This summer I caught wind of a meme comparing a woman’s legs to frankfurters. Much like a wax figure in a magazine, the joke was to figure out which of the photographs were legs and which were hot dogs. But unlike the wax figure, we were invited to compare a body part to an object, a sausage that represented the entrails and scraps of another animal. While all of my friends laughed and observed the smoothness of skin and the optimal tanning of the legs, I was incensed. At the time I didn’t understand why I was so enraged; I’d seen far worse, as I’d become somewhat desensitized to the crudeness that tends to circulate its way online, only to find its way to my inbox.
At the same time, I grew tired of seeing the random body parts of my friends on Instagram. A pack of abs with the head cut off, a scissor of tawny legs where the camera just captured the slope of a stomach and the puff of a bikini, manicured feet, and a suggestion of a hip — all of these images appeared to me as if they emerged from celluloid, a 60s horror movie where the villain wheels out a cart of mannequin body parts meant to represent the victim. As if to say we’re nothing but a mess of limbs. We are nothing but a toned leg, a taut stomach, a lifted breast.
Let us apply a pretty filter to this object. Yes, let’s.
For twenty years I raged a war against my body and I was determined to win. Subsisting on very little, I ran at least five miles a day, and found myself resembling a film negative of someone who used to be a person. But I was thin! I was the woman who whined about the lack of negative integers on the racks (yes, that woman)! I thought a diet of Lean Cuisine, Starbucks, and the occasional salad was the epitome of healthy eating, but it needn’t matter because I was inching my way to less than zero.
Isn’t it funny how weight is the only loss we celebrate? We whittle down to hip and bone and the applause is deafening. Yet when we balloon, there is another kind of deafening, a whisper and raised brow. An invitation to come spinning, a have a taste of my green juice, a look at my thigh gap, a nothing ever tastes as good as skinny feels, a maybe Zara changed its sizing.
Until you become the woman that only stares at women’s legs on the subway and on the street, and wonder why everyone is a photocopy of everyone else, and more importantly, why you insist on directing your own horror movie?
It’s taken me years, years to lay down my armor and sword and accept that I will never be as thin as I was in my twenties. Yet, I will never be as miserable. A few years ago, I called armistice on this war against self and skin, but it’s hard. It’s hard to see the years tick by like a metronome and know that while I’m eating my kale and doing my yoga and indulging in a treat or two, I’ll never look like that again, unless I’m prepared to sacrifice. And then I think about that word, sacrifice, and I realize I’m been humming that tune for as long as I can remember, and then I think of a new word, kindness.
Why is it that we are so kind to our friends, lovers, and strangers, but we are so unkind, almost cruel, to ourselves? Why is it that we accept a comparison of a limb to a piece of pig? Why is it that we must be surgical about the way we portion our plate, our life?
Every day I remind myself that although I’m not as thin as I once was, I’m strong. I eat an extraordinary amount of healthy food that doesn’t come out of a convenience box. I am more than the sum of my parts. I’m also training my eyes to move from the legs to the eyes to the heart, mind and beyond.
And if I want a pumpkin doughnut muffin, I’m not going to sacrifice the rest of my day.
INGREDIENTS: Courtesy of Martha Stewart, Everyday Food, 2010, modified slightly
For the batter
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/3 cup almond milk
1 1/4 cups pure pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
For the sugar coating
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. In a small bowl, whisk together almond milk and pumpkin puree. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine. Always start, and end with, the flour.
Using an ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measure, scoop the batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine coconut palm sugar and cinnamon. Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack.