I spent most of my life believing that being skinny was a necessary prerequisite to my Real Life. When I was skinny, I would start doing yoga, because I didn’t like the way I looked in yoga pants. When I was skinny, I would start writing professionally because then people would take me seriously. When I was skinny, I would learn all of the Secrets to Life, including the secret passageways to tunnel right out of the crappy days into permanent bliss, like all of the happy-looking skinny people.
Then I got skinny.
Just after college, when nothing in my life seemed certain, I decided it was time to take charge of something. That something became my weight. I took great solace in the certainty that if I restricted food and exercised maniacally, the number on the scale would keep falling. I learned to memorize calorie counts and keep a mental food log running like a stock ticker in my head. I learned how many calories certain types of exercise burned. Sure enough, I lost weight. And more weight. I had reached the Holy Grail. I was skinny. I had mimicked those grinning celebrities in tabloid articles about weight loss, giddy over their new lives. I patiently waited for my new life to begin.
My new life had begun, I guess. It looked like this: I was cold, all of the time. No matter how many blankets I put on my bed, I was bone-deep freezing. I stopped menstruating for almost a year. I spent more time at the gym than my house. I, quite literally, could not stop the treadmill. And I was absolutely terrified of food. I was always only half-there at parties or dinners out with friends; the other half of me was busy calorie counting, shaming myself for eating too much, or figuring out how much I would have to exercise to burn off the meal.
I was miserable.
The thing was, life from inside a skinny body looked pretty much the same as it did from my heavier body. The Peanut Gallery had made minor vocabulary adjustments, but the sentiment was the same: worthless, talentless, small. Also, somehow, fat was still thrown into the mix. I was scary skinny, and I still pinched the skin on my stomach and back when I looked in the mirror. I wanted to throw the remote control at the weight loss commercials starring glowing, impossibly slender women. You are liars, I hissed silently. You are miserable.
I want to be clear here. I do not think weight loss itself is evil. I think learning to make healthy choices, when they come from a place of joy, is incredibly life-giving. I had an eating disorder. An eating disorder from which I recovered through the love of friends who kept speaking the truth, even when I didn’t want to hear it, and professional counseling.
But that surreal time in my life forever changed me. Given the choice, I would never, ever have wished it on my worst enemy, but it has become part of my history, and it changed me. For about a year, I got to see life from the other side of the mountain, where the grass was supposed to be greener. I got to see life through the eyes of the woman I always thought would have it figured out. The skinny woman.
And it wasn’t any different.
Losing weight was like transferring to a different school, only to find that all the bullies that had tormented me had moved with me. My self-doubt was still there. The troubling parts of my past were still there. The unavoidable fact that life is just a damn mess sometimes was still there.
Life is hard. It’s still going to be hard if you’re skinny.
Self-acceptance and I had a moment this morning. It was one of those days, you know? When none of your clothes fit, when you have a flaming breakout that would make a 16-year-old boy cringe, when you feel sluggish and slow. On those days, every possible flaw parades through your head like a horrible, clanging marching band. The old gremlins are back too, with their bass drum undertone of fat fat fat fat. You want to cancel today and crawl back into bed until you’re ready to face the world with slim hips and flawless skin.
On days like this, I have a choice. I can either crawl back into bed and wait until I am [fill in the blank here: skinny, tall, perfectly poised]. Or I can face that parade head-on with my arsenal of self-love. See, my Real Life didn’t happen when I lost weight. It happened when I gained it back, along with with a healthy dose of love and acceptance. When I practiced looking myself square in the mirror and saying “This is beauty” over and over. When I made lists of the things I actually enjoyed doing instead of going to the gym and dieting, and I went out and did them. When I read the heart-stoppingly, soul-piercingly true words of Rosie Molinary in her book, Beautiful You: [As a Body Warrior], ” I pledge to…no longer put off the things that I wish to experience because I am waiting to do them in a different body” (read her full Body Warrior Pledge here). When I stopped waiting for the external thing that would fill my well and went out and filled it myself.
Every moment we spend waiting for our Real Life to begin, we lose a little more water from our well. We have to stop waiting for paradise. People still have acne in paradise. Instead, we have to keep filling our well – with joy, love, and self-acceptances – like our life depends on it. Because it does.