When I reach a benchmark in my weight loss and get all excited and proud, or when someone compliments me on how good I look now and I get a little self-esteem-boosting thrill, it's hard not to feel like a traitor to my feminist roots, and to the fat women who fought so hard to liberate me from the rigid and narrow social constructs of female beauty.
I've written about my weight issues time and time again, so I won't bore you with the details here. Suffice it to say that my relationship to my body is about as complex as any other woman's.
Last month, I reviewed a book for Herizons called Purge: Rehab Diaries, a memoir about a woman with an eating disorder who spends three months as an inpatient trying to get well. Part of her reason for writing it was to give other people with eating disorders hope.
I really enjoyed the book, but hope? Eesh. I put that book down with a whole bunch of old unhealthy habits and thought patterns triggered.
Not that I've ever had an eating disorder, and believe me, I was checked. When you show up in a psychologist's office with all your bones poking out, they are on those bones like flies on shit.
It's true that my food intake was severely restricted, but it wasn't a conscious decision. I wasn't trying to keep myself under about 700 calories a day, I just couldn't make my body swallow enough to get past that. What made me plain ol' depressed rather than eating disordered was mainly that I had a very accurate view of how thin I was and just how big a problem it was.
And this part, I've said before, but I think it bears repeating: I don't think other women had a very accurate view of how thin I was.
My family did. They were horrified and worried sick. So much so that even now, just last weekend, my mom eyed me and said "You've lost some weight, you know?" That furrow between her eyebrows.
But other women? I'm sure that some thought the weight loss didn't suit me, I can't say. What I can say is that I got one hell of a lot of compliments on being able to lose weight, so many jealous comments telling me how lucky I was. From acquaintances, from co-workers, from strangers.
It was like not eating. I knew the comments and their self-esteem-boosting thrills were bad for me, hit home in a way that was bolstering crazy unhealthy behaviour. But I found it impossible not to store them up at the same time. To be satisfied that I was this one thing that people wanted at the same time that most of the rest of my life was an utter shambles.
When I started gaining weight again, I did not get one single compliment or any comments on how lucky I was to have some padding. Not. One.
It still infuriates me.
So this has all been on my mind lately, after Purge, after being reminded of how easy it is to get so fucked up, how much cultural support there is for that particular brand of fucked-up-edness. After spending a few days unconsciously limiting my caloric intake, after a few days of consciously not.
In the Change Room of R&W
I try on the 6s and the 4s I've brought in. They don't fit quite right. The nice sales girl gets me a 2. Parts of it fit, parts of it don't. In my underwear, I stick my head out of the change room and ask the nice sales girl can she please go get me a 0, just to check.
I turn around to face the mirror.
First thing my mind says: "How did your inner thighs get so fat? When did you get cellu-"
Second: "Shut. The fuck. Up. We just asked for a zero, jackass. You will go home and you will get on the scale and you will see that you are pretty much the same weight as you were last week."
Johns writes in Purge that fat is a feeling, and oh, is it ever. She writes that it is "code for feeling scared, angry, ashamed, hurt and sad all in one." Fat is the container in which we store all the derision aimed at us, our imperfect and ungainly bodies; the hatred sometimes too, the violence we are almost always looking out for. It is what spills off the shelf onto us when our defenses are down.
Third: "Not this. Not on my watch."
This vigilance, it is sometimes exhausting.