Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Perfect and the Good

On the train with a friend recently, we were talking about our recent tinkerings with stuff about our bodies, which is a thing we both enjoy—she had run out of her favorite wildly-expensive face cream and couldn't afford more, so had been trying some other stuff.  She asked if I was still using jojoba oil on my face, I said I was.  I added that I'd started a fermented cod liver oil supplement, and thought it was really helping.

She said this: "But your skin's been good for awhile now."

I thought that was kind of a strange thing to say, because I feel like I'm always working on my skin, always messing with the routine, always reading up on something or other (physical or chemical exfoliant?  Alpha or beta hydroxy acids?).  So, naturally, I did what any sane person would do: I went home and looked at a million pictures of myself.  (I have a nasty Photobooth habit.)  And it turned out she was pretty much right.  There had been a period of skin difficulty (which...now that I think about it...was also a period of stress and a period during which I was coming off hormonal birth control) right at the beginning of graduate school, when I met this friend.  I kind of freaked out: I changed all my face products, and began devoting time and money to cosmetic concealment of the situation.  I was meeting tons of new people—starting graduate school, dating for the first time in four years—and I didn't want to be zitty and blotchy while doing it.  So I got on it, with a vengeance.  But since then,  the photo record shows, my skin has been reliably fine.  I get breakouts, but nothing that can't be concealered away when I have the energy and inclination or motivation to do so, or that makes people react to me like I'm the Elephant Woman if I can't be bothered (which usually I can't, which is why I care so much in the first place).  

So despite the fact that I feel like I've found The Thing, and am now just waiting until I get it all exactly right for long enough that my skin perfects itself, my skin now (jojoba oil, fermented cod liver oil supplements, castor and tea tree oil cleanser, sporadic AHA exfoliation and all) is not really significantly better than my skin before (twice-daily salicylic acid treatment, gentle cleanser for acne-prone skin, the same AHA product used near-daily, and all).  Much to my dismay.  My skin has been the same amount of fine for awhile now.

But what I'm always aiming for isn't fine skin.  It isn't even good skin.  It's perfect skin.  I have the idea that if I just do everything right, find exactly the right combination of products and use them faithfully, experimenting until I find out precisely how many times per week my skin prefers to be exfoliated with alpha hydroxy acid, I will be rewarded with skin that looks naturally airbrushed when I wake up.  It will be even and blotchless, the redness that creeps down my cheeks and over my nose will recede, leaving its flush only where one would put blush.  I will know whether I have cool undertones or warm, a question which continues to devil both me and MAC consultants.  I won't have little red marks from zits of yestermonth.  If I do everything right.  But inevitably I fall asleep without taking my nighttime cod liver oil dose every now and then, or I prop my chin on my hand for four hours at a stretch, and then the next time I get a zit, I know it was my own fault.  Whenever I get a zit I can't attribute to a specific mistake, I wonder what I don't know I've been doing wrong.  How long has it been since I laundered my pillowcase?  

Perfectability is the promise.  That it is all under my control, and if I get it right, I will be rewarded with...what?  

With not having to worry about it anymore.

But I can, I think, choose not to worry about it anymore.  That is, I don't have to say, "I hate how much I worry about my skin.  When my skin is perfect, I will get some relief from that worry.  I'd better make my skin perfect."  I could theoretically say, "I hate how much I worry about my skin.  I should stop.  It's not really that big a deal."


This seems both rather obvious and rather difficult.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rendering Coercion Unnecessary

When I perform my duties as a brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the commitments I have entered into, I fulfill obligations which are defined in law and custom and which are external to myself and my actions.  Even when they conform to my own sentiments, and when I feel their reality within me, that reality does not cease to be objective, for it is not I who have prescribed these duties.  [...]  Not only are these types of thinking and behavior external to the individual, but they are endued with a compelling and coercive power by virtue of which, whether he wishes it or not, they impose themselves upon him.  Undoubtedly when I conform to them of my own free will, this coercion is not felt or felt hardly at all, since it is unnecessary.

[Émile Durkheim, Rules of Sociological Method]

Siding with the world against yourself alleviates pain in the sense that it eliminates or substantively reduces the experience of coercion.  Not the coercion.  Just the experience of it.  This is why Lily Bart burns Bertha Dorset's letters to Selden, and it's why people are their own body police.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting the Flick

One of my favorite forms of fat solidarity is the flick-glance that I sometimes get from well-dressed fat women on the street.  There's a recognition in it.  I got one yesterday (I did look cute, leather jacket & print skater dress & nude flats & pyramid-stud cuff bracelet like it's 1994 and I'm a mall goth) from a girl wearing a great yellow blouse and a pencil skirt and her hair in a particularly nice wispy afro.  I'm not even exactly sure why I tend to interpret this flick as a friendly one, because it is totally possible that girl was thinking "there but for the grace of God go I; note to self: no pyramid-stud cuff bracelets because this is not 1994," but it does feel friendly to me.  Maybe just because I catch myself giving it to other fat women—to women about my size, about my age, and well put-together—and my intentions are friendly ones.  Basically I'm going, "ooh, well done" in my head, and thinking about asking where her skirt comes from or whatever, but what feels cool about this little moment is the analogy between us, the mutual "you're like me" of it.  I know it took her more work to get herself that cute than it would have if she were a size 12; I know she busts her (fine) ass to figure out whether to order the 18 or the 20 and sometimes orders both and resigns herself to the inevitability of the trip to the post office to make the return. I see you, is what the flick says, and I get it.

Where I Stand

So, I feel like I am Eeyoreing around on this blog a little bit.  I feel like I am presenting an image of a person who is in pain because she is fat.  And that feels really weird to me.

I'm dealing with fat stuff, and with eating-disorder stuff, more right now than I have for years.  For me, though not for all fat people, those things are really deeply enmeshed, and they have lately made a resurgence in my consciousness and my emotional life.  Basically I think what's happening is that I have reached a point at which I can deal with these things—because I'm tough enough and together enough in the rest of my life (although, let us not speak of how much time this is taking away from my dissertation, because, holy God, I am never going to get a job ever).

Let me be clear: I do sometimes feel pain because of stuff related to my body (and often feel a heightened consciousness of my body, which is not pain exactly but also not a walk in Central Park in springtime), and this is the world's fault.  It's not my body's fault.  My fatness is not responsible for the way other people respond to it.  Other people, or more accurately the ideas that hold sway in the minds of other people, are responsible for the way they respond to my body.  And when they respond negatively to my body, or when people justify the treatment they get from the world by pinning it to the offense of their own fat bodies, this makes me angry.  Really angry.  And I have too a vestigial shame that will peg their responses onto my wobbliest bits, and blame the bits and not the responses until I can get my head straight.  Sometimes that head-straightening takes longer than other times.

But as much as I want to not have that shame reaction, ever, I won't blame myself anymore for what the world did to me.  I won't blame myself for sometimes hating my upper arms.  Hating them was not my own spontaneous genius childhood invention, and it was not a property of their inherent hatefulness.  I have been taught to hate my upper arms, and I still get that lesson reinforced eight hundred times a day (accidentally and on purpose, by people who like me and people who don't know me and corporations that couldn't care less either way), and I am a good student.  Why should I pile on myself the second burden of pretending that I don't sometimes passionately hate my upper arms, getting mad at myself that I still do?  I won't.  You taught me to hate my upper arms, I want to say to the world instead.  Okay, it worked.  I hate my upper arms.  It makes my life worse.  Thanks for your help!  Oh, wait, actually, fuck you, is what I meant.

What I can and will and do do, though, is try to be conscious of how I frame those feelings.  This is the thing that people get wrong on the internet most often, I think.  I hate my upper arms, therefore my upper arms are ugly and gross and the cause of my dating troubles, therefore anybody who's telling me I don't have to hate my upper arms is deluded and stupid, morally lacking, lazy, self-justifying, deceptive, malicious.  I don't have to endorse these feelings that I have.  I can have them and also look at where they come from.  I can say, yes, these are feelings I have, they're feelings that are part of an apparatus of ideology, and that ideology is doing sweet fuck-all for me except bringing me down, giving me a distraction and a false cause to chase and a lot of tsuris.  I am not the only person it's bringing down.

I do have a sense of responsibility to other fat people, particularly fat women, particularly young fat women, in this endeavor.  I want to be a good example.  I want to be a good ally.  This is what makes saying things like "I hate my upper arms" difficult for me.  Because I hate that there aren't more people free of this thing, and I know from my own experiences that replacing body-hating messages with body-neutral and -positive ones made a tremendous difference in my life.  I know that I wouldn't have had some of the joys and successes I've had without the influence of those messages, the ones that told me in chipper and funny tones that it was not as big a deal as I had always thought.  I know that it makes a difference to hear someone else be positive about a body that is outside the beauty standard, a body like one's own.  But I also know that that positivity has to be real.  Has to be earned.  And the reason that thing is so valuable is because it's so difficult to attain, because it is so outside the norm, and there are so few allies and so few footholds.

I am not there yet.  I don't mean this in a way that normalizes hating one's body, like the gross wallowing on mostly-bullshit sites like Jezebel and xoJane (Lesley Kinzel aside!) do when they get weepy about how sad it is that size-twelve women think they're fat, or give women who are deep in body hatred platforms to talk about how they're a size four and they know it's bad but they really hate their bodies and gaining weight makes them feel like failures and here let them tell you about it in great detail and you can't say shit because these are their REAL FEELINGS, you guys.  That shit is destructive.  It is like the way teenage girls with eating disorders tear through eating-disorder memoirs, which are mostly pretty terrible (Marya Hornbacher aside!).  But I think there is also something destructive about making oneself a representative, about always having to say the thing you want someone else to say to you.  It is productive for other people, a lot of the time, is the thing: that representative can do a lot of good.  I have benefited from the work of representatives enormously.  But I am not in a place to be one myself.  It leaves me shuttling between what I want to be and what I fear I am.  It doesn't have a lot of space for the present, for presence.  Which is sort of where I think I should be.  And it's tough for me to say that I am going to choose my own individual needs over doing something worthwhile for other people, because really there's no defending that except that this is what I need.  I do hope that in attending to those needs, I will become a person capable of helping others in a meaningful way, and I also hope that maybe there is something in and of itself valuable on a broader level about attending to one's own needs.

So this is I guess a kind of difficult task I have set for myself.  There isn't anyone else that I've seen who is doing this in quite the way I want to do it, quite the way I think it should be done.  But I am just not going to do it anybody else's way anymore.

Maybe I will be fat forever, and eternally working out how I feel about that, or maybe I will be fat forever and I will reach fat enlightenment, in which I will figure out peace and bodily joy and how to issue a cutting comeback that is simultaneously funny and thought-provoking.  Maybe these two forces will meet in the middle, and I will be kinda fat and kinda enlightened.  I guess it is also theoretically possible that at some point I won't be fat anymore, but that seems unlikely and weird, and even if it were true, I'd never have a body that hadn't been fat; I will always wear no matter what size the residual effects of my lifetime of fatness (sometimes I mourn this; right now I am so grateful for it, because imagine what would happen if this kind of significant life experience were just erased).  But even if I can't figure it out, even if I am fat forever and always have bad days with it, I am just so motherfucking over the additional layer of effort that goes into mediating my own feelings about this entire situation.

Yesterday I started to cry spontaneously in my session with my nutritionist (I know!  It's like a place I go just for crying in!), and it wasn't because of the thing we'd been talking about, it was about the fact that I was talking at all, and I wasn't watching myself do it, and I wasn't trying to figure out the ramifications of the sentences I was making; I hadn't been managing myself, I'd just been doing stuff.  And the doing stuff included telling the truth about this knotty, difficult thing that's hard to talk about.  Basically, I think that the truth will set me free, and I am going to do my best to tell it until it does.

PS: Relevant!

Monday, April 22, 2013


(In which I switch this blog off my regular account in a spurt of identity paranoia.  Still me!)

Breakfast, Anxiety, Options

I have been having a lot of anxiety lately about eating in the morning, which I have been trying to do.  The response from my anxiety has been swift and serious.

Today I drank coffee for three hours, started writing this post, said to myself out loud, "What the fuck are you doing?" and got up to make myself some belated breakfast.  Because seriously, if I am able to identify that this is a problematic behavior, this thing of putting off eating as long as possible, if I am sitting down to write about it, what exactly is my excuse for not doing something about it?  There isn't any.  "You're a smart girl," I said to myself (still out loud: living by oneself is great) while heating up the cast-iron skillet.  "Why are you acting like such a dumbshit?"

But the thing is that it's hard.  For several days I have had the alarm bells going, the bells of you're eating too much, you weren't even all the way hungry for that, why are you drinking cocktails instead of whiskey-and-diet, couldn't you at least eat protein instead of carbs, do you even know how many calories are in that.  And it's so tempting to say, the cure for this anxiety is eating less.  The cure for this is to get it right. 

I hate this.  I hate having to push against those anxiety alarms.  I hate eating and not knowing if it's okay or allowed or within bounds.  Sometimes I feed myself and I get a rush of joy, and I feel like I'm serving well the little girl whose picture I keep on top of my refrigerator, the little girl with my curly hair and my rosy cheeks playing in the grass, and other times I get this, this constant swamp of anxiety.  Was it too much?  Am I going to gain weight?  I hate inching out on this stupid fucking limb, still at some level convinced it's going to snap at some point but not knowing when. 

What a diet does more than anything, more than forbidding even, I think, is provide authorization.  If you're eating within the bounds of the diet, you're okay.  It alleviates the constant baseline thrum of anxiety engendered by being a woman and having to feed oneself, amplified significantly by being fat and by a lifetime of dieting. 

At this point, I have a secure intellectual conviction that recovering from that lifetime of chronic dieting is the only way forward.  It's the only way.  Nearly a year ago now, I read an article on Paleo For Women (trigger warning: that post isn't full-on HAES) and had a violent emotional reaction to it.  I realized that even though I've been "in recovery" for years now, I've never stopped identifying the problem as overeating, because to me, weight loss and thus restriction has always seemed like the goal.  And what that meant was that I'd never really stopped being on a diet.  I'd never really stopped thinking of a day of eating as a thing to be controlled, a thing to be careful about, a thing that should exist within certain rules and boundaries.  If it's inside them, it's good.  If it's outside them, it's bad. 

Here's some of what I wrote in my journal that day:
It's time to let it go.  It doesn't work.  It doesn't work.  It doesn't work.  You have suffered.  For a lot of years.  Years and years.  Most of your years.  But you have so many years left—are you going to diet through your whole life?  Let me remind you: it does not work. 

What do I want?  A true recovery.  Yes, I want to be smaller.  I do.  (Which is not to say that being smaller will solve the things that I still, at some level, think it will.  But I do think it's important to allow the truth of that statement.  One reason the diet mentality has such a hold on me is that I'd like to be smaller.)  But I know, for true, in my brain and sometimes also in my heart, that a true recovery is more important.  That it will make me happier.  Because the alternative is more of the same.  More white-knuckling, more platitudes, more fear.  I can give it up, or I can be thirty-five, forty, forty-five, and still afraid.  I can give it up, or I can end up my father, cutting sliver after sliver off a brownie at age seventy-seven, making each sliver as thin as possible, promising himself each sliver will be his last.  And (the carrot after the stick) I know about that disordered diet cycle and what it does (make you sad and crazy) and what it does not do (make you thin), so the options sort of look like this:
  1. Sad and crazy (at least in this specific way, but this way bleeds out into other parts of one's life) and weight-cycling and almost certainly still fat, though with the palliative of believing you will be thin if only you can get it right.
  2. Not sad or crazy (at least not in this specific way), not weight-cycling, quite possibly but not necessarily still fat, though without the promise of future bodily perfectability.

Option #2 is not a diet panacea option.  It sacrifices the great white hope, the fantasy of being thin.  But I think it's a better option. Hence, breakfast.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Anxiety Response: A Note to Myself

Yesterday was mostly one long anxiety freakout.  One of those days in which everything you said was wrong as soon as you'd said it.  Got sucked into a dark internet corner about fatness: this is pretty much what started it.  Got dressed up to go to an event, didn't feel as good as you'd hoped you would (see: dark internet corner), was late to said event because of waffling in front of the mirror and anxiety-addled stupid mistake about train schedule, said a thing to a famous novelist that, oops, oh God.  Maybe it was fine.  It did not feel fine.  Schedule mix-up with boyfriend, apologized profusely for what was without question his mistake.  Raked in compliments at event about dress, necklace, nails; not one of them counted because none of them were from the person in the hopes of whose compliment it was all put together, who ducked out before the cocktail-party section without a word.

And on the train you read about the lives and feelings of women who grew up in isolated Christian extremist families and sects.  Some of them describe their anxiety responses as adults, to things like churches and families and discussions of churches and families, and they do not sound so far away.  You don't have PTSD.  You were not socially isolated.  You were never, ever, physically harmed.  But the anxiety responses they describe have a familiar feel.  The hypervigilance.  Racing heart and shaking hands hoping it's not about to go bad, not about to get scary.  The crash afterwards, the sudden lethargy and exhaustion.  The way this feels abstracted from your life, which is good and fine and normal, you are fine, until this weird thing happens. 

It is worth noting that when you started this blog, lo these many years ago, you were on anxiety medication.  Maybe it is time to give that another shot, huh?  Because girl, you have got shit to do, and this stuff does not help you get it done.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

That Goddamn Dove Video

I am not even linking to it.  It is too ridiculous.

Why do people think this is inspirational?  Seriously, if anybody out there has a thought, would you tell me?  I get the emotional response of identifying with the women who realize that they think of themselves as ugly.  But all of the descriptors are loaded, all of them focus on "good qualities" that describe a very particular notion of beauty.  "A nice, thin chin."  "She was thin, so you could see her cheekbones."  Is the idea that other people don't think you're as fat as you think you are supposed to be revolutionary?

If I were in that room and described my face as fat, would the sketch artist draw me as a sad-face fatty?  And if another person came in and said, "her face is chubby, but..." would that be supposed to make me feel better?  Because that is backhanded as all hell.  And reminds me very much of how people go, "Oh, you're not fat," and mean "You're not lazy/stupid/ugly/politically conservative/one of those people."  What they've just said is that fatness is all of those things in their mind, and you're not those things.  But fatness is, and you are fat.

What about the idea that it's not such a bad/ugly/shameful thing to be fat?  If one woman described her own face as "chubby and puffy" and another woman described that same face as "sweet and chubby," I'd bet the second sketch would still be "prettier," but the descriptions wouldn't necessarily be reinforcing the reified beauty standard.  You know, the one that Dove makes money off while purporting to be totally over.  It's just so sad for Dove that ladies feel so bad about themselves.  Dove wishes the world could be kinder, you guys.  Just not so kind that you forget to buy cellulite cream or whatever.

And also, while the second sketches were prettier, were they more accurate?

And what of the self-love that plain women might strive for?

That bullshit is ridiculous.  I cannot even.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Tyrannies We Swallow

What are the words you do not yet have?  What do you need to say?  What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

(Audre Lorde)

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Somehow it never fails to amaze me when I get full and stop eating something really palatable.  When it hasn't been long enough since last I ate, or when I'm not hungry enough to have indisputable physiological hunger signs (gurgling rumbles, some stomach pain, the beginnings of a headache, etc.), my feelings about eating get kind of complicated.  When I'm really hungry I feel authorized (and this is in and of itself progress), but I'm not great at acting on hunger signals that haven't yet passed that threshold.

It feels like taking a risk to go, "I might not have been all the way full from the meal I ate an hour and a half ago.  Some yogurt and jam sounds good."  It makes me anxious.  It makes me want to guesstimate calories: the calories in my brunch, the calories in some possible snacks.  

The relief I feel when I get full and stop eating, even though there's only like a half-inch of apricot preserves left in the Bonne Maman jar and what's the difference?, even though instead of portioning out some acceptable amounts I just brought the big yogurt container and jam jar over to my desk, sheds light for me on how significant that anxiety is.  I'm afraid I can't rely on my hunger cues.  I'm afraid if I let myself start eating, I'll never stop. 

But, worth noting, I stopped.  Not in a white-knuckling act-of-exertion way, just because, when I'm full, I don't want to eat any more food.  Not even delicious food.  Not even delicious food with sugar in it.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Survival Instinct

Some months ago now, I had a fight with my mother.  I've had two flare-ups of the old familial animosity in the last year, and frankly, I am proud of my conduct in both of them.

In the fight that I am thinking of, it had become clear that my mother still thinks of my body and behavior as a kind of symbol I was manipulating.  That she still believed in ideas I've long since discarded: the idea that I'd gotten fat to hurt her and/or my father, or that I was using adipose tissue as the manifestation of a barrier, a way of fending them off.  I believed those things a long time ago, but they don't make sense to me anymore, and I guess it hadn't really occurred to me that my mother might be hanging onto them.  I said as much, that the way I understand how I got fat and then very fat and then very, very fat is at this point substantively physiological: I understand my night binges as "reactive eating" in response to extreme restriction.  I explained the Minnesota semistarvation study.

This is when my mother denied that she and my father had ever put me on a diet.  Which is when I kind of lost it.  Is it even worth having this conversation if I have to prove the basic facts of my own life?  They stood behind me while I weighed myself each weekend in the Catskills the summer I was eleven.  My mother and I had our little matching Weight Watchers booklets when I was thirteen.  Before and after there were exchanges, air-popped popcorn salt wouldn't stick to, books about compulsive overeating, a trainer, after-school programs, two pediatric obesity specialists, family walks after dinner, a hat my sister and I made for my father as the world's most passive-aggressive gift that bore the image of a crossed-out slice of pizza and the words "FOOD POLICE," the posters of the numbers of calories in foods and burned by activities, the little red notebook full of calorie counts for days that are dated but are dated more poignantly by my scrawly eight-year-old handwriting.  (When I found that notebook in the back of a closet in my childhood bedroom I couldn't bear either to get rid of it or to possess it: it's in my file at my nutritionist's office.)  Through it all, whether or not there was at any given time a program or a plan or a diet book open on the counter next to the dictionary we kept by the dinner table so that my sister and I could look up words we did not know or sugar-free Jell-O in the fridge or Weight Watchers bars or meals in the freezer, there was scrutiny, there was judgment, and there was fear.  I wanted too much cheese on my pasta.  Did I really need that much cheese?  Was I sure I was hungry? 

My mother said something to the effect of, "You were so angry at us."  This is a variation on a theme: anger is the identifying trait of my childhood self.

Yes.  I was angry.  I am still angry, all these years later.  My mother puts this in the past tense because most of the time now my anger is not obtrusive: I like my parents as humans, I see my parents more than many twenty-nine-year-old women do.  I do of course choose what I do and don't tell them about my life, but I tell them a fair bit, and I think in general we're close.  As an adult, my anger is like a dormant animal: it sleeps through most things, but is vicious when roused.  And as an adult, too, I have a stronger sense of that anger-animal's relation to the rest of me.  I was, and am, angry not because I am pathological, not because something in me is anger-identified, grows towards the burning sun like a spiky plant synthesizing its own body out of contact with pure rage, but because I had something to be angry about.  It is still hard for me not to feel pathological, but I think I've passed the tipping point on this, because what I said to my mother when she played this same old sad song on this particular occasion was, "That was my survival instinct."

And it was.  It was the thing that reacted, the thing that did not question itself.  It was the thing I was trying to clamp down on.  It was my appetite, my first-person experience.  It was the opposite of the thing I nurtured in me of nights in bed, propping my little calves up on the rungs of the top bunk above and trying to gauge their size relative to last night before turning off the kitty lamp on my bedside table and swearing to myself as I slipped towards sleep despite my anxious thrum that I wouldn't eat tomorrow.  Nothing.  Won't eat 'til I'm thin. 

I hadn't thought of it that way before.  But it felt both correct and important to do so. 

Because identifying it that way means both depathologizing my own feelings and also that there is a thing in me that I can trust, a thing that knows which direction is up.  Because it's true: that's what my anger was.  And that gives a name and a context, too, to what I have had contact with lately, a thing that sometimes occurs to me, a thready little trickle of triumphant certainty.  It is a thing that still has instincts, and a grasp of its own best interests.  I have often worried that I've broken myself entirely: my hunger/fullness signals, my metabolism, my ability to know what I'm feeling and say so, my sense of self.  But here is this thing.  I don't understand the causality here, but I don't have to.  I'm grateful it's still there, that it has reasserted itself in even small and occasional ways.  My job is to feed it.  My job is to be on its side.  To give it space to speak, listen to it, and then give it what it needs. 

What that thing in me means is hope.  Hope not intellectual—not the reasoned evaluation of the chances—but basic.  Hope that inhabits the place between psychology and physiology, that lives where my self and my organism are the same thing.  Hope like desire, wanting without justification.  Hope like hunger.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


My nutritionist is a lovely Australian with a pixie cut, a teeny dog that curls up at my feet while we have our session, an impressive shoe wardrobe, and an easy smile.  She is also currently with child, and having the kind of pregnancy in which sometimes her OB-GYN sends her home for bed rest on very little notice.  This means a lot of rescheduling lately.

But I saw her yesterday.  We are starting to formulate a plan for her summer maternity leave—she offered to help manage a temporary transition to another member of her practice, and I was able to say quite clearly that I didn't want to do that.  Which is true, I don't.  Her practice is primarily eating disorders, but I have had enough nasty experiences with folks who bill themselves this way that that doesn't go a whole long way in easing my fears.

When I was trying to find a post-treatment nutritionist in the city in which I went to college, I had to do a bunch of irritating first appointments before I found the right lady.  The first person I talked to, despite the fact that I'd said "eating disorder" and "just out of treatment" a bunch of times both on the phone making the appointment and in the opening moments of the actual appointment just then, commended me on the "better" choice of goat cheese for the sandwich I'd eaten for lunch.  "It's lower in calories than other cheeses."

Bitch, please.

No eating disorder nutritionist worth her salt would ever tell a patient that her choices are "good" or "bad" on the basis of calories.  I couldn't tell if this woman just wasn't worth her salt, or if she wouldn't say that to an under- to normal-weight patient but it was okay to say it to me because, fat.

My prescribing psychologist in inpatient once suggested that I try Weight Watchers after discharge.  In fairness, he was not part of the nutrition/behavioral team, but still.  I can't remember what I said.  (I wish I'd thrown a fit.  I wish I'd told someone.)  What's funny about that interaction was that that guy really liked me—I could tell that he thought I was smart and interesting.  I'm almost tempted to say that because of that, he was treating me in that moment too much like a normal person, and not enough like an eating-disordered person, and that was why he could recommend a diet program to a fat person, just like you would in regular life, because, duh.

I try to understand that these connections are difficult ones in human brains.  Fat people should always be on diets.  Fat people should always be choosing the lower-calorie cheese.  We know these things like we know any consensus opinion: the Yankees will always be contenders, the bus is slower than the subway, being fat is in and of itself unhealthy, Meryl Streep is a better actor than Sarah Michelle Gellar.  I try not to blame individual humans for reflecting back to me the ideological architecture of the world.  That effort is somewhat draining.

Anyway, for reasons that are, I think, reasonable and clear, I tend to presume until proven otherwise that people are going to come out with something like that when given a chance.  Nutritionist or not, ED professional or not, it seems to me likely that they are probably thinking that I should and could lose weight and it is part of their job to make that happen.

My own nutritionist has been my nutritionist for about five or six years now.  She has seen me through about one and a half weight cycles.  She is not pushy, which sometimes means I feel vaguely like we could have prevented something we have not prevented (see: weight cycle), but also means that she is never foisting some plan or program on me, she never has objectives beyond the short-term behavioral ones that we set at the end of sessions (eat earlier in the day, eat something I'm afraid of, no coffee after three PM, etc.) and the very long-term underlying one (normalize my relationship with food).  She does have opinions about the way that very long-term goal is best accomplished, and when she expresses them, she does so neutrally and informatively.  She's a great listener.  I keep a food log for her, where I note what I eat, when I eat it, how hungry I am when I start eating it, and how full I am when I finish eating it.  That's it.  In these settings I generally have anxiety responses going at a low rate in a constant undertone, and with her, after years, those responses have relaxed a fair bit.  I trust her.  She is not trying to herd me into weight loss, she does not think weight loss is an acceptable goal for me, or a panacea.  Recently, after the scheduling weirdness gave us a big gap between sessions, she saw a sizable drop on the scale and looked at me skeptically: "Do you feel like you're restricting?"  I just about cried from gratitude for that response, and how it wasn't, "Well, it's moving in the right direction" or "Congratulations!" or any of the other things medical professionals apprised of the situation have said to me.  The point is that she is not replaceable.  Not even by someone she hired.  I ain't got that kind of faith.  I would rather not see someone for the summer.  I'd rather go it alone than with someone who stresses me out.

She says she is sorry for the timing, that she knows I'm at a vulnerable spot.  She's right about that; I am.  But I've got fat stuff out in the open in therapy, and I'm pleased to have been able to express my actual feelings about seeing someone else in the interim.  And I feel good about our ability to make a plan as we approach her departure for the break.  Things that need dealing with: will I actually go over food logs with anybody?  Will I ever weigh myself?  The reason our sessions are so valuable to me is that they're the place I have contact with my actual behavior, with the patterns I'm working with and on, and also with the number that represents my weight.  In her office, we survey the scene, we assess and evaluate, we make the narrative and create the plan.  I'm going to have to figure out some other way of doing those things this summer, or of making their absence productive. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I was sitting out in the sun, on the first summery day of the year, drinking an iced coffee and chatting with a dear friend.  I hadn't seen her in like three weeks, and for us, that's much, much longer than usual.  We were enjoying the weather, lounging around outside the public library.  A woman walked by, an older woman whose face was mangled with the effects of plastic surgery: fillers in her cheeks and her lips gave her the look of a kind of caricature of youthfulness.  After she'd passed, we exchanged a look.  Then we exchanged a few words: my friend mentioned a conversation she'd had with her mother in which her mother was considering a cosmetic procedure and my friend spoke with some passion of her own need for a role model who resists that pressure, to show her what aging for a woman can look like.  I have heard this story before, and I like it—I like her mother's ability to listen and respond positively, to agree that yes, her refusal to undergo plastic surgery is a way of supporting her daughter and indeed supporting women—but hearing it, I also came to feel the gap between my friend's experience and mine. 

I have spent a lifetime asking—though not as articulately as my friend did, perhaps because I began younger—my mother not to diet.  I needed her to be a role model who resisted that pressure.  I needed there to be someone who supported me as I tried to figure out how to relate to my own body.  I have tried to find friends as untouched as possible by dieting (and this is why, I think, so many of my friends are singularly beautiful), but every woman I've ever met has some tinge, no matter how small, of weight panic in her private dealings with herself, and that tinge casts its shadow.  My friend got what she needed in the instance she described.  I didn't.  Haven't.  Ever. 

I have profound respect for the seriousness of the pain and fear that makes people undergo physical pain for the hope of beauty—no matter how serious the pain, how prolonged or how intense.  I understand what would make an older woman dream about having her face cut apart.  That's because I know what it's like to be on the other side of the beauty standard.  As a child, I fantasized about cutting my own body away.  The paper cutter in my elementary school art room could lop my upper-arm wiggle right off, I thought.  I thought it might be worth it.  What you want when you undertake that suffering is not just beauty itself, but to count.  To be listened to, to be seen.  My friend is an unusually beautiful woman; she does not know.  We are young and we are white.  She has never been outside the beauty standard.  

So I said that to her.  My voice broke a little.  I said, "You have never been outside the beauty standard."

She conceded she had not.  We sat there a moment in silence.  Then we talked about other things.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A List of Fat-Related Behavior

Some things that have changed in the past year or so about how I deal with fat (the macronutrient/substance, not adipose tissue): I cook with butter now.  I switched to full-fat yogurt, which I sometimes spice and top with a drizzle of straight olive oil, grassy green and peppery.  I gave up my oil-free moisturizers and cleansers and put jojoba oil on my face, straight, and have stopped washing it with soap.  I take a cod liver oil supplement that's nothing but fat.  I put heavy cream in my coffee.  I order cream soups.  I keep mayonnaise in my house.  I generally choose ice cream over sorbet (except when heat relief is the goal, or when there is a particularly good grapefruit sorbet).  I do not try to put the minimum of dressing on my salad.  I order (and sometimes prepare at home) bone marrow, and eat it with great gusto.  I never eat an egg white without the yolk that belongs to it (except in some egg white-requiring preparation: meringues or cocktails or whatever).  I save my bacon grease for cooking (caramelizing onions, roasting brussels sprouts).  I produce bacon grease in the first place.  When I was working on normalizing fat consumption, I think I went through three pounds of bacon a week, the big Wegman's store-brand packages.  These days, I eat red meat several times a week, up from maybe a few times a month.  I order grass-fed, humanely raised meat in 20-pound packages from a farm upstate (the more fat I eat, the more conscious I become of its quality).  I buy beef and chicken livers from Fleisher's in Park Slope.  Chicken livers fried in butter has become my favorite breakfast; the first time I made them, dubious, I hopped around my kitchen making noises after I put them in my mouth.  When I get a latte at Starbucks, I specify that it should be made with whole milk. 

Some possible effects: my cast iron skillets are beautifully seasoned; my skin looks better than it has since puberty; my nails aren't brittle anymore.  I can also say with relative confidence that the radical increase in my fat consumption has some relationship with my increased satiety and decreased food anxiety.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

About Pants

I own one pair of jeans.  They're Gap Long & Leans, size 20.  They're 100% cotton—not an iota of stretch.  I bought them in the winter of 2006.  When I bought them, I was the smallest I'd been as an adult; it was just after I'd had emergency surgery and had lost ten or fifteen pounds on top of already being at the bottom of my range.  I thought that two-weeks-of-starvation-induced-muscle-wasting drop was real; I thought I'd keep it.  I was wrong.  But from that brief deluded flare of insistence, I retain these pants.  My only pair of pants.

See, I don't really wear pants.  I haven't worn pants out of the house in three years, probably.  I have leggings for under things and for the gym, I have a pair of yoga pants for cleaning the bathroom and puttering around the house.  I used to have jeans.  Mostly Lane Bryant's; I liked their jeans back when I wore jeans. But as I've consolidated my skirts-and-dresses wardrobe, my jeans became neglected, then obsolete.  I got rid of them.  I think the first winter I was at grad school I still had a pair of pants—I remember wearing them in a snowstorm—but while I think I may have worn them once or twice on hung-over morning breakfast outings, I've been a skirts-and-dresses kind of lady, with near absolute exclusivity, for the past five or six years.  Skirts and dresses flex.  You can wear them at several sizes—a cardigan covers a multitude of small fit problems.  And because I'm big-assed, a garment that drapes over the hips gives me a lot of size play.  Also, for me, wearing skirts and dresses has been a way of fending off judgments of fat people as sloppy.  "I don't think I've ever seen you dressed down," I recall a friend from grad school saying to me awhile back.  That's because if I wear a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers, people don't look at me and think "adorably casual!"—there's the very strong possibility that they think I've forgotten to get dressed.  What looks like a choice on a size four looks like the total absence of investment on a size twenty. 

But these jeans have survived because of their symbolic value.  They are the biggest straight-size jeans around (Old Navy's "straight" sized line does not count, at least in my brain; in my experience at least the upper end of it is cut like plus—I take at least a full size smaller in their jeans than I do in Gap's—their straight 18 fits me easily); Gap feels ambivalent enough about carrying my size that they only sell it online and only in one inseam length (too long for me).  But back when I was a senior in college, back when I thought I'd figured it all out and was just waiting for my new, smaller, non-eating-disordered self to emerge, that shrinking would be a slow, steady, inevitability, I bought these pants to shrink into.  I bought them on eBay, as I recall; not from Gap.  What I liked about them when I bought them was their dirty, taupey wash; it felt somehow better than the indigo-or-suburbia wash situation in plus stores.  Like real jeans.  Real jeans for real girls.  I wanted to wear them as the harbingers of a different relationship with clothes & shopping.  I wanted to wear them as an imprimatur of normalcy. 

And I never could.  They never fit.  I don't remember if they buttoned but I know for a fact I never wore them outside.

I've been trying on these pants regularly the past few months.  Since this July, when I uncovered these pants during a move, they have become a part of my process and have gone from not being able to get all the way up my thighs to buttoning reliably but muffin-topping me in a serious way.  That's where we stand now, me and the pants.  They button pretty easily, but the muffin-top bulge means they're not really properly my size.  (Yet, affixes my mental sense of trajectory.)  I realize I am using them as a substitute for a scale (which I don't own).  I am using them to provoke or to assuage—mostly the latter.  Recently I became very concerned that I'd gained a bunch of weight.  I felt this way because I'd been stepping up my efforts to eat within a relatively brief amount of time from the time at which I feel hungry, and because I had my period and my face looked puffy.  Trying on the pants reassured me that I was just being neurotic, that I "could" continue working on my eating-when-I'm-hungry response time.  The pants were authorization.

And I'm trying them on, too, because when they fit (look at me saying "when," just like I always do when I've lost some weight) they will (just for grammatical agreement) mark some kind of categorical shift for me.  There are the world's categories, and then there are mine, and mine are mostly defined by clothing sizes.  This is an incredibly weird one that I'm defining here, because, as you'll recall, a Gap 20 is the extreme end of straight sizing (Old Navy is the only other straight-size retailer I know of that makes a "straight" 20, and Old Navy neither appeals to nor counts for me, for various arcane and unimportant reasons) and because the 20 doesn't come in my inseam length.  This is not really the opening of a major new set of clothing options.  I couldn't wear these pants without having them tailored.  And am I really going to have a seven-year-old pair of jeans altered?  Unlikely.  Even a new pair.  But still, the imminence of having these pants fit properly feels enticing.  It feels like someone, some big company, is saying that I'm almost normal.  Almost good enough.  And as much as I resent their definitions, their decisions, I want to be on the inside. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


A thing that's funny about my fourth-floor walk-up apartment is how much in touch it puts me with my relative physical abilities.  I climb those stairs near every day, sometimes two or three times a day, and while it is not my favorite thing, and does sometimes when I'm carrying things leave me a little blown, it doesn't seem to be harder for me than for other people.  A dear friend, a very tiny person, always has to stop on the third-floor landing.  Today I have plumbers tearing out a chunk of my bathroom wall (boo!) and they are carrying heavy things, but arrive full-on panting.  I have a lot of shame related to showing signs of exertion, like if I'm out of breath the only possible reason for that is that I'm a fat person—there were these eight flights of steep stairs in Beyoglu, Istanbul that we needed to climb, me and my sister and two friends of mine, last spring, and I needed to rest before they did, and I just about died of shame (the effort to keep your voice even & keep the hitch of exertion out of it, the forced flippancy of the announcement that you need a second)—but since that trip to Istanbul I've done a hundred thousand weighted squats and the situation seems to have been somewhat altered.  Last July, I sublet with my boyfriend in a third-floor walk-up and those stairs felt more onerous than these do.  Yes, I am somewhat less fat, but not a huge lot less fat—the difference in physical power is, I think, more than can be attributed to relative fatness.  Not least because one reads self-flagellating fatties on the internets who say they can barely walk to the mailbox or whatever at my current weight. 

This is just a note to myself.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

This Week

It is well past time to get back to the gym.  From last July to this January, I had a beautiful weight-lifting practice happening.  Then there was a time of dramatic life upheaval—I didn't have a place to live for several months, while I bought an apartment and flash-renovated it and moved in and now I'm an hour's travel from my beloved Bed-Stuy Y weight room.

No one is reading this, but I'm writing it.  This week.  Girl, this week.  Remember the times when you got under the bar facing the window looking out onto Jefferson St. and you felt so happy and so grateful you thought you might cry.  My body has been waiting for me to learn, I thought and scribbled somewhere.  My body is a wisewoman.  I am afraid of how much lighter my lifts will have to be and afraid that I will not like the new gym.  I am afraid that the magic is gone.  I am afraid that the new weight room will be full of the wrong kind of rack and the wrong kind of bar and the wrong kind of plates and the wrong kind of dudes.  But lifting got me through a tricky six months; it felt like a new kind of embodiment.  Strong & tough & determined. 

And yes, in thinking about starting it again, as in thinking about starting it for the first time, I think about being smaller.  I think about the shoulder muscles I can't see anymore.  But while I was lifting that was rarely the dominant thing.  I'd check my jaw and my waist in the mirror, but, my own sweet self: remember the first time you got the full set of 135-pound squats?  You damn near bawled with joy.  You have not had a lot of joy in your body lately; your sex drive has mysteriously tanked and your anxiety has kicked up to fever pitch.  You need some joy.  Your sensation up and rushing through you.  The way you could feel out to your own edges: walking, even sitting.  You need to get back into the gym.  This week.  Promise.  You don't have to lift anything; just go over there and see it.  Figure out the locker room, the membership fee; pre-contemplate the routine.  If you hate this gym, there are other gyms; you can figure this out.  But this one is across the street from your apartment, and cheap, and across the street from your apartment.  Just go inside and talk to someone.  This week.