You’d think that once upon a time, there had been some kind of catastrophic event. An awful moment suspended in time, never to be forgotten. A group of guys dominating the deep end, snickering when I took my cover-up off. Or maybe a girl, carefully arranged on a plastic chair, looking at me for just a minute too long, before sucking in her stomach and turning back to her friends.
You’d think there would be someone specific to blame. Someone who had made my skin feel prickly and hot. Someone who had succeeded in reducing me down to nothing, with just a casual sweep up and down. Someone who had made me feel like dropping my ice cream to the floor, right where I stood. Someone who had made me wish I could melt right along with it.
But the truth is, there wasn’t any real reason. At least not one I can name. I wasn’t self-conscious, and then I was. I liked to swim, and then all of a sudden — one summer — I didn’t.
I was normal, and then I was need to lose weight. I was a girl, and then I was a number. I was thin, and then I was not thin enough. Never thin enough.
I don’t know if the extra pockets of flesh were real or imagined. I don’t know if I had cellulite dotting the backs of my thighs or if anything ever really jiggled when I walked. I don’t know if I had folds of skin losing themselves in each other when I sat down, or if I was ever someone who would look great — if only she lost 10 pounds.
I don’t know why it felt like it mattered so much. So damn much. It was the only thing. I do know that it was so heavy, to carry around.
There were years with no photographs. Even now, I shy away from pictures. Look at my Instagram: I pretty much only take pictures of food. (Would you mind if we analyzed that another day?)
I spent years restricting. Quietly cutting. No ice cream, no chocolate, and no dessert. Then no cheese; then no carbs. I was 21 before I tried something in a pastry shell.
There were years that I dedicated to hiding every inch of exposed skin. Years that I wore tank tops tucked in under t-shirts. (Never tight.) I remember the year that I discovered the baby doll top — you know, the kind with the empire waist? I loved those. That was a good year. They were so forgiving. They covered the flare of my hips.
I dated a boy who didn’t like them — my hips. Dated a boy who did. Who thought curves were beautiful — so beautiful. Who kissed me for the first time, and stopped to gently tug my shirt back into place. It had ridden up, and I’d been trying desperately not to pause and jerk it back down. It might not seem like much to you, but it was the sweetest gesture, to me. It was the opposite of pushing. It was everything.
Slight spoiler alert, here: we weren’t a match for my own hate. There was just so much of it. I thought that if only I lost weight, then I would be happy. Ribs peeking through, hipbones jutting forward. That’s what I wanted.
I wanted something else, too. I wanted the confidence those girls had. I’d look at them almost obsessively. Where did they get that from, and where can I get it?
Happily, that all feels like a very long time ago. Do I still worry about my weight? Yeah, I do. Some days more than others. But it’s not my life anymore. I’d like to think I’m only worrying as much as the next girl. And I really wish that none of us would worry.
When it comes down to it, I would so much rather be friends with someone who saw a bakery and exclaimed, oh my gosh, we have to go in! We have to try their cookies — I’ve read so much about them. Want to get one of each? We can split them.
I want to be around people like that, and I want to be a person like that.
Because do you know what I think is beautiful now? I think beautiful is a smile as big as the cookie you’re holding. Just pure, unadulterated joy. And dimples, two of them. And eyes that turn up at the corners, and fingers that need to be licked, and napkins that we’re going to need for the road.
And do you know what I think, honestly? I think we should all be trying to look more like you.