In the frenzy of promotional e-mails that made up post-Turkey Day shopping, I opened a screaming good deal for Gap.com. Gap Denim, pretty much always excluded from any promotion, was not only included, it was 50% off. Holy shnikes. A shit-storm of emotions swirled around me while my fingers hovered above my home row keys (#showingmyage). I wasn’t just going to buy a pair of jeans from The Gap, I was going to buy a size 14, which I likely haven’t worn since age 14. To understand the weight of this moment, I probably need to brief you on a few earlier chapters.
I’ve alluded to my battles with the emotional abuse of food in my previous post, and that will help to provide context for the feelings of value and self-worth I was taught to associate with a body image I never seemed to possess. You’ll also note from that post, some 28 years later, I’ve come to a process place of acceptance and self-love with my bedraggled bod– loving her in all her forms for all she does and can do– like keep me alive.
Having said this, I won’t pretend that weight loss hasn’t always been in the foreground of my life, even in the many.moments when I did not want it it to be. From third grade forward, the message of my body as a danger to my health, a slippery slope toward chronic illness, was made visible to me by doctors, nutritionists, immediate and extended (oh bother) family members, peers, bullies, and my closest friends. I don’t remember a day that Gym Class didn’t feel like an act of betrayal, a year when Physical Fitness Testing wasn’t demoralizing, or an impending Fall when I thought of all the sports I couldn’t try out for, lest I have to expose my body in a locker room more than required.
In my pursuit of weightloss, tangible results didn’t always evade me. In high school I lost nearly 60 pounds doing The Fat Flush, which I quickly rectified my freshman year of college through a combination of home sickness, drinking for sport, and day-old Toppers Stix. Later, I would rekindle a relationship with Weight Watchers, with a friend holding me accountable, and lose about 35 pounds. With a thousand other stories from then to now, I will simply say: I am a human being who has come to know the ebb and flow of her body weight and the seasonal wardrobes reserved for loss & gain.
With this embodied knowledge comes a keen ability to weather the words of well-intentioned observers who take to noticing your loss and gain. As a very little girl, I remember my (now deceased) great-aunt loudly confiding to my mother that I really needed to lose some weight. Right now, it was cute, but it wouldn’t be when I grew up, and I really could be very pretty if I just shed some of those pounds. In another moment I remember standing in line at Subway with my (now deceased) grandmother as she commented on what I needed to eat to become thin. As a young woman, any momentary weight loss was peppered with phraseology about how “good” I looked “now” and how they “could really tell in my ________ (insert part of my body that does not need your observation or commentary to be worthy, valid, and beautiful).”
Just as I craved food to fill my empty, hurting spaces carved by bullies and the enemy and self-doubt, I also desperately desired to be something so much less, to take up less space, to have a body less like a backpack and more like a kite. I felt the whiplash contradiction in the way I loved and hated food, the Stockholm I came home to in the body I was forced to find harbor. I want you to know that it is hard for me to write about these memories. I want you to know that I don’t have to dig too far to remember exactly how those days felt in my skin, to embody self-loathing in such a visceral way.
I write about this now not to evoke your sympathies, or to reprimand you, or to make you feel badly about your own history with weight loss, but to suggest that perhaps the ways we have been taught to conceive of one another’s bodies are not straightforward or obvious. Losing weight while battling chronic illness (whether it be neurological, mental, digestive, etc) is not the victory road experience we see depicted on The Biggest Loser. Instead, it is wrought with both-ands. Confusion, joy and grief, and an uninvited invitation to fully revisit how you see your own body. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of work for a Monday morning when I’m just tryna put on my work clothes that don’t.fit.me.any.more.
Right now, my body is shedding excess weight, just as Terry Wahls said it would, as a result of a loss of inflammation, and as a result of eliminating gluten, dairy, and most grains from my diet. And hey, this hasn’t been easy. I am working really, really hard to implement the Wahls Protocol — but I am not doing it to lose weight. I am doing it to fight my Multiple Sclerosis, give me an edge over MS Fatigue, and God-willing, put this disease in check while I am physically capable of doing so. For the first time in my life, I am pursuing relationship with food that has jack to do with the self-loathing I associate with weightloss, and everything to do with a feeling of empowerment and self-love.
To bring all of this back into conversation with these damned blue jeans, let me just say I spent 5 years slinging Gap Inc denim to lean and sensibly curvy and average-sized female bodies to put myself through college. I salivated over the knee caps that could fit into non-stretch denim without grunting and pulling. I winced with envy at how easily their waistbands demanded a belt, for fashion and function both. And I spent plus-sized chunks of my paychecks on the sizes not sold in stores, that never looked quite like the silhouettes I unpacked, folded, stacked, and faced just so.
So this year, noting that my formerly size 18 jeans no longer fit, and my size 16 jeans gap in the back and sag in the crotch, I thought, what the heck– why not– let’s order a pair of the highly exalted Gap jeans of our youth. This past week, the laughable size 14 jeans arrived on our doorstep. I unboxed them in the bedroom and giggled to my husband, “there’s no way that these are going to fit.” I shook them out, and decided to humor myself. I wriggled the jeans on, and in a near-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants moment, zipped them without even pulling a muscle. I looked at my thighs and hips in the full-length mirror and felt a sense of satisfaction coupled with a dizzying sense of dislocation. Why now?
Let me take this moment to apologize in advance for my body and brain’s knee-jerk response to compliments regarding my physical appearance. In fact, you may have already heard my snappy comeback to the tune of “Thanks, MS is doing wonders for me.” or “Yeah, multiple sclerosis is really paying off.” And if I have offered you these platitudes, please, oh please, consider it in the framework of the girl, the young woman, the me, outlined above. Know that she fought for weightloss for the greater part of her life, and having been freed from the chains of that prison, isn’t seeking after losing these days.
Wearing the new jeans out and about, I have cautioned myself to weather my confidence with a healthy sense of remembering the reckless ways I have fallen into bed with weightloss before. How I hurt myself and commanded my body to shrink in order to be valuable or worthy of praise. I hug my thighs (perhaps a little smaller now) and remind them that at any size, they are beautiful. They have been beautiful. Not just now, but always, and frankly, forever.
Forever yours in blue jeans,