Last week, after feeling sort of body-okay, albeit body-agitated, for a bit (where a bit is measured in weeks), my body image tanked. It was abrupt. It left me at the bottom of a big hole, the kind in which you find yourself suddenly holding back tears on New Jersey Transit. It came with a sudden plummet of my sex drive, a near-absolute physical inability to be aroused.
I talked about it in therapy. I felt monstrous, I told my therapist; I was watching myself in subway windows with revulsion, finding new asymmetries in my face, hating its spherical bulge, disgusted with myself more than anything that I had somehow just recently thought it was okay. This, I think, was the key. My therapist pointed it out; it was easy to come to following her lead but I don't think I would have gotten there on my own because the linear causal traction of the disordered logic of fat-hate has such a strong pull (you hate your face because it's fat, the thing to do about it is to be less fat, immediately, which is to say stop eating now, by taking steps to become less fat you will be able to assuage your distress about the thing you see reflected foggily across the subway aisle). The thing is this: just recently I'd felt okay.
Over the past six or seven months, I've lost thirty-five pounds or so. This brings me to the bottom of my adult range, and I don't have much credibility with myself at this juncture when I say things like this after twenty years of weight cycles, but this time it feels a little different. (How is not the point here, but it feels different because I'm not restricting my intake, and I'm not white-knuckling hyperfocusing obsessing. I'm thinking hard, but it feels qualitatively somewhat different.) I will say that it looks a little different to my professional help, too: my therapist has recently gotten pushy about talking about body and weight, which is to say that we have been talking about it near-exclusively for months. I have been crying a lot. It is new and maybe interesting and definitely unpleasant. Anyway, the point is, one thing we have been exploring is my sense of the difference I think that 35 pounds, tacked onto another 15 or so from the year before, makes in the reactions I get from the world. They seem to take me into the realm of the visible. I feel looked at more often. Sometimes I look up from whatever I'm doing and make unexpected eye contact with a man, who is looking at my face, which feels deeply invasive. Anyway, I have lots of complicated feelings about that movement, and some of them are positive. We'd been sort of focusing on my complicated feelings about having positive feelings—my fear of confirming other people's toxic weight narratives; my fear of reopening myself to bigger, stronger, more harrassing weight stigma by becoming (counterintuitively) somewhat smaller such that my size ceases to be an unspeakable thing; etc. This is a thing we had not discussed: the feeling of being caught not feeling terrible about myself.
What happened is that I saw a friend I hadn't seen since November and before that since last March. This is a friend to whom I have for the last several years served the function of second-string girlfriend. Not like that, because I've been dating someone, but when he becomes single he calls me up and I put on lipstick and we go for nice dinner and sometimes he walks me home and comes in for a nightcap and then maybe but no. This is the guy that I'm supposed to be dating; the guy I'd be dating if I'd never been fat. My dad loves him. But I have come to resent the second-string status, for obvious reasons, and so when he busted into the plans I'd made with another friend with no warning to me, I became dismayed. And we still had our old spark—we had it back in force; it felt stronger than it did thirty-five pounds heavier, but I also knew, like stumbling over a rock I'd been stepping around for years, that no, never, no way. I would were I single. He wouldn't. Not unless I were a size six or under. I'm disqualified. I'm still categorically unsuited; I'm barely a woman.
And it was like having my unsteady little platform bashed to bits with a sledgehammer. I'd been talking for weeks about how weird it felt to be in a different category; I'd been deluded and self-aggrandizing; I'd been disgustingly complacent. I'd let up when I'd had no excuse to let up, when I didn't deserve to be let up on.
I haven't solved this. I still feel gross.