She looked at me down her aquiline nose, letting me know that she’d noticed my second trip to the Christmas dessert table: “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels, Jennifer Nicole” she said, and my 13 year old hand placed the golf ball sized ricciarelli back on the platter. In a year, I’d be taller than she was and in two I’d learn from a girlfriend that a daily dose of Ex-Lax would keep my stomach flat flat flat enough that I wouldn’t have to unbutton my pants to get them down past my hips.
When I was a young girl, I grew up watching my mother tornado about our living room in shorts and a t-shirt, bounce, bounce, bouncing her way through any number of Jane Fonda workout videos. Good old Jane, in a chevron striped leotard, would be bent in half, calling out instructions that my mother did her uncoordinated best to follow. The prescribed dosage of these videos was one a day, but my mother would do three or four in a row starting the second after she had put dinner on the table for my brother and I. Next to her, would be a can of Diet Pepsi with a bendy straw poking out of the metal hole in the top….
She never ate, that woman, always doing some chore when we were eating. When my dad was home (he traveled a lot for work), she’d finally sit at the table, but even then, it was a show of sleight of hand, a convincing pantomime of eating that she’d perfected over the years. Weight was a preoccupation with her, and my eight, nine, ten, eleven year old eyes absorbed it all. She was the most beautiful woman I knew, and it was my mission to earn her love. Staying thin was one way to remain invisible to the critical glint in her often crazy eyes.
By 16 years old, the idea of my weight was an out-of-control monster that I could not tame. I would leer at my naked self after showers, horrified at how wide my hips were (never mind that the delicate bones were visible beneath the skin). I would sit on the edge of my seat in classes to keep my thighs from “spreading” into what I was convinced was a horrific blob of disgusting fat. Mirrors were evil henchmen distorting the natural curve of my lower abdomen into revolting rolls of cellulite and revealing, out of the shadows, double chins just above my neck.
Over the years, I would wage a silent war with my body image; seeing how many days I could go without eating, waking up before dawn’s light to get an eight mile run in before school, spending hard earned money on The 24-Hour Hollywood Diet and fantasizing about the cost prohibitive lipo procedures that would solve all my woes. As my body filled out, I’d berate myself for hating my body so much the previous year, wishing only to go back to THAT body instead of the new one that had changed overnight. “If only I’d known!” hissed my Inner Monologue. Ha! If only I’d known is right. If that 16 year old, at 93 pounds knew that she’d balloon up to 130, she might have actually committed suicide.
Over the years, I’ve taken small steps, and won some major battles against the drunken juggernaut of my flawed self-image. I’ve permanently thrown away scales and will only step on one if forced to by someone in a medical setting. I gauge my weight by how I feel and how my jeans fit, adding more cardio as is necessary. I focus on fitness and have traded my fixation on weight for a fixation on muscle definition and overall health. I eat now, and don’t deprive myself of anything, really, but do say no to those things that I’m not totally in love with; forgoing the bread basket before dinner so that I can have a scoop of coffee ice cream after.
Really though, I’ve only traded the method to my madness. I’ve never been able to appease that awkward and body dysmorphic teen girl. I still look at myself with that critical eye. I cringe in dressing rooms when it comes time to try on bathing suits and jeans and skirts and well, basically anything at all. Married to mirrors, my eyes are constantly roving my body, screeching at the fleshy bulge of skin around my braline and nauseas at the sight of the pillow of paunch around the tops of my jeans. I am conscious to sit up straight, and to always wear loose fitting clothes that camouflage the little extra I carry around with me. I still covet other women’s bodies and have a slowly growing savings account for that lipo that I will eventually get.
I can’t speak definitely (for, who really knows what we all wrestle with when the lights go out at night and have only our thoughts on silent loop), but I am fairly sure that this issue occupies my thoughts enough to consider it an obsession, and that anyone knowing the full extent of the way it consumes me would stagger backwards wondering how I function at all with it standing there, akimbo and taunting. My mirror-image is a demon. It forces me through workouts though I’m about to pass out. It holds hands in camaraderie with the guilt of that extra tablespoon of ranch dressing. It makes me turn out the lights before having sex and denies me the ability to just throw something on for a night on the town. I keep it at bay, but I don’t know if I can ever exorcise it.