|Photograph by Laura Wulf|
I had my annual physical last week, and for the first time in a couple of years I actually looked at the reading on the scale when they did all the usual readings. Typically, I stand on the scale facing away from the screen and the nurses at our awesome community health center don’t offer the information unless I ask.
I’d gained about ten pounds since the last time I’d bothered to check.
I was (surprising even myself) pretty unconcerned about this state of affairs.
I’m not going to share the exact number or the number(s) I’m comparing it to. The minute I did so virtually every woman reading this post would do the calculation and contrast and compare. Either I’d be smaller, and some part of them would feel jealous, or I’d be larger, and some part of them would feel virtuous. They might judge themselves for feeling that way (I do when I catch myself doing it), but for most of us it’s an involuntary reflex.
There’s a reason I don’t own a scale, and weigh myself at the doctor’s office blind.
As photographs on this blog demonstrate, I’m a 5′ 10″ woman who falls within the median weight range for American women — which is to say that my clothing sizes are usually available in many styles in most stores. This is a form of privilege, one I’ve become even more acutely aware of married to a woman whose body is actively marginalized by our fatphobic, sizest culture.
But, like virtually every women and many a man will tell you, being a body of normative size in a culture “at war” against fat (and people we judge for their size) is no proof against a disordered relationship with one’s physical self. While never diagnosed with a formal eating disorder, I spent most of my teens obsessing over food and weight, counting calories, bingeing, eating until my stomach hurt and falling asleep each night (yes: every night for nearly a decade) wishing I could just purge and have done with it.
I ended every day — every day — from age sixteen to twenty-four feeling some measure of failure for what I had eaten, and what I had done, with my body.
My own struggle with disordered eating was complicated by the fact that my thyroid condition, managed with medication until age twenty-five, meant I was almost always hungry. My appetite was not a reliable measure of what my body actually needed as fuel — my hormones were telling me I was hungry. I could (and did) eat gallons of ice cream at a sitting and my body would still tell me I was hungry.
When I finally received medical treatment that treated my condition more effectively, I got my libido back and learned what it was like to have an appetite: to eat and feel full. And not think about food every waking moment of every day.
While I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, I was at my thinnest — received the most praise from acquaintances for having “lost weight!” — when my hyperactive thyroid was raging out of control. Did I glow with “pride” at the praise? Some part of me did. The other part of me recognized how fucked up our culture is congratulating a young woman for thinness — as if body size is some sort of merit metric. When instead, in my case, it was actually a pathological symptom.
One I knew even at the time part of me would miss, because being “effortlessly” thin (while, as I said above, obsessing about my weight and food intake on an hourly basis) was something society rewarded me for.
I was scared, when I chose the treatment that would help me heal — that would give me my sex drive back (though no doctors thought to mention this as a perk) — that would allow me to experience appetites and satisfaction — when I chose the treatment that would give me these things, I was scared that I’d just become “fat.”
Because of course, that’s what we’re taught to fear most of all.
So it was remarkable to me, last week, when I walked into the doctor’s office and discovered that I now weigh about thirty pounds more than I weighed at the point when I was the sickest (and most obsessive — and most frequently praised). It was remarkable that I didn’t much care.
I’m growing into myself. That’s what I thought. I’m growing older. And my mind meant that in a positive way. I’m thirty-three now; nearly ten years older than I was then. Bodies change. As I grow into my middle age, I may continue to gain weight slowly, incrementally. If family size and shape is any guide, I’ve likely settled more or less at the point where I will probably stay as I grow older.
And even if I grow larger, become more, I resist the notion that this is something I should categorically fear, manically avoid, judge myself in relation to. I’ve got other things to focus on, thank you very much. I refuse to spend my energy struggling to control my body size when there’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that such efforts are both futile and unrelated to one’s overall health outcomes.
I refuse to fear in myself what I embrace in others: embodiment in the selves we have.
I’m grateful for how little the number mattered. It’s been a long journey to this point, but well worth the climb.