There are many days where I won’t look at my body in the mirror. I’ll undress right in front of the shower, jump in and jump out. Those seem to be the days where I binge on whatever I find in the house. I’ll open the fridge and pick at every jar, container and leftover in sight (my favourite is cold pasta with meatballs). I’ll slink over to the cupboard and eat peanut butter by the heaping spoonful. This goes on until my stomach aches and the smooth, creamy peanut butter feels like a rock in my throat. It is then that I feel them on me. The jar has grown eyes and stares at me with disgust and hatred. The stare burns so deep that I begin to hate myself.
I put down the jar and back away slowly.
My sister is two years older than I am and twice as witty, outgoing, laid back and fun. She has never had issues making or keeping friends. No matter her size, shape or opinion, she drew people to her, a beautiful witch casting her spell on the munchkins on the playground (my friends included).
I am the complete opposite of my sister; awkward, shy, funny (but in more of a sarcastic and mean way). I always had trouble making friends and an even harder time landing a boyfriend. In middle school, I was the weird, desperate, chubby girl with braces, glasses, and a huge Harry Potter addiction. I was bullied and made fun of for my weight and have countless Spice Girl diaries to prove it. I am always thankful that I went through the worst years of adolescence BEFORE the dawn of cell phones and social media. I can only imagine the comments my photos or updates would have encouraged.
In high school, I decided that if I couldn’t be as cool or fun as the other girls (or my sister) I’d at least look the part, which (according to the books I read and movies I watched) meant that I had to be thin, smart and beautiful. I focused becoming thin. I spent four years eating salads every for lunch (lettuce, rice, quinoa – it didn’t matter). I would work out every day thanks to Billy Blanks and his Tae Bo tapes. I refused to eat junk. If it was sugary, salty, or in any way fattening I would politely refuse. The only time I would eat cake was on my birthday and even then it was only a sliver.
Eventually my McCarthy uniform became too big for me. This fuelled my obsession to become thinner. I’d relish the words, Have you lost weight? You look too skinny, eat something! and smile every time I went down a size.
None of this effort proved to make me more confident, get a boyfriend, or make it any easier to make friends. I made friends by default. I would make one friend and latch onto them, soaking up their friends in the process. I knew deep down that in total I had one or two real friends. I knew that I looked desperate when smoking weed with the guys, sneaking out of the house, or getting drunk as fast as I could at parties, but I did it anyway. In grade twelve I felt out of control, like the world was spinning faster and faster and my grip on reality was looser.
The only things I could control were my weight and my grades, so I stuck to those. I continued to work out and eat healthy. I didn’t count calories because there wasn’t an app for that on my white Nokia flip phone. I simply stuck to what I knew – salads, chicken and no junk. Even during my shifts at the pizza place I worked I refused to eat pizza. I’d bring my own dinner and snacks and on the rare occasion that I had a slice I would feel incredibly guilty afterward.
In my late teens, I met the man that I would one day marry. He was the first and only man to see me completely naked. He’s the only many I’ve had sex with. The only man to see my body in the different shapes it’s had. A few years into our relationship I started letting go of my workout schedule and abstinence from sweets. I had more important things to take care of (university, writing my first book, and work) and I was also exceedingly comfortable with the man who seemed to love me and whatever shape I was in.
On the other hand, no matter how many times he tells me I’m beautiful or grabs onto me in a heat of passion, his love and adoration for my body isn’t enough. I feel insecure about my body nearly every day of the week; his praise for it makes me feel weary, as though he might be lying to make me feel better.
My insecurities still force me to wear a tank top under the shirt I have on; the tighter the better. It makes me feel like it sucks everything in. I must sleep with a shirt and pants on and never ever fall asleep naked. I refuse to buy shorts, thanks to a deep hate for the thick thighs that my mother gave to me, and would rather spend a hot summer day walking around in jeans than a short dress.
I look at photos from a mere five years ago and sigh. I was in the best shape of my life. I was twenty-three with a firm ass, thick but muscular thighs, and visible abs. My arms weren’t the least bit flabby; cellulite was completely invisible. This was the year my sister got married in the Dominican Republic and I worked twice as hard to look good (skinny) in a bathing suit. I look at those photos and shame myself for slacking on my workouts and strict no junk policy.
On top of comparing my current self to my young self, I am constantly comparing my body to hers, with a capital H. I compare my size as if being thinner or smaller somehow means better. Even though I know being thin will never make me happier, more confident, or cooler, I still want it.
Today, whenever I have a week of not working out, or eating poorly, everything I consume grows eyes. The cookies my mom baked are begging to be eaten while glaring at me with the petulance of a taut, beautiful teenager. The dessert menu at a restaurant watches my mouth water as I skim through it. Even the sugar and cream in my coffee coax me with fear of a bloated stomach.
On days where my pants don’t fit the same way or a dress doesn’t hug me in the right places, I force thoughts of self-improvement. I’ll eat better tomorrow. I’ll eat smaller portions at dinner. I’ll drink my coffee black. If I eat this donut I HAVE to work out tomorrow. I’m seeing ___ for the first time since I got married, I WILL lose a couple of pounds. And yet, the second I see a piece of cake I won’t be able to stop myself. Even if I am completely full after dinner, I’ll force down a snack before bed.
When my bright and beautiful four-year-old niece looks at me and says, “Tia, you look beautiful today, so skinny,” I wonder what I’ve said to her for her to make that connection. I wonder if I’m breaking her. I try to think back on the last four years of her life and realize that weight is something that is mentioned a lot in our family. My dad calls himself a fat old Italian man as a joke that I still don’t understand. My mother, sister and I will talk about the weight we’ve lost or gained (and that of others). My mom recently lost thirty pounds due to the combination of anxiety and irritable bowl syndrome and I can’t keep track of how many times my sister and I have told her that she’s skinny, that she looks great, and that she shouldn’t lose any more weight.
The more I think about the effect of the mostly innocent words that come out of my mouth, the more nauseated I feel. Is my four-year-old niece already thinking about her body as fat or skinny instead of healthy? Is she really equating being thin with being beautiful? Does she look at people who are bigger than her with disdain or judgment? If she’s making these connections now, how will she feel when she’s fourteen and her whole life is made public online? That thought makes the chocolates I just inhaled come back up. I swallow down the sour vomit as punishment.
The food has eyes and I won’t let it see me cry.