’m being bold, that’s what I’d say is all any of us want. Of course we’re strong women, we’ll be writers and mothers and scientists and daughters and lawyers and best friends and athletes and doctors and sisters and artists and students. We want success and fulfillment and to reach our potential and to make a difference and to save the world and manifest our spirits and to fly. I can affirm this personally, because I was born with equal parts curiosity and ambition, and I want to run marathons and write books and change lives and love and play the ukulele and listen to people talk and learn languages and communicate and travel and hear God and climb mountains and make people laugh. My mother thinks I have some type of disorder, because when I see something with a texture, or just something new, I subconsciously wonder what it feels like and reach out and touch it. She always laughs at me when I look up and realize that I’m rubbing a table or a sweater or the floor and try to hide it from her. But I’ve realized that that’s what I want most of all; to touch the whole world, to emotionally connect, to experience, to embrace, and to be embraced in return.
Is it okay, to want these amazing lofty star speckled things and to dream dreams that sigh contentedly and to want to become my inner goddess, but also to just really, really want to feel pretty?
My idol, Cheryl Strayed, author of the Dear Sugar column, once wrote, “If you asked me to draw a picture of myself I’d draw two. One would be a portrait of a happy, self-confident, regular-looking woman and the other would be a close-up of a giant gaping mouth that’s ravenous for love”.
If you asked me to draw a picture of myself I’d draw three, a happy, self-confident, girl with chubby cheeks, a giant gaping mouth that’s ravenous for love, and a tiny little elf, telling the girl she’s not pretty enough to get what the mouth wants.
Like Sugar, I know it’s not the truth, I know that I am loved, that I am loved even if some people don’t love me, even if some people hate me. That I’m loved even if I’m 169.8, even if that makes me fat, even if that makes me ugly. But what’s also true is that little elf grows less and less tiny with every pound I gain, and his voice grows louder and louder, so loud that I can barely hear the happy, self-confident, girl with chubby cheeks, ensuring me that I do look beautiful, that I am good enough.
And there’s more, and it’s worse. It’s that I can’t love myself best when I weigh 169.8. I loved myself way better when I was 159 and happy, and I love myself even better now that I weigh less than that.
When I first figured this out I was disappointed. Shouldn’t I love my body no matter what? Shouldn’t I celebrate it and hail it as the temple, the vessel carrying my soul? Shouldn’t that be enough to make it beautiful, to make me feel good enough?
I know that what I’m really after, more than just beauty, is adequacy. To be reassured that I’m a good enough writer, that I’m pretty enough, strong enough, funny enough, friendly enough, smart enough, a good enough friend and daughter and sister and human being. Usually, my self-confidence takes care of this reassurance, rubbing my back and telling me “Shhh, there, there, you’re enough” when the tiny little elf throws s*** at me. But at 169.8, it can’t. It can pat me on the back, and smile at me sympathetically, but it can’t tell me I’m doing my best.
To love myself, I have to show myself respect, and I have to work at it. I have to write to be able to reassure myself that I can, I have to practice being a good friend to be able to tell myself that I am one. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I have to take care of my body, and eat cleanly and workout to be able to tell myself I’m pretty.
And just like I love my hair better when it’s red, and I love my face better when I’m not wearing glasses, I love my body better when it’s slimmer. Maybe being pretty shouldn’t be on my list of top ten desires, and being skinny shouldn’t make my list of goals, but feeling comfortable and secure in my body, loving myself, and treating myself with honor and respect, will always be.
169.8 just didn’t cut it for me.