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The skinny on thin
by Edna Nelson
2009-08-05 10:00:56
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By the end of last summer I was at my thinnest I was eating nothing but full grain non-processed foods, and working out for at least 30 minutes a day. Originally I adopted this routine because I was constipated, depressed, bored, scared as hell about global climate change and wanted to employ some active solutions. It wasn't until the pounds started coming off that I realized that there was something else at work. Yes, I missed pooping, and needed something to do, but progressively what started as a healthy change in habits became an unhealthy obsession with the possibility of attaining a flat stomach.

My diet started as a sly offshoot of what was then an overblown obsession with the environment. I was already a vegetarian, but wanted to do more. My nearly vegan friend lent me a book ”Skinny Bitch” a guide that used the guise of a diet book to inform readers about health and environmental issues related to food. Following the books instruction I opted out of processed food and white flour, going nearly vegan and choosing instead to indulge organic produce and full grains I made sure I had my five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday to resolve constipation, and during that summer I was never hungry, saved money on food and had a much easier time emptying the old waste basket. The way I phrased it wasn't that I was ”On a Diet” but that I was ”Changing my Diet” never mind that all the advice I was following was from a book about how to be a ”Skinny Bitch”.

The exercising started innocently enough with walking 30 min a day. I had read somewhere that the best exercise for women was to walk, that walking was a good way to keep your pulse rate up, with a low impact on the body (and of course was good for moderating weight). Having more respiratory stimulation was without a doubt beneficial, but the healthier I got from my daily walks the more exercising I wanted to do. A friend of mine at the time was working at a gym, and I started taking spinning classes whenever I could get a guest pass. I continued walking and my body began feeling elastic. My respiratory system was strong and my stomach didn't jiggle the way I was used to my whole life. In the mornings I would wake up with my hand resting on a nearly flat stomach, and hop out of bed to start with sit ups and leg lifts.

At that point in my life I felt more comfortable in my body than I can remember. As much as I wanted to deny it being thin felt good, not because I was in ”Good Shape” but because I was approaching the exalted definition of ”skinny”. I remember as a child there was a concern about my junk food consumption and weight, so I was put on a vegetable and fruit snack diet. Then when I was a teen I was always conscious about my weight, even though it was never a problem. When I see pictures of my self then I laugh about how self conscious I was because I was thin. Maybe it was the diet that isolated me as a child, or maybe it was getting made fun of by my skinny sister, but I have had, and still struggle with constant self loathing that is rooted in my body issues. Something inside that tells me that I am not good enough because my belly is soft, or that I will not be loved because my thighs jiggle. This body hating conviction rules a big part of my life, so obviously when my body began changing in the direction of what I considered lovable I chased that potential viciously.

At a certain point I became addicted to the exercise and the idea of being unarguably thin. I used my guest passes to their limit. There was not one day during that time that I failed to go to the gym and to my pleasure an additional physical activity presented itself; a friend of mine was starting a womens football team, and she invited me to play. I showed up giving the game my all and enjoyed every moment of my exuberant fitness. The next morning my flattish stomach was no longer the center of my attention; my muscles were extremely sore. That night I went to a spinning class and my imagination was telling me the pain was just a test, a way for me to push through laziness and onto new level of fitness. I peddled through the sharp pains in my thighs as if I were on the cusp of becoming wonder woman. My body on the other hand was begging me to stop.

That weekend at a grill party I had fallen and was nearly unable to get up. The shame of being in such intense pain triggered my sense of not-good-enough-ness and almost prevented me from asking for help. When I was near tears, the people around me began to ask what was wrong and I gave in. Luckily there was a physical therapist on hand who guffawed at my inquiry about when I could start exercising again and responded ”Remember it is just as important to rest as it is to exercise” I accepted the therapists advice to rest, but also schemed about how I would make up for lost time. At that point I could have realized that the gains in social comfort my self abuse was causing were being outweighed by the losses in physical comfort. Instead I harbored a sort of pride in being overworked, lean, well exercised, and devoted.

When winter came my diet and exercise routine reverted in response to the cold. I never did join that gym, and the womens football team fell through because I didn't buy the right shoes. After the grill party I never did make up for lost time, the guest passes dwindled and I didn't (and still don't) have hundreds of euros to invest in exercise The pride I felt about approaching thinness has been replaced with a dull remembrance of what it was like to have something a little bit closer to a flat stomach.
When I was thinner I felt a sense of security within society, a freedom of movement and freedom to feel comfortable that one gets from knowing she fits the ideal, and in a way that I was doing the right thing by striving to be thin. At my normal weight I am often worried about what other peoples impression of me will be, based solely on their assessment of my body. I fear that being secure in my body means being delusional, in this way my ideas about body security reflect my ideas about general security. Insecurities about my body arise when insecurities about other things, or a sense of powerlessness come into play. At my normal weight I fear being perceived as fat as if it is some huge weakness but the only time I can remember actually being called fat was at my thinnest!

Ideas that start out”If only I was thin...” never end with something reasonable like ”I would have a longer life expectancy” but rather with social references like ”I would be more stylish”, or ”I would have better boyfriends”, or ”I would be more comfortable eating in public” or ”people would respect me more”. Wanting to lose weight because I can feel my belly roll onto itself isn't so much about the discomfort of being in my body as it is about how I fear I might look to others. It's funny how I can really convince myself that I am doing something for my health, when I am truly doing it for fashion.

This summer tee shirts and jeans that were once too big fit okay, and others that fit well at my thinnest are now too tight. In general what I have on my hands as a result of this body madness is an ill-fitting wardrobe. Of course not getting enough fiber and being constipated sucks, or feeling swollen and sweaty in the heat is uncomfortable but no matter how much I might tell myself I am exercising or eating differently to feel better in my body, I now see this ”health” obsession what it really is; escaping my body rather than caring for it. There is not good reason to eat so little that I spend the whole day thinking about food, or exercise so much that I wake up every morning feeling sore. It is hard to care for my body when my relationship with it often has nothing to do with mechanics. I have so much shame around not feeling the ”Right” shape and fear about being told so. Feeling comfortable in my body is about more than being active, or eating well, it is about feeling comfortable in community. It's far too easy to displace complicated emotions and interpret them as body issues. Self confidence is something everyone needs, regardless of shape or size. For a long time I wondered what it would be like to be thin, now I wonder what it would be like not to care about being thin.

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Susan2009-08-07 17:09:09
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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