Foreword: I *really* debated whether or not I was going to post this. In the end I am choosing to because it's important to me, and I have been struggling to articulate these issues for a long time. But, last night, suddenly, a lot of things became really clear to me, and so I'm posting it...even though it makes me feel semi-uncomfortable to put this much of my "real" self out there, if you will. Also, it completely goes against my earlier pledge of brevity, and for that I apologize.
Once upon a time, on a dark and stormy night...oh wait, different story.
Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl was nice, and funny, and had really pretty eyes, at least that's what people told her. But usually when people said nice things to her, they would say "You're so smart" and "You've got a good head on your shoulders" or even "You've got a lot of potential." Sometimes though, people would squeeze her pudgy little girl cheeks and exclaim "Such a pretty face! If only you would lose some weight!" The girl didn't think too much of it, she was happy-go-lucky and smiled a lot and didn't know why people would think her prettiness depended on her weight.
As the girl got older, she started to realize that a lot of people, including her own father, seemed to think that if she was thin it would make her a better and more valuable person. So, sometimes she didn't eat for a day or two and would feel almost high with her success. But, she was "big-boned" and "voluptuous" by nature, and no amount of starving really got her to the magic point of being thin enough to matter.
In junior high school the girl was thrilled when a boy told her he liked her and asked her to go out with him. She attributed the attention to her newfound permission to wear black eyeliner and enthusiastically agreed. In hindsight, she sees that nothing good could come of this situation, because now she's been trained to be suspicious of every compliment and seemingly kind gesture, but when she was pure and unspoiled, she didn't know better. When it turned out to be a big joke, and that the boy is the one who drew the short straw amongst the cool boys to befriend her and humiliate her for their amusement, she outwardly laughed it off, "Oh, I knew that all along!" But she broke on the inside in a way that wouldn't become obvious for years to come. That was the day she started adding "for a chubby girl" to every compliment anyone paid her. "You sure are smart...for a chubby girl." "You sure are pretty...for a chubby girl." "You sure are funny"...oh wait, this one is expected from a chubby girl.
The girl grew up and got married. People still told her she would be prettier if she lost some weight. Her husband liked the attention he got in public with her, because she was attractive and funny and charismatic, but in private he would nuzzle her ear and kiss her neck and tenderly say "I'm glad you don't lose weight, because then other men might look at you and I would have to worry about losing you."
The girl thought about those words a lot after her husband left her for another woman. Especially when she saw them together and noticed how small and petite the other woman was. The girl started running and lost a lot of weight, and wasn't surprised when the boy came crawling back, begging to be let back into her life. After all those years, the magic formula had finally been fulfilled! She felt like the most powerful woman in the universe when she turned him down.
The girl went into the military where her very career as an officer was contingent upon maintaining her weight. She was weighed several times a year by various people, her livelihood hanging in the balance of being able to attain adherence to the magic number. Despite lifelong struggles with her weight, the girl managed to maintain her magic number through the judicious use of selective eating habits, overexercising, and general neurosis. And then there was a terrible car accident and the girl couldn't run twelve miles a day anymore, or even one. And then she was diagnosed with a thyroid disease and the little bit of metabolism she had left from years of starvation dieting and crazy diet pills was cut in half, at least.
But, the girl was married again by now. She had dated a bit in between marriages. She actually fell in love once. The man she chose was a lawyer, and one day, while she was getting dressed after her shower, he said "You know, you're beautiful." She said "Thanks", not really knowing how to take such a bald compliment, never having received one before, but silently knowing that soon the other shoe would drop. It always did. And he, being a lawyer and so always needing to elaborate, added "I never knew I could be attracted to a bigger woman until I met you." She didn't break up with him though, because she knew that it was better to have someone than to be alone. He broke up with her and shortly thereafter she started running and had her miraculous, life-changing, magical weight loss.
At any rate, she was married again, so why worry about the past?
The girl's second husband was stationed in another state, so she called and told him about her car accident. He didn't seem that concerned, after all, she was "tough" and "independent" and what he loved about her was how she didn't need "constant attention." A few weeks later the girl finally got orders to go live with her husband in his new state and she was so excited they would finally be together, like a real husband and wife.
When she got to her new state she told her husband that she would no longer be able to marathon train with him because of a back injury from the accident. He didn't say much, except that he felt that she had "represented herself to him as an active woman who liked to run and exercise" and he hadn't planned on being married to someone who, at 26, was already letting themselves go. The girl, in the midst of starving herself to stay below the magic number since she couldn't do as much exercise anymore, was saddened by his words, but resolved to do better and to not be a woman who her husband would be embarrassed to be seen with.
Despite her best intentions, the girl's inability to run twice a day started to catch up with her. Her husband would kiss her every night before bed and say "Goodnight." But that was all. She finally asked him what was wrong, was he stressed out by work? Was there anything she could do to help? He said "No, I guess I'm just prejudiced against pudge." Seven months later they got divorced, never having reestablished an intimate relationship.
After a few dark months, the girl reveled in her singledom. She dated lots of men, and got lots of attention. However, it seemed like none of the men she dated ever wanted to have a real relationship. The girl began to think of herself as a party girl. She was fun! She was one of the guys! She didn't get all "attached" just because there was sex involved! She never once thought that not getting attached was a peremptory strike on her part against her failure to maintain the magic number. In the back of her mind though, she always thought that once she got back down to the magic number she would find a man who would want to be with her, publicly and openly, in a legitimate relationship. Like starting a diet on Monday and bingeing all weekend, the girl figured she would have fun while it lasted and once she was "changed" and "good" and "in better shape" she would start looking for a real relationship. It could wait until she was more deserving, until she had enough self-control and willpower to get her magic-number body back.
Despite all the fun she was having the girl decided she needed a change of life and a change of scenery and so she applied to law school, picked one, packed up her life and moved to a city she had never been to before, where she knew no one, and started school. She was lucky to make some great friends, but didn't really date or have any male attention except the kind that comes through the smoky curtain at the end of a bar sometime between last call and where-am-I-do-I-have-a-tab-here?
The girl didn't think much of this turn of events. Law school was hard for her. The other students were critical and competitive and the girl seriously doubted her ability to thrive and succeed. Her self-deprecating sense of humor seemed to make people laugh and relax, so she stepped it up. After all, everyone loves a jolly fat person, right? Her friends would laugh along with her, and then say "You're not fat! Quit it!" The magic number was a distant memory, like a hazy day barely even able to be consciously conjured from when she was three and her dad took her to the Balloon Fiesta wearing green plaid bell-bottoms and she was never sure if she really remembered it or if she had just seen the picture and heard the story so many times that she remembered the happiness her dad felt thinking she recalled it.
The girl started a blog. She would write in it, trying to be funny, trying to be semi-articulate, trying to reach out to a community outside the four contentious walls she was trapped in day after day. And it was a community. The only community she had ever been a part of where every interaction was not based on looks. She traded pictures with a few people, but not that many. She read with interest the observations and comments of other bloggers, calling out the flaws of supermodels, declaring defiantly "No Fatties!", stating their desire to only be with women who were physically perfect. Sometimes, when she thought about it, she wondered if her lack of magic-number-hood would change the views of these other people in her community towards her? "Your blog is so funny, if only you would lose some weight!" "You are so awesome, too bad you're chubby!" "You could be such a better writer if only you would take better care of yourself."
Finally, the girl went to dinner with a friend of hers from school and they talked about why the girl felt like she didn't deserve a man who would treat her well, with respect and kindness. And why she felt that she didn't deserve sexual attention and desire from a man that was sincere and long-term and, frankly, not confined to sneaking in and out in the dead of the night after a couple of beers and a furtive phone call. The girl realized that, voluptuous or not, she has internalized so many poisonous things about herself, about her looks and her talents and abilities, that she doesn't even know where to begin to start getting better. She thought she was being self-deprecating and funny and in an epiphany, a sudden flash, she realized that somewhere along the way she started to believe all these things that she had said and heard, that she was less-than, undeserving, not good enough. She cut herself down to make women like her, and let men cut her down so they wouldn't be threatened by her.
She felt sad and cried when another friend asked her what she wanted in a man, and in a relationship, because she couldn't think of anything except "Someone who is nice to me." It seems like a good place to start, the lowest common relationship denominator, and yet the girl doesn't remember ever having it before and isn't sure she'll know it when she sees it. Or feels it. Her friend told her that she doesn't think of the girl as fat, but whether she is or not, she thinks the girl is beautiful and funny and smart and deserving of more. And the girl wants to believe, so she's going to do her best to try. Because, like a pebble in her shoe, the girl is suddenly nagged by the constant presence of the less-than feeling. It's not enough to take the shoe off and shake it firmly and hit the sole with the flat of her hand, hoping the pebble will obligingly fall out. Oh no, it's time for some new shoes.