Despair and Chicken Soup
As my ex-husband and I were in the process of separating (but still living together) after he'd told me out of the blue that he didn't want to be married to me anymore, I couldn't eat anything but Campbell's chicken noodle soup for about two months. I lost nearly 50 pounds.
Almost everybody complimented me extravagantly on the weight loss, but very, very few people noticed the pain on my face. And nobody worried that I was dropping too much weight too quickly. The women at work just wanted to know how I was doing it. "Despair and chicken soup," I wanted to say. But I didn't, because I was trying to keep anybody from knowing what was going on. So I just mumbled something about watching what I was eating and got away as quickly as possible, usually to go cry in my car.
Afterward, once I'd moved to Big City and was alone, I was so angry and defiant and depressed and self-loathing all at once that one of the few things that pleased me were these fucked-up "compliments." So I kept starving myself, long after the chicken-soup phase was over. I remember testing myself to see how long I could go between meals, how little I could eat, and nearly passing out for the first time in my life one day when it'd been at least 12 hours between meals.
I was as close to thin as I'd ever get in my life, and I wore the tightest clothing I'd ever put on, though I still wore restraining underwear to control my rebelliously un-flat tummy. And I got lots of attention, though nearly none of it was particularly nice attention. And I ate it up instead of food.
One day, I saw a picture of myself with a friend and a faculty member, and I was horrified by the little bit of abdominal fat that was clearly visible as I leaned over to link my arm through theirs.
I think that was the beginning of the end of that phase, because I started realizing that, even though I was eating so little I'd nearly pass out, I still wasn't ideally thin. The ideally thin body wasn't my body, and it was never gonna be.
At least, when I ran into a psychotic personal trainer named (I shit you not) "Chucki"--who made a living by impersonating Sarah Connors from the Terminator movies and who told me I could never eat butter or cheese again; that if I was ever so tempted, I should just think of both substances as "Death;" and that breasts were "just fat," after all (as she looked appraisingly at my chest)--I knew she was insane.
I'm still plentifully invested in despising my body, though I try not to be. Too many years of past-saturation-point advertising featuring scapula-chested, twiggy, human bobblehead-women as ideal; that boy who told me when I was 12 that he didn't like me because I had "a big butt;" being told at 6 by a dance teacher that I was too chunky to be a ballerina; a kindly pediatrician I adored worrying that I was always just a bit over the ideal BMI; knowing since pretty much forever what a "big baby" I was . . . . I have no idea how long ago this started, but it's too deeply engrained to ever go away entirely.
And as to trying not to wear pants "because my legs are too fat," oh Lordy, do I ever identify with that. The "bohemian look" is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and when I find a pair of knee-high boots that will actually fit around these pillar-sized gams of mine, I hang on to them until they've been re-heeled and repaired until there's nearly nothing original left on them.
I wish to God every day that I hadn't found out about "the pencil test" when I was 28. I used to at least be pleased with my breasts.
Oh, it's sad. Sad the way we dissect ourselves, chop ourselves up into our component parts like some sadistic sonneteer writing a blazon according to the dicta of the Ford agency: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like Angelina Jolie's . . . ."
And it's so hard to stop it and just be grateful for having a body that's strong enough to do what I need from it, healthy enough to get me through life without too much difficulty most of the time, and capable of giving and receiving comfort and pleasure.
I've thought, off and on for years, about getting a tattoo for reasons similar to the ones Lauren noted: as a way of reclaiming at least part of me for myself, as a way of marking the things I've been through and survived. But I can never manage to be satisfied with the right design or--maybe more importantly--the right placement.
It can't be placed, after all, anywhere that will stretch and sag.