The summer when I was eleven, the adults in my life made me a deal: if I lost a dress size by the beginning of the school year, I would be rewarded with a new wardrobe. Neither my mother nor I remember exactly who’s idea it was. The Christmas when I was 16, my father, always the protector and I wouldn’t want him to be otherwise, gave me a gym membership. I didn’t ask for it. My parents wanted nothing more for me than to be happy and healthy and to them, that meant losing weight. When I was little, I got enrolled in dance classes. Tap was totally my jam, but gymnastics scared me so badly that I wouldn’t even try cartwheels. To this day the sensation of falling freaks me out something fierce. That’s why, after several years of reluctantly trying to learn how, I still don’t know how to ride a bike. Or roller skate. Or ice skate, for that matter. In kindergarten, I was signed up for a tee ball league. I was the only girl on the team and it stung when I ended up hitting the tee more often than the ball. Later on, in softball, it was the ball that was usually hitting me.
Last week’s topic of body fantasies reminded me of this photographer:
Fantasy No. 2 by Jen Davis
Davis’ work depicts her own fantasies as well as what seems to be a struggle between acceptance and loathing of her body, themes that tie in to a great deal of what I want this blog to be about. The odd thing for me is that I discovered her in an article about how she would be undergoing lap band surgery, a procedure in which an adjustable silicone band is placed around the upper portion of the stomach to stifle food consumption. According to this article, in 2011 she was struck with “horror” that her body hadn’t changed since she began this series of photographs at 23. She had the surgery that summer. She seems to be doing well, but while reading about her, the most striking feeling I conjured up was loss. As if Jen gave in to her loathing and that maybe I should too. I don’t know why I feel like I’m being deserted when someone I look up to decides to get thinner. It’s like all this body positivity training is a bullshit veil to cover up the fact that there’s something about each of us that brings us a shame that we can’t shake. Am I wrong or am I just a cynic? Or maybe both/and?
Just like bullying can be a way we police eachother, dieting and extreme weight loss methods like gastric bypass and Lap Band are to me a type of foucauldian self-policing and punishment. It’s self-deprivation and constant monitoring of the body by adhering to strict regimens of calorie counting and weigh-ins. Even powerful white men like New Jersey governor, Chris Christy, aren’t immune from the fat shaming. My mother is 48. By her own count, she’s been on one diet or another for half of her life: Weight Watchers, Herbalife teas and smoothies, and an Atkins variant called Slim4Life. She lost 80 lbs. on that one and gained most of it back once my parents’ marriage ended. I remember my mom during those dieting years. She was stressed out, miserable, and none of them seem to stick. This was what formed my thought process on diets, in fact, I haven’t weighed myself since high school. When I have a doctor’s appointment, I step on the scale backwards. I don’t want to be defined by that number, so I avoid it. That’s probably not the safes choice for my mental health, but if you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll notice it’s part of my modus operandi.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying that we should boycott all forms of physical activity and consume only deep-fried cheeseballs (which I have had and they are fabulous). We need to stop applying morals to food, exercise, and weight loss. I don’t how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I was good today.” to express that they didn’t stray from their diet. Or, “I’m being so bad.” when they eat an extra piece of cake. What does that make the rest of us who regularly snag a second slice?
I did try to get thinner that summer when I was eleven. I don’t recall that I succeeded. I did go to the gym with my dad once after that Christmas, but he never made me go again and I’m not sure why. I’ve been thinking a lot about getting thinner recently. I don’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. I’m not on the bubble of diabetes and I’m not in any pain, I just had to go up a pant size. 16 and 18 and 20 and 44 are numbers and they don’t define me. However, they remind me that I’m taking up more space. The same way auditorium desks remind me when I squeeze into them; it’s hard to tell if they’re too small or if I’m too big. Getting thinner feels like giving up on trying to love myself. I’m not going to be doing it for my health, I’m only pondering putting myself through this so that I can look “better” in a swimsuit and buy clothes in any store I want. Is my attitude the problem or is it the standard of beauty? Or maybe both/and?