I'd never thought I was fat. It wasn't until I went to Chicago and saw how skinny everyone else was, that I started doubting my own body. I'd somehow succeeded in getting through high school without hating my body. Okay, so my best friend at the time mentioned how his mother thought I should wear girlier clothes. My mom said I should move from sports bras into the majestic land of underwires. But I had brushed all of this off and continued wearing whatever the hell I wanted, eating whatever the hell I needed.
But at some point after leaving Omaha for Chicago, I wanted to be as beautiful as my closest girlfriend. She was gorgeous. She'd once been my weight, and now she worked out an hour every day, ate a certain amount of calories, and she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. All the boys went for her, all the girls wanted to be her.
So I started following her to the gym. I worked and worked for months on my weight. I elliptical-ed until I couldn't feel my feet. I ate bagels with no cream cheese for lunch. I drank so much Diet Pepsi to rot all four stomachs of a cow in order not to keep eating. I dropped to a size 13, Medium in shirts. But at the end of three months, when I went to the scale, I couldn't change the number on the scale:
"Then what the hell was I to begin with?" I sobbed on the way home, my beautiful gal pal trailing beside me. It was in the middle of one of the coldest Chicago winters to date, and still I stopped every couple of sidewalk panels to bend over and bawl into my stomach and knees. "I've been working my ass off! Why am I not thin yet!"
And then later, after I got the feeling my friend wasn't rejecting my claims because she agreed with me, I prompted her.
"Do you think I'm fat?"
She replied with a resounding yes.
I sank into her arms, bawling, hyperventilating, freezing, and swearing to myself that I would get thin. I would get thin. I would get thin.
That was February. March rolled around. I was down to a size 12. April came. A boy started asking me to hang with him. May arrived. Three people stopped me on the street to ask me for my number, and the weird dude in English class wanted to take me out and talk about Moby Dick. June rolled along. The boy was a little concerned that when I stood up too fast, I saw stars, but I told him it was fine. Then July. I was a size 10. My little brother started calling me "chicken legs" and Mom started trying to sneak me more calories than I had allotted myself (1300 a day). August. The boy was gone, but I was smoking hot.
I had gotten into the habit of watching other girls' stomachs. When I would walk onto the L, when I'd rush down the street, when I was sitting in a coffee shop writing, I would look right at their paunch. How much of a paunch did they have? I started a game called "bigger or smaller". Was I bigger or smaller? Was I better or worse? Was I good or bad?
I collected pictures of my own stomach on my computer. I would flip between them obsessively, trying to figure out if I'd lost weight, when did I start becoming a good person, was I better than I was yesterday? No. I could do better.
September, I returned to that scale at the Chicago gym in a size 8. My ribs were sticking out. I could stick my fingers behind my collar bone. My arms were skinny poles. I was beautiful.
I weighed 135 pounds.
I don't remember leaving the gym. I don't remember walking across campus. The next recollection I have is coming up on Wrigley Field a mile away, sweating and dehydrated, seeing dots. I called my Mom in tears. I told her that if I ate any less, I was going to have a major problem. And my Mom agreed. "You are too thin," she said.
"135 is fat, Mom," I said. "The movie last weekend made fun of a girl who weight 120."
"Well darling, your body literally cannot lose any more."
So I got some cake to prove to myself I could still eat cake.
Years later, after I moved back to Omaha and put on some more pounds, I talked to that friend about that time when I was crazy thin.
"Well," the friend said. "You were never really that thin. You always had some chub on you."
It's really easy for a girl to get obsessed with her paunch. You may laugh, but if you're a woman, you know exactly what time in your life I'm talking about.
And if you're a writer, you may understand why I'm writing about this on my writing blog.
We writers do the same thing. God knows I do. We start comparing our faults with others. We start berating ourselves because we aren't perfect. We break out into tears because we are still fat, even after hundreds of thousands of writing exercises and reading all those damn books we were told to read. We could be better. It's something inherently wrong with us.
We sometimes tend to forget that we all were not made to look the same. We always forget that getting better takes time, healthy habits, practice, failure, sweat, pain, frustration, and even then, we may not have the body of work our neighbor has.
But you have beautiful eyes, and a penchant for making up new fantastical worlds. I know you have a lot of cellulite on your thighs, and I know you are useless at writing a first chapter, but guess what? That last chapter sings, and so does your gorgeous voice. Please do work out, please do read those books, please try to fix the things you know you can fix. But please understand that just because your friend may learn faster, your CP may lose ten pounds when you lose one, that you are not bad. You are growing, you are strengthening, and you must love what you have and what it is capable for you to one day have.
Find out what your body is supposed to look like. Discover the style you were meant to have. And then be that. Because you cannot shape yourself into someone else.
Love yourself for who you are and who you will become. Love your writing for what it is and what it can be. Because God knows you can't make it anything else.