I recently confessed to my best friend Ruba that when I walk down the aisle I want everyone in the crowd to loudly gasp, “What a lovely dress.” And then quickly whisper to whatever acquaintance is sitting next to them, “She’s a little too skinny, though.”
“That’s sick,” she responded, furrowing her plush brows in disapproval. Maybe I’m just projecting — but I swear that through her mask of “worry” I could see a tiny remnant of a knowing smile sneak its way across her face because deep down, she understood what I meant. We were reared in the same culture. She gets it.
And the truth is, it is sick. It’s sick that to me, being skinny is a far greater feat, worthy of more attention, than wearing a beautiful designer wedding dress. In my twisted mind, being skinny feels like a greater accomplishment than getting married or art-directing a dreamy, hyper-creative wedding. I know that at the bottom of my most raw, honest, heart lies this ugly truth: I could create the most gorgeous wedding possible. With the most luscious flower arrangements one’s eyes have ever borne witness to. With the most beautiful live music one’s ears have ever had the privilege of experiencing. With the most delightful food one’s tongue has ever relished in, and the most charming, magnetic people one’s ever met. The wedding could be the best day of every attendee’s life.
Yet, despite all of this, I will still see my wedding as a failure if I don’t reach my “goal weight.” I won’t post pictures of this magical day on Facebook if I’m convinced my face looks “full” or my arms look “flabby.”
I’m not proud of this.
In fact, I’m so deeply ashamed for being this way that I have half a goddamn mind to toss this article into the trash, set it on fire, and continue to pretend that I’m a body-positive, modern feminist who wouldn’t dare to ever body-shame herself. For life is easier when you pretend to have fully digested the socially conscious kool-aid.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve drunk the body-positive kool-aid. I genuinely believe that a woman isn’t defined by her goddamn weight. I detest the ways in which our culture has brainwashed amazing young women to believe that “smaller” is better and “thinner” is more beautiful. The disturbing nuances of sexism rooted in that damaging message do not go past me. On every intellectual level, I’m on board with the body-positivity movement. I see beauty in so many different types of women.
Yet, viscerally, when it comes to my *own* body, I can’t seem to authentically love my body or see beauty in myself. I can fake it. But I can’t feel it.
I won’t post a picture of an incredible career accomplishment if I don’t think I look skinny. I will isolate myself like a prisoner in my shoe-box-sized apartment on a bustling Friday night, and lie to my friends about a work obligation when I’m “bloated” from my period. Because I don’t feel, deep down, worthy of going out into the world with that extra five pounds of water weight making me “ugly.” I don’t do as well during speaking engagements when I’ve convinced myself that I can feel my “double chin” wiggle as I talk.
And this dark, disempowered reality makes me feel so incredibly sad for myself.
Because I know that I have so many gifts to offer this world, so much light to shine on this world, that I’m blinded from, because I’m so laser-focused on being skinny. All of the essays I’ve written that have moved young girls to tears, all of the people I’ve helped through my work, and all of the love I’ve bestowed onto my friends and family are rendered meaningless if I happen to feel “fat” that day. It’s f*cked up.
And the most f*cked up part is this: My weight has never dramatically fluctuated, ever. It’s rare that anyone ever comes up to me and says, “Oh, my god, you’ve lost weight!” or, “Oh, my god, you’ve gained weight!”
The numbers on the scale have stayed in the same 10-pound range over the past decade.
So, I suppose, the sickest part of this disease is this: it’s all in my head. The days I view myself as wholly unworthy to leave the confines of my apartment because I’ve “gained” so much weight and the days I feel grand and invincible because my hip bones are “protruding” are nothing but figments of my imagination. The truth is, I look pretty much the same every day, babe. I weigh pretty much the same every day. My clothes fit me (even if it doesn’t feel that way) the same. Every day.
Yet in my head the difference is so dramatic, it’s the difference between me being hot and vile. Worthy and unworthy. Successful and a no-good failure.
And getting married has only triggered the delusion. Did you know that most bridal boutiques will only do your final fitting one week before your wedding because 90 percent of brides drop an insane number of pounds in the seven days prior to their “big (err, ‘little’) day”? Just hearing that information affirmed my pressing fear that the most important, praise-worthy thing a woman can do is lose weight.
Getting married is wonderful, but it’s extremely stressful. You’re dealing with the baggage of family and their slew of hypersensitivities. You’re dealing with budgets and the acute pressure of people-pleasing and curating the decor and talent-booking and dealing with vendors actively trying to screw you out of your money. It’s a huge production that takes an incredible amount of time and energy to execute. It’s like directing and producing and starring in a theatrical production. The fact that, through this massive workload, losing weight is still on the forefront of the minds of brides across the country further confirms the dangerous notion that none of it means anything unless the bride is thin.
Do you know how hard it is to lose five or more pounds in just a week? It’s excruciatingly hard without the use of prescription stimulants (I know many a bride-to-be who has conveniently developed a mean case of ADHD right before her wedding). Yet still, so many women prioritize their weight loss that bridal boutiques will firmly refuse to tailor your gown until the last minute.
A part of me wonders if this soul-consuming desire to be thin is actually about garnering a semblance of “control.” So many things in this life are not quantifiable, you know? Whether or not an essay I write is excellent or sophomoric fodder is wildly subjective. Over the course of the day, I’ll get the feedback from one person that an article I’ve penned is powerful and deep, and another person will claim it’s vapid fluff. Whether or not I’m a “good” person depends on who you ask. Whether or not the dynamics of my relationship are blissful or difficult is absolutely contingent on what side of the bed my partner and I happened to roll out of that particular morning.
So many things in this life are so all over the map, so madly unpredictable. Weight feels fixed, in my control. You cut back on the calories and the carbohydrates and work out until you’ve reduced yourself into an exhausted puddle of nothingness, and, unless you have a medical issue, chances are — you’ll drop weight. I take a great, sick comfort in that. I take a great, sick comfort in taking firm control over one of the few things in my world that isn’t up for debate: the number on the scale.
We can starve ourselves into tiny fawns, and we can expertly photoshop every picture we upload onto Instagram, but we can’t change our bone structure or body type. And all of this trying, all of this blood, sweat, tears, and wasted energy we haphazardly pour in changing ourselves — is doing far more damage to our self-esteem than I fear we even remotely grasp.
Because at the end of the day our body is our home. It holds court to our minds, our heart, our spirits, and our souls. If we hate the place in which we live, we’re never going to feel settled or at peace. In many ways, our body serves as our foundation. Our grounding force. Think about it: When you live in an apartment where you don’t feel safe, you’re going to move through this world feeling forever ungrounded and on-edge. When you don’t feel safe in your body, you’re going to forever feel unrooted and anxious no matter how many brilliant, praise-worthy things you accomplish that day.
But the question is: how do we actually get there? How do we actually get a place where we genuinely feel content in our bodies?
I wish I had a moral to this story. I wish I had an answer as to how we as modern women can stop waging this toxic, unwarranted war against our bodies.
And maybe you’ve figured it out. Maybe all the body-positivity content popping up all over the internet resonates with you. If it does, I think that’s awesome. But it’s never authentically empowered me. Maybe my issues with my body are far too deep-rooted. I don’t know.
All I do know is this: The only thing that’s ever helped to lift the crushing weight of anxiety I’ve felt about anything is through being honest. It’s not easy, trust me. In fact, brutal honesty is increasingly discouraged in this weird, internet culture. But despite the critics, I’ll never stop believing that women have the right to openly discuss their issues before they’ve resolved them.
Because while it may sicken you to read about how brainwashed and out-of-control my disordered thinking is, I’m certain there are lots of girls out there who feel like me. And I want them to know they’re not alone. Feeling alienated in the struggle only feeds the disease. I know this all too well.
So girls, ladies, humans — whether you’re getting married and obsessing how you’ll look in your wedding pictures, or you’re simply in body-dysmorphic hell just because, I see you. I am you. I feel for you. I feel for us.
And maybe the first step in our recovery is to simply come clean about how we really feel. Because keeping it festering inside is what’s keeping this awful goddamn monster alive. The only way to get rid of the demon is to confront it.