thin perils

a kind of average of my size and shape then

When I lived in Austin I had a large friend group of women, and we often included their boyfriends and husbands in group events (their choice, never mine, and not because my husband lived in NYC . . . I wanted to be with my women, and when the men were there things changed a lot). During the period I was at my thinnest, one woman told me every single time her partner attended, “Don’t you sit near him,” and then she’d look me up and down and position them at the far end of the group from me. I never could figure out which one of us she wouldn’t trust:  me, as if I’d try to lure him, or him, as if he were not in control of himself.

Throughout that long period of my thinness, I heard similar comments from other women. I also heard all kinds of mean things about my size and shape, catty things, insulting things, things that derived from a kind of jealousy. I know women internalize misogyny, and I know a lot of it centers around physical appearance, and I know I’ve made my own share of such comments and judgments about thin women, and I know that for myself, they came very squarely out of jealousy. Cut that bitch down so she doesn’t ….WHATEVER.

around the time a couple of friends told me I’d gotten too thin

Still, it surprised and hurt me when these comments were directed at me, and especially by women who were my friends. I tried always just to smile back — for they were always smiling at me with all their might, and adding in nervous laughter too — and I knew I was no threat to any of them because I don’t like men and I really don’t like attention from men. Nothing makes me dash to the other side of the room faster. But more than that, I was no threat to them because they were my friends! I did have friends who were supportive in a number of ways, and some who pulled me aside in concern that I became too thin for a while, but the one(s) who saw me as a threat never saw me as anything but a threat.

It always made me so sad. It made me sad for myself, and for the jealous (or whatever) women, and about this stupid culture. But I’m thinking about it again because I think I’m back on track. Today marks one complete and uninterrupted week of daily yoga and walking and eating better. The scale is moving but the part that matters most is that my relationship to those things feels like it has found its groove again. I do look forward to having my thin body back; golly did it feel good. For me, feeling light physically went so beautifully with feeling light in my mind. I felt so good in my clothes, and no matter what anyone else thought, I thought I looked good for the first time in my life (misogyny directed at myself all those heavier years). I want that physical feeling back, so light that I can run, so light that I can pull on my skinny jeans and Converse and bounce lightly out the door. I want that feeling where my breasts were so much smaller and lighter that I could sleep easily, and clothes looked better and felt more comfortable. That body was just for me. Like many women with profound trauma histories, and especially profound sexual trauma histories, when I felt threatened I raced back into my fat body where I felt safe from men, so when I feel heavy, it drags along the implication that I must feel threatened. (And of course I DO, we have the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief who is an existential threat to us all, and to the whole world.)

It can be disheartening to find myself out of breath 10 minutes into a level 1 class, when I could take a 90-minute level 2 class without even breaking a sweat, but you work with who and where you are, and you work with the body you actually have. I need to be in better shape when winter comes and my daily wood-hauling work begins. But this is the eternal lesson of mindfulness: drop the story and be where you are. Child’s pose if I need it. The discipline of showing up on the mat is the biggest point, not what I do or how long I do it. I haven’t yet found the inner quiet, but I assume that will come. One thing that occurs to me that’s very different this time than the last time I started this path is that we now have a nightmare government. When I started my last mindfulness reboot, we had President Obama, and now…..well, we have this terrifying country.

One challenge I have now that I didn’t have when I lived in Austin relates to my husband. My experience with husbands is a common one, based on what I’ve read: sabotage. “C’mon honey, just eat some ice cream with me.” “You don’t have to diet this weekend, right? I’ll make us some lasagna.” Etc etc etc. In Austin, I had ~18 days to focus hard on eating only and exactly what I wanted to eat, to do yoga whenever I wanted, to walk when and for how long I wanted. When you live alone, some things are just simpler. Then I’d go to NYC for ~12 days and either give in and then regain ground when I got back to Austin, or struggle with him about food. His cooking is heavily based on frying things, and he uses gallons of oil. (I almost never use oil, except some drizzles of olive oil, and I never ever fry anything.) And his cooking is delicious! But he’ll accommodate me by making a big salad…..with glugs of his homemade blue cheese dressing. Or a Caesar salad and if you know what goes into that salad you know it’s not healthy. Or he’ll deep fry some vegetables for me. NOW, I am alone Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for dinners. He gets here Friday afternoons around 4, and leaves for the city Mondays after dinner. We have a lot to figure out. I tend to walk more when he’s here, and I can easily roll out my yoga mat and do yoga whenever I want (plenty of space here, unlike in our apartment in the city), but the eating thing is HARD.

I want my most comfortable body back. It’s my body and it isn’t for anyone else. I don’t look forward to women’s reactions when I get it back. To be honest, I never noticed any different reaction from men no matter what I weighed; I’m older now and largely invisible to them which is also a relief. But it’s the women’s reactions that were the most problematic, and I have my own shaming self to deal with, my own jealous snarky commentary to grapple with.

Onward. It’s a rainy Monday here at Heaventree, but another beautiful day. xoxoxo

10 thoughts on “thin perils”

  1. When I was in Weight Watchers (I eventually became a Lifetime Member and a leader), some people would ask me why I was there! I was never hugely overweight, but I had gained about 25 lbs and for me, that was my stopping point — the point at which I said, “No more. I need to stop this.” I got comments to the effect that I wasn’t big enough, implying that I didn’t have the same struggles with weight, etc. I have the very same struggle, I just have a lower tipping point. I finally asked a woman, “How overweight do I need to be before it’s okay with you for me to be here?” She just looked shocked and shut up. When I was a leader, I was conducting the intro session for new members, and one young woman said, “You’re too thin. I can’t relate to you.” I just showed her my “before” photo and said that I could relate to HER, that I struggled with overeating, also, but that I had it under control. That I came to WW meetings to keep it under control. She just looked at me and left. I was flabbergasted. Most people at the meetings were supportive of each other, but these type of exchanges were not uncommon (oops, that dreaded double negative you hate! HA!). Personally, I find the current culture that encourages thinking like, “You’re beautiful no matter what size you are” to be disturbing. That’s true to a point, but we are experiencing an obesity epidemic and that should not be ignored. I think if people would eat healthy food, and move regularly, this would help a great deal. But women especially need to stop focusing so much on body image, and especially stop attacking each other.

    1. YES!! All this, exactly! And it’s really fucked up, because we’re “supposed” to be thin, we’re supposed to WANT to be thin, and then we treat thinner women like the enemy. (Also: ‘not uncommon’ is a perfectly fine double negative in my opinion, and one of the few!)

      I agree with everything you said. It’s mysterious that the woman couldn’t relate to you because you were there working to maintain weight loss. And how I love the question you posed….. And the way we’re now in this huge lie of “You’re beautiful no matter what size you are” mindset is just as bad (again, in my opinion) as “only thin is good.” Because first of all, it’s simply not true. Heavy women continue to get fat-shamed right and left, and pretending that isn’t true doesn’t make it so. It reminds me of something I saw on Instagram yesterday: culture says ‘be yourself!’ and culture says ‘but not that.’ So we all know that ‘You’re beautiful no matter what size you are’ is a nice idea for what it’s trying to do but we don’t really mean it, culture doesn’t really mean it. And then yes, the obesity epidemic, we need sophisticated thinking about that. Collectively, we aren’t known for sophisticated thinking.

      I just hate the focus on women’s bodies. And products keep inventing problems for us — I saw something last year about how our underarms aren’t the right color. Luckily, there was a product to fix that. OUR UNDERARMS AREN’T THE RIGHT COLOR??

      The worst part, for me, is the way it’s all so internalized, almost 59 years of hearing it makes it all my own private thought, too. But really, we women need to stop clawing at each other over these things.

  2. “That body was just for me.” OH GOSH HOW I LOVE THAT. I love that so much. Yes, yes, yes. We all need that, for our bodies to be just for us. Take us or leave us, we don’t care, this is for us, it’s not for you. Gosh, I just love that so much. I was thin in my 20s and 30s and so many women didn’t like me. It took me a while to figure out why but eventually there would be a snide little comment about my weight. Oh, really? What? You don’t like me because I’m thin? It’s okay to be mean to me because I’m thin? So weird. In my 40s my weight started creeping up and women were nicer to me! They’d approach me in social situations, talk to me, seemed at ease with me. I actually wrote about it, I can’t remember whether it was on my blog or just in my journal, when I decided I wanted to lose that weight (I was only a few pounds shy of my top pregnancy weight, and that baby was a teenager at the time!), that I was worried women wouldn’t like me again, that it would be hard to form in-person friendships if I became thin again. And it turned out to be true to some degree. What is UP with that?! I’ve never felt competitive with women based on weight or body shape, not ever, and it’s kind of a miracle because I come from a long line of women who were super weight-obsessed and commented on other women’s (and their own daughters’) weight constantly. But somehow that switch didn’t get flipped on in my brain. I will chalk it up to being super self-absorbed! 😀 The food thing is so hard because I know he loves cooking for you. I imagine you’ve tried everything I could suggest, hand him recipes with “I saw this and it looked so good, could you make this please, honey?” or make yourself a big batch of YOUR food and tell him you want to eat it up to free up room in the fridge, so you’ll just have that tonight and maybe tomorrow night. So hard when he shows love with food, and I’m sure you’ve tried to communicate it and he’s felt hurt and rejected. I guess I should feel lucky that my husband doesn’t cook — we’d be eating biscuits and gravy and smothered pork chops every night, not a single veggie on the plate. 😮

    1. Oh yes. “It’s OK to be mean to me because I’m thin.” That seems so common. Maybe women in our daughters’ generation won’t have this. I sure hope that’s true. And you know, I had a whole section in this post that I deleted because I wasn’t sure I had articulated it well but it’s exactly what you said. I was concerned that I had better make friends now, while I have this weight on me, because if I don’t make friends until I’m thin again it will be extremely hard to make friends with women. Isn’t that fucked up? The funniest thing for me is that the thinner I am, the less likely I am to judge other women. When I am heavy, I am more likely to judge them in both directions, for being heavy and for being thin. It’s just the most fucked up thing ever. But when I am thin, it’s not at all my lens. Maybe those women who are unkind to us when we are thin are projecting, and assume that we must be judging them. I don’t recall ever doing that while I was thin, or even as I have regained the weight. Maybe now I know what it’s like to be thin. Obviously, I do, and it’s kind of vicious.

      And you are so wise; yes, I have tried those various approaches with Marc about cooking and the way I want to eat. I think food and money are just extremely fraught topics and now that we are together so much we will have to work it out in a way we didn’t when I lived in Austin. It is so very hard because he does show his love with food, and his food is so delicious, and it’s just very unhealthy. But really, it’s the same as if he were trying to lose weight and I were constantly making cakes and cookies and saying come on honey, just eat this cake. We definitely have to figure this out.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with me; they definitely make me feel less alone, and great empathy for us both and for every woman. Fucking culture and misogyny. ?


      1. SO awful how the culture turns us against each other. It’s just a big jello wrestling pit, isn’t it? (Oh, and it would be a lie to say I’m never envious of other women’s appearances. Full lips, well-defined eyebrows and hair with any amount of body/curl to it will get me every time, argh, why don’t I have those?! Why is my hair so straight and heavy and why are my lips and eyebrows so thin?! But never body shape. I just DON’T CARE!) I do suspect there’s projecting going on, and probably when you’re feeling like you’re heavy, then you’re not feeling great about yourself and it’s natural for that to just shoot outwards. I think the worse I feel about myself, the more I tend to draw inwards and just not notice other people at all. I’m the piece of shit around which the world revolves, don’tcha know? 😀 😀 😀 And oh gosh, I do hope you and Marc get the food thing worked out. I know you will, but gosh is it hard. xoxo <3 <3 <3

        1. OH the endless list — yes, good eyebrows, hair with any curl, good teeth (fixable, but only with mucho dinero), A BUTT (somehow I don’t have one, except for the wide part….), so many places to plop my own envy. I’ll just say I love you, I admire your beauty, and I think you’re perfectly swell. xoxoxoxoxo

  3. I really like what you wrote. I usually don’t comment on websites except for my Australian followers. There are several wonderful Australian artists that I have come to know through my website. And as you know what I wrote this morning disappeared. Here is an abbreviated version.

    I was a very skinny and tall kid. That is part of why I hated school. In those days it was called getting made fun of and I guess now it would fall in the bullying category. I was six feet tall in fifth grade. In college, in the gym locker room some woman thought she would tell me that she never saw hip bones that jutted out the way mine did. Oh. At many parties women have let me know that I am tall. I never noticed.

    This winter after my two month intractable migraine and a lot of new medications I gained thirty pounds. Several women (not friends) in my apartment building have let me know that I have gained weight. Just like I am tall—so weird. Don’t they think we know our own bodies at all? Just by moving more and eating the “migraine diet” I have lost half of that weight.

    I don’t have the husband issue. My wife was obese but had lost weight when we met and I have never known her as a fat person. She eats in a very healthy way and respects my eating choices.

    I pretty much feel comfortable in my body now and even like being tall and being skinny or not.

    1. OH — yes, very thin and tall at the same time? Neverendingly worthy of commentary. I was tall as a kid (but only 5’11” in fifth grade, isn’t that just the worst?????), but I wasn’t thin. However, I woke up one morning in early fifth grade and had huge breasts, like a D cup. WHOO BOY was that another nightmare. Girls hated me for them and fucking boys leered and grabbed my bra strap and ‘accidentally’ fell against my chest. The names. Simply because I got them, I was called slut. Any of us who aren’t 100% normal-looking are lucky to make it out of those years alive.

      I don’t know what that’s about, all those women telling you, monitoring the size of your body so constantly, but I know the truth of it. Why do we do that? I don’t know for sure that I do that to other people, it’s done to me so often I think I don’t, but maybe I do it mindlessly, out of some cultural script that has been crammed into my mouth. You’re lucky that your wife respects your eating choices. Maybe because she had been obese herself at one point and understands. Or maybe she’s just good that way.

      The happiest thing is that you like being tall and skinny or not. When I lost all that weight I thought I’d finally become comfortable with my body, and I thought it would be true even “or not,” but it turns out that’s not true. I like to say that it’s because I don’t like the way it feels to be ‘or not,’ but I suspect a deeper truth is that I still have all that ingrained cultural stuff about how I’m supposed to look, and it’s not chunky and lumpy. And I hate that so so much. I want to be like you.

      Thank you for persisting and adding your comment a second time. That always sucks, and I don’t always go ahead and redo it but I’m so glad you did. xoxoxox

  4. I really resonate with your statement in one of the comments about hating this focus on women’s bodies. It’s like somehow the first, last, and main thing we are judged on is our appearance. Too fat? Ugly. To thin? Threatening. And no-one seems interested in figuring out whether we are, in fact, funny, kind, smart, silly, creative… Just where we are on the scale of acceptable BMI. Wouldn’t it be nice if that discussion were limited to a woman and her doctor(s), and the world could instead be more interested in who we are, rather than what we are?

    1. I wonder if whatever variable we chose — smart, silly, creative — would become sexualized and then it would just be the thing we attacked each other for…..the new and improved ‘male gaze’ feature. I hate to think that might be true.

      But it would be so so nice if BMI were only a concern for physicians. And the whole range of ridiculous issues like thigh gaps, and proper-colored underarms, etc., disappeared completely.

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