*I wrote this piece in or around 2007, and could write forever on the subject of body, weight, diets and all that jazz – in fact, I think I have, with this being just one iteration of that endless seemingly saga…thanks for reading. 

I want a dollar for every leg lift I have ever done, because then I would never have to work again. I want a dollar for every day I skipped a meal, or two, two meals. I want a dollar for every day in my twenties that I ate a pound of apples for breakfast, and nothing else until dinner, which was a salad. I want a dollar for every time I ate a muffin for breakfast in my thirties, and nothing else all day, again, until dinner, which was a salad. I want a dollar for every time I ate soup for dinner, or saladsalad, salad, and nothing else. I want a dollar for every can of tuna in fucking water I’ve eaten on lettuce leaves (Julia Child says use the tuna in oil for a reason, people: it adds flavor – remember flavor?). I want a fucking dollar for every time I criticized my female body because my Goddess I’d be so rich, especially if I added all the times I apologized for my imperfect female body, out loud and silently, especially silently, to others and most of all to myself. I want a dollar for all the diets I have been on, and all the schemes and plans and bullshit I put myself through to be what I could not be, which was as thin as my older sister. That she was anorexic during my middle school years, that she was bulimic during my high school and college years, and I was not, as well as clueless about how she stayed so fucking thiiiiiiiiiiiiin, doesn’t make a damned bit of difference; it fucked with my head. I want my money and I want it now. 

No one – no one – knew about anorexia and bulimia then, not outside a few psychiatrists, therapists, doctors or medical types; I sure as hell didn’t, when I was 10 or 14 or 19. Karen Carpenter was still alive; she didn’t die until 1983 when I was 24 years old, and my older sister 27 and finally, finally coming to the end of her active eating disorders, before her third and final pregnancy, but – to me, for me – the damage was done. The distortion. The crippling comparison and mis-interpretation of everything my body, the temple of my soul, was and meant to me, and to others, oh yes, to others. Temple of my soul? Bahahahahahahahaha. 

Wikipedia defines Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), thusly: it is a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part or appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix their dysmorphic part on their person. Do I think I have BDD? No, not in the sharply clinical sense, but then I don’t think I have any disorders. On the other hand, I have always thought my body was bigger than it is and was; this misapprehension on my part has become more apparent with every year that passes, and with the gift of perspective, the gift of aging, and its close twin – if you’re lucky – of wisdom. I look at photos of the years I starved and deprived myself to meet a fantasy goal I could never attain, years when I was, by any real measure, in great physical shape, and see that I was fit, maybe even thin or at least lean, and always, always active and healthy. 

But I didn’t see it, I didn’t believe it. In my mind, I was huge. Huge. Thunder thighs, massive round head with chubby cheeks and a gut that went on for days. In my own mind, I was huge. This fills me with sorrow. What was I thinking? Why was I thinking it? Why couldn’t I see what was right in front of me, and why did I care so much about something as superficial as ‘thinness’? Jesus H. Fucking Christ. Of all the things to obsess over – and I get it, given the crazy-ass characters I lived with as a child, and our fucked up culture – what a stupid fucking thing to be obsessed with, feeding right into the ka-billion-dollar industry of supplements, and diets and food plans, and forever after un-used exercise equipment and on and on and on represents. Bullshit. It’s all bullshit.   

I wish I had a dollar for every diet my mother was on, for every doctor she consulted about her weight, for every time I heard her complain about her weight, followed by another bowl of ice cream (or two), another bout of despair, of castigating herself, of bemoaning her fate, moans that she assuaged with hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce, scoops of fresh ice cream from the ice cream soda fountain in our dining room, a relic of the drug store my dad owned, along with an endless supply of cheap crackers and cookies and candy bars. Endless. Our fridge, or the deep compartment in the soda fountain, contained blocks of pale white American cheese as long as my ten-year-old arm, purchased direct from the dairy-man, Mr. White, who once upon a time used to deliver glass bottles of milk door-to-door, but now instead delivered to supermarkets and the few small groceries left in our area. Buying direct from him because he liked my parents (was he a former student of my mom?), we were able to get tubs of ice cream, 5 gallons each of vanilla and mint or plain chocolate chip, which mustn’t be left to spoil, for that was waste and waste was a sin. But, also, another message was ‘do not eat your mother’s food’, as she sat waiting for my dad to come home for work, guarding the kitchen from her perch at the end of the yellow Formica topped table, do not go overboard with the ice cream, do not eat two or God forbid four slices off the block of cheese at a time, after school or after playing outside, because doing so made her angry, sloppily and thoughtlessly wasting food like that, by eating it. I know, it makes no sense, right? Right. One summer she bought a bushel of cauliflower from the farm down the road, cauliflower she deep fried and froze in gallon bags she stuck in our basement freezer, but then she refused to let me have any, no one else dared ask, and my older, favored sister was surviving on carrot and celery sticks, iceberg lettuce leaves, hard-boiled eggs, and air. So asking her to ask was also out. We had to save it, and save it we did, until it was ruined, freezer-burned, and had to be tossed out, but at least I didn’t eat my mom’s special fucking fried cauliflower. Thank goodness. Thank God. Thanks be to God. Be grateful for what you do have, she always said. She had a point, but wasn’t the fried cauliflower something we all had? These were the kinds of questions I asked my mother that made her palms itch, itching to slap me, which she did, although she preferred to use the back of her restless, meaty hand.  

My mom was morbidly obese for much of my life, and hers. At 5’3” tall, she weighed, on average, between a ‘light’ (to her and to us, so conscious of her weight as we, her children, her daughters, all were) 180 to a very unhappy 270 pounds. She tried Weight-Watchers, she ‘prayed down the weight’ with God at the Catholic Church, she did a week long fast at the Omega Institute with a cousin’s wife who was even bigger than she was, and the cousin’s mother-in-law, my aunt Sally, a woman who was not obese, just chunky and furious, filled to the gills, simply stuffed with rage, due to her philandering husband, my mom’s brother Norm, a first-class creep who undermined her confidence with every conquest he made, and he made a lot. My mother tried eating celery and carrot sticks for dinner, drinking vinegar and cutting off the fat on every piece of meat she made for her roast beast loving husband, but nothing worked, and nothing ever would, not really. There was one period that she did really well, was healthier, dropping a load of her excess pounds in her sixties. This seeming miracle happened because she invested in one on one work, meeting weekly with a Nutri-system coach, getting the help she actually needed, which more than anything was to be heard, to be understood, to be supported. But she gave that up after less than a year, saying it was an extravagance she could not justify, driving 40 miles in all weather, spending that kind of money on gas alone, even though she had the money (or rather, my dad did), the energy crisis was long over for fuck’s sake, but then there was the cost of the consultation time, and the food, not worth it, even though it helped her, and was one of the few times she did something just for herself, spent money and time on herself. Oh mom. 

I wish I had another dollar for all the diets my friends have been on, for all ways when we’re dining together that I see their eyes calculate how many pieces of bread and butter they’re ‘allowed’, and the other crazy-ass shit they’ve done to meet their own bullshit body expectations. I wish I had a dollar for all the times their bodies, and mine, have been commented on, spoken about, by men on the street, in the gym, in life, period – as if their bodies and my body, their weight and my weight, were public property, or at least open for public discussion by men. I wish I had a dollar for every goddamned time some mother-fucking man, old, young, middle-aged, and fat or thin and everything in-between, has told me how much he liked this part of me or that part of me or how he’d like to do this or that to me, including what clothes he wanted me to wear and I am not, let me be clear, simply talking about my various lovers, I am talking about strangers, or bare acquaintances. Oh, what I could do with the money from all of these things! Open a rape-crisis center. Buy me a bushel of cauliflower. Donate to the Ms. Foundation. Fund Planned Parenthood forever. Brother fuckers.  

I want a fucking dollar for every single fucking time some respectable married man has hit on me from the time I was 14 and started working in my dad’s store on weekends and in the summer, to now, to this day over 40 years later, all while keeping their respectable married man reputations intact, just trying it on, trying me on, as if I were a pair of fucking pants, just testing me, to see if I’d go for it. Fuckers.  

I want a dollar for every page of every book I read as a middle-schooler while ignoring or trying to ignore the sound of my older sister thumping and whapping her thighs against the floor of our porch, right below my bedroom, thump, thump, thump, whapp, whapp, whapp, as she attempted to whack and whap and thump away the non-existent fat on her anorexic thighs. I don’t remember when it began, the obsession my big sister had with her weight, perhaps it was always there, but I remember well the day she asked me to get on the scale, after which she compared her weight, 72, to mine, 77. She was three years older than I was, and she told me then that her goal weight was 70. I was in 4th grade, or 5th. I remember the conversation and the numbers on the scale in our upstairs bathroom better than I do my exact age, the black and white dial, stark against the ugly orange 70s carpet. And I remember suddenly becoming aware in that moment with her in that sun-filled room, that weight was a thing, a concept not tied to the doctor’s office, or the nurse’s office in school, where height and weight and eyes and ears were checked annually, just figures in a notebook that meant about as much as our ages, right? Of course, they, the numbers, meant something to someone, which is why they wrote them down, but that was outside us, outside ourselves. The adults needed to know, because we should be, perhaps, at a certain level of learning or muscle mass, but that was all. I knew that my friend Debbie H. was shorter and skinnier than the rest of us in our grade, and always had been, but then she was part Syrian (so exotic!), so maybe that explained it? Debbie wanted to be taller, and not so scrawny, but you understood that, that was within the realm of what was easily understood, even at 8 or 9 years old. But after my sister pointed out my weight to me, things began to change, and I began to notice myself, notice others, as a direct reflection of what I felt was my older sister’s exacting and eagle eye laid upon me, weighing me up, an eye of particular brightness and power which, over time, became my own. She thought I was fat, and needed to be careful or I’d end up like our mother. I didn’t feel fat, but I was heavier than she was, and bigger, bigger in energy, in space taken up, and for the first time of many, many times going forward, I felt self-conscious in a way I hadn’t before.     

There is a thing that happens, to women, to girls, when they get to a certain age, when we get our periods, and the body we knew, and knew well, is no longer the same. This another marker of self-consciousness, a time when expectations and awareness of otherness increases by leaps and bounds, when the culture’s eye, the dominant default white male eye, takes over, and it becomes less about health, much less, than it becomes about desirability, about who has ‘what it takes’. Perhaps this has changed, perhaps it’s different now, forty-plus years after I went through it myself, but I’m not sure, I don’t think so; it may have changed but not as much as I would wish it to. Sitting on Main Street in my hometown with a 20-year-old female friend of mine, a man, much closer to my age by far, starts frisking around her in a way I know all too well, ignoring me, which frisking makes us both laugh after he walks away. He has a sausage dog, and the juxtaposition of the dog, its tail wagging, long body low to the ground right next to his master’s top-heavy chunkiness, his stomach so obviously sucked in, his shoulders up around his ears to compensate, is funny. His body reminds me of my long-deceased aunt, the one with the philandering husband, my scummy Uncle Norm. The truth is, this man is not attractive to either of us, although we don’t comment on it, to one another or out loud, as he is simply not attractive or desirable to us because he is such an obvious goddamn fool.

I wish I had a dollar for every single time I refused to look at myself in the mirror, or that I looked and saw nothing to like in the glass. I wish I had a dollar for every single hair I plucked or shaved away. I wish I could get a refund of every facial I paid for over the years, every cream, every special lotion/spray/mask/foundation/infusion/vitamin/supplement blah blah blah I bought with money I generally didn’t have but scraped together for the ‘good of the cause’, which was to make myself better for my own eyes, because it is there I am caught, and torn, and un-pretty.

My sister healed from her disorders, but she is still a size zero. My sister stopped purging to save on her grocery bills, to save her teeth and her marriage. She stopped thumping her thighs on our porch and other porches, she stopped blocking up the toilets in our house and in her apartment, and in all the places where the vomit brigade does their work. She is still thin as a rake, and as different from me in temperament and energy as she ever was, and that’s ok. I can spend time with her, I can even eat in her presence without finding myself so big the weight of it, of me, shames me. I can exist in the world of her thinness and whatever that is and was to her, and be okay. 

My body is my own, and it has never betrayed me, though I have betrayed my body time and again, and others have betrayed me by using it, by taking advantage of my vulnerability – my cousin, the one who raped me when I was 8, most of all, most damagingly. I know now this was the act of a weeny ratfuck, a piece of shit – but more than that it was the act of an opportunist, a mother fucking coward who took advantage of a child who loved and trusted him, simply to get off. What the fuck is that about? It’s about power, I know this, but still, we are so hard on women, and on women’s bodies. We are so hard on ourselves for not being whatever the fuck the going standard for bodies is. We are so hard. We take out so much shit on the playing field that is not a fucking playing field and never should have been, the realm of girls’ and women’s bodies. And we are so poor, so poor. I wish I had a dollar for every single time I lost and betrayed my body by not being okay with it, and myself.