Rattling hands grasped the bottle as I approached the check-out lane. Gaze scanning the whole Giant Eagle, I prayed to leave undetected. I prayed the cashier would not ask for my age. He didn’t. I paid with my babysitting money and swiftly tossed my purchase into my backpack and rode my bike home. I was fourteen years old the first time I bought diet pills. The last time I did was a year ago– meaning that I’ve been purchasing them on and off for a decade.
My aversion to weight gain is more powerful than anything– except for my actual body. I’ve slid up and down scales throughout most of my life. I began monitoring my diet, restricting, at six. I purged at eight. I do not remember not hating my body. Food and body relationships are complicated, partially because it is a forced intimate relationship. There is nothing closer than a human and their body. We do everything inside of it. And we physically need food to survive. We have to eat daily, and that’s hard to do when you hate yourself or your body. Routines run awry amidst recovery because, in a spiraled state, this is all we can control. This is how I take my power back, and I don’t care how much it hurts me because I conduct the hurt.
The relationship of women to their bodies and how we’re pitted against one another is a complete mindfuck. When I was sixteen, I was told I had the perfect “curvy” body. I think of that as my body being niche and other, yet still acceptable. I now know that my body is perfect for me because I depend on it to stay alive. But I didn’t always know that. My upbringing cast thinness as beauty and fatness as undesirable. These notions and their subsequent nuances vary from community to community. In 2001, a song called “Bootylicious” stormed the radio. Teased my whole life for my big butt, I never saw weight gain as a positive thing, but here was Beyonce (who I thought was named Fiancee from the interview I watched) saying that a 10lbs weight gain inspired such a timeless banger.
Well, I’ve gained weight in the past five months. Life has kicked my ass and took my abs with it. I have the poor fortune of gaining weight when stressed. This is how my body reminds me that I am bigger than everything I face. A ruthless summer teetered into an unsure Autumn, and here I am, in a winter of restlessness– chubby but ok. My stomach rolls over my skinny jeans and my legs are so juicy that inseams sink their teeth into them. I am leaving for vacation tomorrow. My pasty flesh will meet the tropical sand, and I’m somewhere between “THE BEACH WILL TAKE WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT!” and wanting to cringe.
Social media paved this landscape for twenty-two-year-olds to hail themselves as experts or, more often, coaches. And kudos to you all because you are the experts on yourself. But to tell the universe that you know all there is to know about your body and yourself and you have it figured out is precisely the hubris of a twenty-something. I should know because I have that trait in heaps! Something about how insta-bloggers wax poetic on bodies grates on me– I hate it. I hate the flowery prose. “feel at home in your body,” they coo. My body isn’t a home. “It isn’t a place but a feeling of relaxing,” they respond. I get it, and I support your mission. Still, body-positivity innately has a hyperfocus on the body, a hyperfocus on food and fitness. This idea of home inside my body ignores the varied sensations it naturally experiences. Social media makes “health-ism” seem good. I’m suspicious. Yes, science tells us to eat greens and work out, and I do all of those things. But Lifestyle bogs and coaches would have us believe that these are constants. Like actual fads and styles, my exercise and eating habits ebb and flow. I didn’t work out for two years of college. These days, I hit the gym five days a week. I don’t know what my habits will be in six months or five years. I’m done feeling bad about that. Not every phase of my life allows my body to be the first priority.
I loathe magazines telling me that my body is beautiful. Bodies can be gross and gory and messy. Their purpose is not aesthetic, and not beautiful does not equal not valuable. I get uncomfortable when I try to confide my insecurities in the woman I’m seeing, and she squeezes my hand, “You are so beautiful,” she assures me. I don’t know how to explain it to her. When I hate my body, it’s not because it isn’t beautiful or sexy or whatever. Objectively, my body is fine. When I hate my body, it’s because it’s inescapable.
Once, a co-worker tried to guide me throw a meditation. The lights were off. Soft sunlight peaked through the windows. My eyelids hung heavy. Only, I started to cry– weep, really. In the stillness, my body reminded me how much it had carried this year. 2018 has been one hell of a year, but so have most in my life. I live inside all this stress. My whole life has been one exit map I’ve written myself– each path aims for safety in the wake of an aggressor. I’m no longer trying to outrun them, confident in my previous survivals. But I want to hurt less. I just want my body to be less of a shock absorber and more of a body.
I’ve binged and purged and starved and cut and sweat my way toward an exit inside my body. Everything I’ve ever been through has a room in my body. It lives there. It never goes away. But my traumas don’t get my body. My eating disorder doesn’t get my body. My abusers don’t get my body because it was mine first. Because it is mine always. Even when I don’t want it, even when I’m clawing my way out from inside of it, when I wanna make a shell out of it. It reminds me how magic it is– not because it’s beautiful or special but because it is a body.
There are few miracles greater than when someone embraces you– latches on tight and snug– and your body spreads the warmth everywhere. I ran my first race at three. My childhood is all rosy cheeks and panting breath from beating every boy in races. It is the slumped shoulders through the screen door after I’m done–relief in the victory. As an adult, I run hard and fast, and there’s a combination of agony and euphoria I feel in those moments. There’s that same relief after intense cardio or a stressful workday. The magic of my body defies size. It defies all dimension. My body didn’t wait to be skinny to trample every dancefloor its crossed or climb Arthur’s seat or zip line through rainforests or run a mile in under six minutes. No, my body waited for nothing– not even me. I was just along for the ride, and I’m glad it took me.
The thing about not dying is that good things find you. I’ve hidden from them, and still, the sunlight sought my face. Good things have found me while fat and good things have found me while skinny. I write this all the time, but it is always true: my body is the most tangible proof I have that unconditional love exists. After all I have put it through and all we have been through together, it still houses me. It still wakes for me and runs and dances and jolts my laugh from my lungs. There is no love stronger than that, none so unwavering. So I tell myself that and the following things when I want to roast myself for gaining weight:
- We listen to every other physical impulse: the need to sleep or poop or drink– why to we question and doubt hunger? Why would our bodies lie about its need?
- If I need to take appetite suppressants (which I’ve done in past years) to lose weight, perhaps my body is not biologically meant to be that size.
- Our bodies aren’t intended to be the same size or weight our whole lives.
- Maybe I gained weight because the world needed more of me.
- Weight gain is not a failure.
- I can’t “get my body back” because it never left.
I’m done wasting my money on diet pills. I’m only spending it on plane tickets. I’ll probably lose this weight, but I’m keeping my fat jeans no matter what. A bigger number on a scale is not as scary. I want it smaller. I don’t know how not to, but if I am a little fat, it’s ok. The world will not end and people won’t leave me over my weight. And if they do, then this weight gain was a removal of all the masks I never saw. If they do, they never deserved me. The thought of wearing the bathing suit is scarier than actually wearing it. And I’ll be damned if, after all these years of battling eating disorders and having my body disrespected and saying no to dessert, that I allow this to rob me of my joy throughout this vacation. THE BEACH IS GOING TO GET WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT, DAMNIT!