Thursday, May 10, 2012

the skinny on skinny #1--by Emily

I think this is a really interesting question - considering what body issues/ body experiences thin women face. I recall awhile ago seeing an interview on the Colbert Report, where a woman made the argument that all Americans are fat psychologically, because even thin Americans live with a constant fear of gaining weight. I'm not sure I'd blur the lines to that extent, because I wouldn't want to downplay the experiences of women who identify as fat, but I think the point about how psychologically most people fear gaining weight is a fair one.

I was very, very skinny when I was growing up. Not because I have a small bone structure (people often assume I do, but I have more of an average bone width), but because I was mostly bone and skin. I was a very picky eater, and I never had much of an appetite. Plus, it was genetic - I had a build similar to some of my other relatives when they were kids. When you look at pictures from me as a 10 or 12-year-old, you see someone with the build of a model - toothpick arms and legs. I was also a little tall for my age, though that didn't last. And being skinny wasn't very fun. I got cold easily, and other kids made fun of me. When we were old enough to learn about eating disorders, some kids would even mock me by calling me anorexic. Terribly ironic and backwards, I know!

But I stopped growing in height a little earlier than most other kids. So while my classmates continued to grow all around, I finally began filling out a bit. By my sophomore year in high school, I excitedly noted that I was beginning to get a figure. For me, gaining weight was a fabulous thing. I'd always wanted a little more flesh, a little more of a figure someone might call feminine. At the same time, it probably made me a little nervous - for a thin woman, the fear of gaining any weight is that you won't stop. That you'll steadily gain more and more. Gaining weight is a fundamental change in your body. And I don't think it helped that my mother's method for discouraging my picky eating habits as a kid was to frequently tell me I'd be "fat" as an adult if I kept eating so much bread. 

And then, I stopped gaining weight and started losing weight. It wasn't deliberate. My parents were getting divorced, and I was a senior in high school who was very stressed all the time. Between work, school, applications, and watching my siblings, I got little sleep. And each time I sat down to eat, I would take a few bites before my appetite disappeared. Looking back, I think that this period of stress caused a lot of problems for me. Like many women who lose weight unintentionally, I nevertheless felt nervous when I finally began gaining it back. 

When I went to college the next year, I worked hard at eating well. And as a result of eating healthy foods, I gained some weight. I was still slim - nobody would deny that. But I felt self-conscious. I didn't think anything was wrong with my body, but I sometimes worried that others would judge me. When my sister saw that I had a bit of a tummy I hadn't had before, she made a joke about it. That summer I went back home and worked at Dunkin' Donuts, where I gained a few more pounds. Nobody ever said anything about my body, but I felt as if everyone who'd known me from high school would see me and secretly judge me. By the end of the summer, I wanted to lose weight, and I didn't exactly care how it happened. 

My next year at college, I had a brush with an eating disorder. What I experienced was powerful and frightening. I was limiting myself to a thousand calories a day, but every time I looked in the mirror, I saw nothing but flesh. I knew that anorexic people sometimes looked in the mirror and saw someone who was fat, but I had always thought they saw a different shape, that they saw what they would look like if they weighed more. Instead, my own distortion came from being able to focus on nothing but flesh. Any softness to my body horrified me. I was certain that I was gaining weight. When a few of my friends came out about their eating disorders, I realized the danger in what I was doing and stopped limiting my caloric intake. I was certain I was still gaining weight, but I knew it was better to let it happen than to continue on this path.

And then I went home for Christmas, and people who hadn't seen me since the summer were surprised by how thin I was. A mother of one of my friends asked why I wasn't eating enough. I'd been losing weight without realizing it. 

After that, I still saw flesh and more flesh in the mirror, but now when I looked at myself I said out loud, "It's not real. It's not real." I couldn't trust mirrors. Over the next few years, I had more periods of time when I accidentally lost weight, and I always worked at gaining the weight back. I never owned a scale, but I occasionally would step on one just to keep track of reality.

The truth is that I still have conflicted feelings about my body. I tell myself health is what matters, and I focus on eating well and exercising regularly. But my metabolism has slowed over the last few years. And while that's not a bad thing - a fast metabolism can be exhausting, as you constantly try to feed it - I have filled out. Nobody criticizes my new shape. In fact, if anyone notices it's usually to say that I have more of an hourglass figure. There was one incident, though, that left me feeling worried, and that worry hasn't quite dissipated even though I know it's unwarranted. I went to the doctor for a check up. After weighing me, the nurse asked if that was a normal weight for me. I said I'd probably gained 10 pounds over the last couple years. She asked if that was something I wanted to discuss with the doctor. I said I didn't see why, since it was just my metabolism slowing now that I'm in my mid-twenties. But the mere fact that she felt a need to ask left me anxious that maybe something was wrong. When I did talk to the doctor, she shared my assessment: my metabolism has slowed. Nothing to worry about.

Still, I know that I can't see my body clearly. Recently, for instance, a friend of mine who is quite skinny gave me a few pairs of jeans that didn't fit her well anymore, but which she thought might fit me. I was shocked - how could she even imagine that her jeans would fit me? They were size 7 - that's not even an adult size. But when I tried them on, they did fit. And I have a pear shape, so my bottom half is bigger than the rest of me. And suddenly I realized, I'm still thin. I've been thinking of myself as chubby for months now.And I don't want it to sound like I think being chubby is bad - I don't. What I think is bad is the fact that my view of my own body is unrealistically skewed. On some level, maybe I'm still the college sophomore who interprets softness in the mirror as a negative - but I'm also still the sophomore who says out loud, "It's not real," and then makes lunch.

1 comment:

  1. It's so true about how high metabolisms can be exhausting. From one skinny girl to the one who wrote this... I totally get that. I will be full and then 30 minutes later while I'm running a couple miles, I get so hungry I feel like I'm going to faint. I'm happy you wanted to share your story with everyone. I really loved reading it. Thank you! :)