The Skinny Little Bitch Project: F*ck The BMI (Also the Police)
When I was 9 my doctor showed me a drawing that looked like a wave.
She was pretty, with shiny cropped hair, and a tan like my mothers’ – skin freckled and toasted smelling. “Here,” she pointed to the wave’s lowest point, “- is the lightest, ” then she moved her finger to the wave’s cresting point, “and this is the heaviest, okay?” She looked at me seriously. I nodded seriously back at her. This wasn’t out of character – I was a serious kid.
The wave was a diagram meant to indicate the range of height to weight ratios for girls of my age. There was a low spectrum, and a high spectrum, and then there was me – a bright blue dot above the wave, a fat surfer caught mid-air reverse.
“We need you to be here okay?” She was pointing to the center of the wave, to a dot a different color than my own, a dot caught at the bottom of the wave’s undertow.
“Okay.” I said.
My mother was waiting in the lobby. Another year had passed with me gaining weight, and my pediatrician had decided that tough love was in order. As such, Mama was banished. It is weird to think of now, my mom being leaving the room. Mama was protective – I knew about strange adults, I knew my phone number. She was also not one to shield us from the thing’s that could hold us back. My mom’s the reason I can walk into a room full of strangers without throwing up. I walked to the front doors of friends’ houses solo, and I spoke to adults politely and with confidence at her direction. To a shy anxious kid her urging was like murder, but it worked. I credit her stubbornness for this. Exhibit my youngest brother’s announcement as a mere infant that he hated school and wasn’t going anymore. “Fine,” said Mama. “Don’t go.” He broke first and has been in school to this day.
That said, she wasn’t a “stiff upper lip” mom. At other doctor’s appointments, I can see her straight-backed in a chair beside the door. She would smile her small bemused smile, her sparkling eyes heavy-lidded and hard to read as my own as I chattered endlessly on to her. The needle would break the skin for the necessary shots and I could look at her and see a grimace to match my own. She always told me I was brave and that she was proud – she still does.
Mama is an athlete by design and personality. When I get sick, the world stops, when she gets sick, you won’t hear word one. I believed her every time she praised me and nursed me with Sleepy Time tea and the familiar yellow bucket through countless childhood illness. But I always hoped for a chance to impress her by being more like her – stoic and so strong. She never asked me to – she wouldn’t. It’s my nature, I want people to be happy and I want to be the one making them that way. Thus begins the artist’s life.
Why do we start so young trying to be more like anything other than what we are?
Mama loves me for not being her – she loves me best when I’m fully myself. Any thinking that some other, different version of a person would be an improvement is a product of my own anxious chemistry. Any evidence presented for the case to my perpetual inadequacy has always been accepted into evidence by my hopelessly bugged personal court of inquiry; eager to believe whatever may be put cross them.
My pediatrician always had manicured nails, with a vivid Dior orange-red being a particular favorite. I listened as she told me about eating less and exercising more and I wondered who painted her nails and what the babies in the waiting room thought of them. I don’t remember any of it being a revelation – at 9 I knew I was fat. I didn’t know that I was also healthy and would be for most of my young-adult life. I bounced along with embarrassingly good blood pressure and cholesterol, and even managed to shake a childhood case of asthma. I never felt healthy because I didn’t think, that as a fat person, this was a possible thing.
That appointment holds a place in my memory because it is the closest marker I can find of the shift in my inner priorities. For the next twenty years, I would not worry about my physical health, my mental health, my emotional development, my connections to other people and the world at large – not one thing would I agonize over as much as I agonized over the way I look.
And what a prodigious waste of time! There are flashes of me surly on the swim team hoping my sweat in the cold water would be rewarded with smooth thighs, of me reading YA novels on the stair climber as a tween, of early morning jogs with my mother whose quest to support me and save me from a lifetime of putting myself through the same mental calisthenics she’d endured in terms of self-image were a source of comfort but not a solution. There are the countless conversations with friends and acquaintances and work colleagues and a million “I can’t's” “I’m so bad’s” and “I’m trying to be good’s”.
There’s the insidious praise when the self-loathing gets to be too much and some of the weight is shed – “You look great!” I always looked great, guys – now I’m just smaller – a hard truth you are almost never brave enough! But you take it in and it validates your obsession – it doesn’t matter how good or smart or kind or funny you are, it’s a full face of makeup and minus twenty pounds that gets you the praise you’re dying for.
There is every guy I’ve ever fallen in love with. What a heartbreaking thing to realize – I have only ever been with guys who I adored who- for a variety of reasons- couldn’t quite adore me back in turn. This isn’t them – it’s none of it anyone else, it’s me – I didn’t think I worth it. I didn’t think I deserved it. Which is gross, guys. Because worship me – you know?
This recap of my neuroses is what inspired a series of articles that ran on this site over the past year wherein I spent time -actual time and effort – in breaking a lot of patterns. I resolved to exercise for the joy of it and for how it made me feel, the same would go for eating, I resolved to love my body for better or worse, for big or small, and strangely, with a lot of work, it started…taking. My attitude changed completely – I was the biggest bitch on the planet when it came to friends casually discussing things they viewed as ‘obesity truths’, because the truth I discovered – that you can’t tell anything about a person health from their size, was shocking in its simplicity. I think a lot of my fervor came from missing the obvious for so long. I was basically Andy DuFresne at the end of the sewage main. I just didn’t understand that I hadn’t left Red any instructions.
While most of the old behaviors were broken, there are still things I struggle with. Namely, I find it difficult to believe that any guy would be interested in even engaging in some premarital smooch-times with me because of how I look. This is baffling to the rest of me who knows how I awesome I am. Even more baffling to me is that fact that I can pinpoint this flaw in logic of my self-esteem not to my biology, but to my surroundings – I believe it because it is what I see all around me. I believe it way down deep in my bones, and it impacts who I let in. I live in an image obsessed city, in an an image obsessed country, in a media obsessed world. I have been told certain things are true – fat, ‘average looking’ women can be kind and funny and good friends, but only thin, ‘conventionally attractive’ women are worthy of love and sex worth telling your friends about. There are other stereotypes, too – that thin people have easier lives, that prettier women make more money than average looking women, that skinny women are bitches, and that being beautiful and thin are the keys to the proverbial kingdoms of celebrity and success.
I thought and wrote about this a lot, both for myself and for you guys. I talked to doctors of body and brain about it. I prayed to the tiny altar I have dedicated to Ian Somerhalder’s cheekbones for guidance.
Then I decided to get all Morgan Spurlock ON SOCIETY’S ASS!
The Skinny Little Bitch Project will post twice a week. The first post will chronicle a celebrity’s rise and fall in the public eye as their physical appearance changed through weight loss, weight gain, or plastic surgery. Part gossip-nostalgia, and part critical analysis, we’ll break down the tabloid cycle that we let tell us what’s beautiful. IT WILL BE AWESOME.
The second post will be about my Spurlock’ing, what I have been calling my reverse Super-Size Me. After clearing it with my massive posse of doctors (there are only two of them) I will begin an intensive weight loss regime, and total beauty makeover (ha, ha, ha that is a crazy thing I have just written.) This process is not about changing myself, though it is the change that will serve as the impetus to my research. I will chronicle the reactions of my family, friends, romantics partners, and the professional worlds I work in to see how a shift in my weight, and other physical presentation effects my status in the world. Weight is only one part, there will be all manner of waxing and eyelashes and shoes and tans involved.
I am hoping that by achieving my goal and losing a total of 76 pounds - and thus weighing in on THE HIGH PART of the inherently flawed BMI scale - to disprove the fixed and dangerous notion of body health and identity in American society. I am also hoping to prove to myself personally that with or without the weight, the problem of learning to love ourselves remain. I want this shift in perception to shatter my iron-rooted conceptions! I want to standing eating cake at 130 pounds and scream “IT WAS A LIE! THIS ABSOLUTELY TASTES BETTER THAN I FEEL!” I want to wind up with the same salary, and the same job, and the sort of life, because big or small I am the same person!
I want to begin a relationship and work through my fears and insecurities instead of running for the hills or fist-bumping my way out of being anyone’s perspective smooch-partner and straight into unrequited land.
I want to see who I am when I don’t have the excuses society and my biology hide behind fall away. I want to understand how smart women get stuck in this trap! And I will! I will do this, and I hope you join me. I hope you chime in, I hope you start talking to each other and yourselves and your daughters and the women you sleep with! Let’s crack this thing open and banish the ghosts in the proverbial machine once and for all.
If at any time I feel myself backsliding or in danger, that’s what one of my doctors is for. If you find this project to be triggering, please by all means do not read! I am in no way advocating this as any sort of lifestyle, let alone a lifestyle worthy or mimicry, and neither is this website. LEGAL STUFF AMIRIGHT?