The last time I was thin it was 1986, the summer before I got my period. Within a few years, every module of my body (butt, breasts, thighs, arms, face) bubbled up and out.
I was not fat or overweight then, and I didn’t think that I was fat. What actually happened was that overnight, a new thought naturally wormed itself into my pubescent life, an indestructible, wiry follicle of a thought, that’s been there ever since: My body was no longer right.
Other women will know what I mean: It doesn’t have to be about our mothers or about our girlfriends or about fashion magazines. My girlfriends didn’t become obsessed with weight until way past 1986, I didn’t grow up with how-you-should-be magazines, and my mother, albeit a self-conscious person, never talked about fat or diets. (To this day, her attitude has influenced my attitude toward weight, which can be summed up as:100% indifference wrapped in 100% dread.)
Sometimes, a lot of times, the thought that something is wrong with your body just happens, like walking out of a hair salons with an unplanned perm and a wild look in your eyes.
I remember going to the most hideous, humiliating, horrific place for teenage girls: gym class. My school required shorts in the summer and I felt my boundaries violated standing in plain view in the middle of the day. I could feel my thighs exposed, white and round and large. I couldn’t run with my breasts right there on the front of my chest. I never got over gym class, and although I put myself through many a yoga and weightlifting classes since, I’ve never played a team sport.
When I was 15, I went to the 9th grade dance. I was in complicated, resounding, adolescent love with someone, I can’t remember who. I went to the dance, but he spent the whole time dancing with someone else. I remember walking home late in the evening, by myself, already heavy with loneliness, dragging behind me the dark air of loud music and whispers and laughter, and thinking, “She’s so thin.”
Over the years, there were other moments: being told by a woman executive that I wouldn’t get an assignment because she wanted “a shiny little thing” in the position and having various body parts randomly cupped and rubbed by strangers on buses or subways. They didn’t make me feel worthless and they didn’t ruin me, but they confirmed that my stuff wasn’t right and under control.
I remember wanting to be as cool as the Wella commercial woman: the girl with bouclé hair getting off a plane. I pored over her 80s salmon pink lapel-less business suit and moderate-height heels. She looked busy with important things since her body was suitably contained by her blazer.
I wanted to wear nice strapless dresses, not the burlap bras I had custom-made. I wanted to feel like I could join a sports team non-ironically and trade clothes with any of my girlfriends. I didn’t want men to comment on my “curves” or dip their gaze to my breasts every embarrassing day of my life. I wanted to be small and not stand out. I wanted to not be exposed.
Would it have been hard for me to lose those few pounds? Yes, because I tried many promising diets, many times between 14 and 34. In retrospect, I really wish that when I was 14 someone either taught me how to do it correctly or ordered me to stop trying all together. Learning how to deal with my grown-up body during its first year would have made a significant difference in my life, and it would’ve saved me the next 20 exhausting years of compensating for its incorrectness by trying to be smarter, nicer, better.
Ultimately, I’m fine, of course. Being chubby or fat doesn’t make you not fine. I have a healthy, contextual perspective on my personal weight being a global issue of only moderate importance.
But if I could go back in time and give my worried, hopeful adolescent self one piece of advice, it would go like this: “Don’t worry about weight! It really, truly is such an exhausting waste of time! Just be fat!” the 34-year-old me would say to the mortified 14-year-old me. “Unless, like, you can be thin?”