*Weight trigger warning (no measurements or numbers are included past the first sentence)*
I recently dropped approximately 20 pounds from my highest weight. Usually, people who say these words are happy. But for me, it’s more complicated than that.
See, no one would ever think that I was in need of losing weight in the first place. Yet, that never stopped me from feeling like it. My entire life I’ve been short, petite and thin. I quickly learned that this was how I was “supposed” to be.
I cannot recall a time that “skinny” was not in my lexicon. Usually, it was directed towards me in admiration, even as a little girl.
See, even by elementary school every girl learned that the worst thing we could be was fat (until we learned the word “slut”). I was skinny though! One would assume that would be my saving grace. I would never worry about dieting or exercise so long as my body remained the same. In actuality, I became more afraid of losing this status than anything else.
Growing up, my mom would often emphasize how thin she’d been before she had kids, and how she thought she was fat before that! When we were in public, she obsessively questioned me when she saw another woman whose figure she thought was undesirable. “Are my arms as big as hers?” “Is my butt that big?” “I’m going to go walk right next to her and you tell me who’s bigger!” Early on, I learned that being fat was a thing to be feared and avoided.
To make matters worse, my best friend was always thinner than me. Our constant comparison made even our weight a category for competition. Around the age of 8, we decided to exercise with old workout equipment in my basement. One of us suggested that we should help each other decide which part of our bodies to “work on.” My friend pointed out my stomach, which my family referred to as my “baby belly” since it was the only portion of my body with any pudge. Feeling the burn of shame, I examined her body for something to “work on.” I came up with nothing. Years later, sitting in the bathtub, I would still stare down at my stomach rolls in disgust.
As I entered middle school, it became all too apparent that all of our bodies were changing. My same best friend from elementary school remained marginally thinner than me, and a new noodle-slim friend added more competition to equation. The three of us constantly discussed our bodies. We’d lie about our weight, shame each other, count calories and try on each other’s clothes only to feel the deep sense of embarrassment when something didn’t fit. I horrifyingly wished that I would develop an eating disorder.
Thankfully, I didn’t. Early in high school I became interested in feminism online. Body positivity and conversations about fatphobia were ever-present. My mind became cognizant of all the ways in which the value placed upon thinness was simply a test of female complicity in a patriarchal society. I also grew apart from my middle school friends which ended the toxic combination of our weight anxieties.
But my unhealthy relationship with my weight and food persisted in disordered ways throughout high school regardless. No matter how much I consciously addressed the issue with how I viewed myself, it never worked. Sometimes I could go for a stint without thinking about my weight much, but I ultimately always wanted to be smaller, smaller, smaller. Let me remind you that I was still thin.
Going into college, I gradually thought about weight less. I did not have a scale so I couldn’t weigh myself every few days. I had no measuring tape to wrap around my waist. I had new friends that I could discuss body image issues with in healthy ways. Yet, I secretly hoped that all the walking to and from class and up and down hills would tone my body and I would lose weight. I still fitted into clothes that I bought late in middle school and felt relieved. And I still never wanted to get any bigger.
For the most part, I didn’t think about my weight as much and began to accept my body for what it was. I compared my body to others’ less and less and acknowledged the fact that my body was normal and healthy. I even began to become okay with the fact that my body may grow and change.
Fast forward to fall semester 2018. A combination of overworking myself to the point that I didn’t have time to eat and anxiety from a stressful personal event left me completely burnt out. When I went home for winter break, I was ready to feel well rested. But at home the familiar temptation to step on the scale hit me. I weighed myself under the excuse of weighing my cat and was shocked to see that I was ten pounds under my typical lowest weight and twenty pounds beneath my highest weight.
This revelation was marked with ambivalence. On one hand, I was delighted. I weighed as much as I had at 13. But on the other hand, I was completely shocked and worried about such a dramatic loss on my small frame. I was disturbed at my immediate happiness with seeing that low number. I’m embarrassed to say that I stepped on the scale several different times after that because I worried that I might have gained the weight back.
I’m ashamed that even as I write this, I’m glad that I have not yet gained back the weight I lost. I can acknowledge and address how disgusting the culture that made me hate my body is and yet I still can’t shake it. At night when I lay on my side, I feel my hip bones grind into the mattress and feel proud. When my mom commented how skinny my legging-clad legs were I beamed internally. Nothing boosted my confidence like trying on teeny tiny jeans at the store and feeling them sling below my hips.
After all of these years, I can not rise above it. I still want to be less and less until I’m practically nothing.
I have to wonder: Will my daughter want to be nothing too?