This morning as I applied my makeup, I looked into my own eyes in the mirror and counted years, a tricky thing to do because I still need my fingers to count and mine were holding eyeliner. I was counting years back to the last time I was considered the “right” weight for my height and size (according to the CDC’s body mass index); 23 years and, if your hands are full also, that was back in 1993. Even then, I felt incredibly overweight. In fact, I simply had an hour-glass shaped figure in an era of supermodel thinness.
My friend has a picture of my husband with a beautiful woman—long dark hair, a red blazer with fine wrist bones peeking out from underneath her sleeves—laughing next to him. I ask who she is and my friend and husband both look at me because it is me, unrecognizable in this body, now not mine.
My appearance and weight actually do not occupy a lot of my mind-space or time. My clothes all fit me for the size I am right now. I have let go of clothing in my closet that is a size down or a size up. I know my size, so I can shop on the internet without dealing with too-small dressing rooms in overly-lit fluorescent department stores with grandmotherly sales clerks who tell me I have such a pretty face, if only…
The unfinished thought hangs heavy, and so today, I finish it: “if only I would lose weight.”
Phillip Lopate writes on the necessity of turning oneself into a character while writing personal essays. One of the key steps is being able to have some distance from ourselves in our essays, something he calls a “ceiling view.” I think about the way I view myself and how I sometimes surprise myself. Most days, I can look in a mirror, comb my hair, apply my makeup, and move on with my day. But once in a while, I catch an unguarded glimpse of myself—seeing my reflection in a window on the street or in a mirror at the store, and think “that poor chubby woman!” before realizing it’s me.
I want to get to this “ceiling view” of myself that Lopate talks about. For now I seem stuck standing eye-level with myself in the mirror wondering which image of myself I will see today. How do I laugh about this situation I find myself in, or discuss health issues and medication without being defensive (or worse, making excuses) about the weight gain? How do I get out of my self enough to see that delusion that someday, I will wake up, preferring broccoli salad over cheeseburgers? How do I convince my friends that it’s okay if I call myself fat because it is a part of acknowledging my body as it is now?
I recently went to a party where all the women wore cute dresses. One friend noticed me looking at her slim gold segmented belt, encircling her waist, somehow capturing both her purposefully too-short lime-green cardigan and blue flowered dress in a perfect symmetry of togetherness and style. What my expression must have relayed I can only wonder. My head of course was mentally inventorying my outfit—gray cargo pants and a large, flowing flowered top. I think about how, even if I was thin, I would not have the wherewithal to put that outfit together. I know there is so much more to our identities than constructing the perfect outfit, or, conversely, being overly-aware that those clothes I adore from the J Crew catalog just won’t fit. That I can buy and return the black and white striped boatman sweater over and over again? “Too short,” I’ll complain on the return slip or, “not as shown in the catalog.” In the catalog, the tall, slender brunette wearing the striped boatman sweater has a puppy or a laughing child, or both. Perhaps, I’ll settle for “does not meet expectations.”
This is not a screed against what I read of the “culture of thinness” in our society. Nor do I want to belong militantly to any “body positivity” movement. I am genuinely curious how I arrived at this place. There must be others in my situation who aren’t in an either/or camp. Not liberals or conservatives, but moderates. Libertarian, even—because I can take responsibility for my own state of affairs and won’t blame the government for not abolishing high fructose corn syrup.
The distance from myself I can’t seem to find is asking what I have to add to this conversation of weight and body image. I am beginning to understand that what I do have is a brain that makes connections and leaps, tying together disparate things. I’m just not sure how to apply it to this issue of weight and body image.
By at least starting this inquiry, I wonder if I can elevate my perspective, if not fully to Lopate's ceiling-height, at least a few feet off the ground. Perhaps coffee table height. That seems a good place to start.
On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character by Phillip Lopate
Fat Girl by Judith Moore
The Worst Thing to Say to Your Fat Friend