I remember the first time I became aware of my body relative to other people’s. I was quite young, around six or seven. I was sitting on the blacktop during gym class, my legs folded neatly under my body, shins flush to the ground, hands resting on my knees. I gazed from teacher, to the trees, to the four square court, then down to my legs, which were juxtaposed against the similarly fashioned – but much skinnier – legs of my classmate. She was a petite little thing, a classic Southern belle with feathery blonde hair and a ballerina’s build. All little girls in the South were enrolled in dance class – except me, of course. I didn’t have the grace.
The flesh and blood and sinew of my thighs flattened out horizontally, bulging out in a soft rounded curve before tapering to the pointy ends of my knees. Her thighs didn’t bulge out at all. They were the same width folded as they were extended, perfectly aligned to the span of her curiously angular knees. Almost rectangular. My eyes darted to the folded legs of the other girls – angular, angular, angular… then back to mine. Squish.
Everyone talks about how little girls are beaten over the head with body-conscious marketing messages. There’s no doubt that the media narrative plays an indoctrinating role. But in my experience, they simply served as reinforcement points to something that was very observable: my body didn’t look like the other girls’.
It started out as an objective matter of fact. Inches, proportions, clothing size – all large. Pediatrician said I was in the 90-something percentile. Big head, big bones. I was reminded of my percentile range frequently. My mom posited that it was my German lineage. Big German bones. I’m not sure that’s as compelling an explanation as she made it out to be.
Heidi Klum is German, so.
When I was little, I was only bothered by it to the extent that I was made to feel different. Kids aren’t keen on feeling “othered.” Our peers are our yardstick for normalcy and I quickly became hyper-cognizant of my outlier status. Tall girl in the back row on picture day. Slow poke during the mile run at P.E. Incapable of scaling the rope or doing a pull up. Waiting in line with the boys to get a size large promotional t-shirt at the school fundraiser.
Then puberty rolled around – early for me, of course, just like a Judy Blume novel. Taller still, with big breasts and big hips, which I then started to match with big opinions and a big voice. I was commanding in physicality and personality, with the latter serving to offset (or maybe just match) the former. That’s when everything shifted from merely observable data to data points that were qualifiable – moral and immoral, desirable and undesirable. With so many opinions about my maturing body being hurled at me from every angle – grown men cat calling from pickup trucks, sales clerks at the department store, caustic matriarchs on my TV set – the only option for having any semblance of control was to be louder, smarter, and snarkier. Of course, I quickly learned that those things didn’t offset the fact that I was taking up space physically. They compounded the problem.
Now I bristle at the fact that I ever thought any of those things were a problem, and that I’m still agonizing over them as I fast approach 40. It’s bullshit. There’s no other way to put it. (Tied to this decades-old tangle is my immoral penchant for profanity. Or, as Sarah Silverman recently said on her podcast: “the English language in all its flourishes.”)
I have been tortured by internalized disapproval of my own body for as long as I can remember. I fear that if I was held at gunpoint and forced to reckon with my life through rapid flashes of memories, half of them would be of me grappling over the trauma of a few extra inches of flab on my inner thigh, just a bunch of yellowed, faded Polaroid shots of me scribbling goal weigh targets in notebooks, planners, and diaries.
All because of a few extra inches on my body pieces. INCHES! It’s asinine when you strip it down to the fundamentals. It reminds me of a comedic bit in which Bob Newhart acts out what a conversation must have sounded like the first time someone had to explain tobacco usage to civilization. “It’s a special kind of leaf that you tear up and stuff into a little piece of paper, roll it up, stick between your lips, AND SET ON FIRE.”
“Mommy, what do you mean when you say you’re fat?”
“Well, sweetie… it means that I have highly observable amount of skin and adipose tissue around my bones and muscles, causing me to wear a size large tank top at the Gap.”
“What is ‘large’?”
“Well, sweetie… it comes from the Latin word ‘largus,’ which means abundant, copious, plentiful, bountiful, liberal in giving, and generous.”
“And that’s bad?”
“Well, sweetie, in many other contexts, large is good – for men, beer, houses, turkeys, and sports utility vehicles. But not for my thighs or my tank top. Or for tumors or leaks.”
It’s mind blowing to think that I’ve given up years and years of peace because of mere inches of tissue. Maybe I can’t change that I’m “largus.” But whew, have I tried – Weight Watchers, Noom, Atkins, Starving College Kid Diet, Chew Gum & Eat Apples Diet. But maybe I can change the KIND of large I am.
Not leaky tumor large. “Refreshing yard of ale at a Skynard concert” large. “Black Label Lincoln Navigator with an optional third row” large. And if I’m going to take up space, I’m not going to cower in embarrassment, I’m going to do it like a guy in a fleece vest on the subway. Shamelessly.
On my Instagram, I’ve talked exhaustively about how I’ve set up obstacles in front of myself my entire life, all because of this belief that I won’t be “ready” for certain opportunities until I’m a certain BMI. For example, my desire to pursue a public speaking career. On paper, I have all the most critical makings of someone who would be successful in the public sphere: a big head and mouth, hardly any sex scandals, expertise on 20th century pop culture references, and an endless supply of unsolicited opinions on topics about which I have very little understanding.
But then I remember that time in “Devil Wears Prada” when Stanley Tucci told Anne Hathaway that size 2 is the new 4, and zero is the new 2, and nothing off the rack is going to fit her size 6 ass, because 6 is the new 14. And a size 14 in show business just means it’s time for celery juice and the Tracy Anderson Method. Ha! Just kidding, size 14 in show business is NOT A THING. And girl, you cannot afford the Tracy Anderson Method, get the hell out of here.
(See, even my toxic inner monologue is riddled with references.)
Author Caroline Dooner writes in her book, The F*ck It Diet:
“I am here to tell you, and then tell you again, that everything you think being thin will give you is something you need to be willing to seek now, regardless of your current weight. You were not made to sit around waiting until someone deems you good enough for the life you want.
You were made to go create it.”
I’ve run out of diets to try. I’ve run out of space in my closet for all these “one day they’ll fit” jeans. I’ve run out notebooks to house my arbitrary weight loss targets. Their lines and boxes are instead filled with to-do lists that prop up the corporate communications career I’ve created, which supports the children that I’ve birthed, who live in the house that I bought, where I write stories using the creativity that I’ve nurtured regardless of the numbers on the bathroom scale.
I have accomplished so much in spite of the 30+ years of hating the very body that allowed me to do it.
Imagine what I could accomplish if I loved it. I’m ready to find out.