the weight we carry

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I live in a city where women are impossibly thin and they can’t see it. They juice-fast, book back-to-back spin and bootcamp classes, and traipse around Manhattan in expensive gear. They are disheveled, deceptively so, with their hair a bit mused {falling out of that pony or bun} and a bead of sweat gathered at the brow. They are in the business of reduction, and the hunger for smallness is a constant, exhausting state. They say, You look great! Did you lose weight? They say, after they overhear a girl complain about the lack of double-0 petites, I don’t touch bread baskets. They say, covering their stomach with their hands, I’m on this new diet that I found on Refinery. They say, in a voice sonnet-small, How can I get small, small, small?

Mother of fuck. We can build magnificent things with the amount of effort we devote to reducing the size of our bodies.

I used to be that girl in the changing room whinging about the lack of negative integers. I was also someone who subsisted on 1200 calories a day and worked out seven days a week. I was also someone with a drug and alcohol problem, but it didn’t matter because people often complimented my tiny waist, my unwavering discipline. Looking at old photographs, it’s hard to not want to return to that country, a time when all the small sizes fit and my hip to chest ratio was the focus of other’s envy — but I remind myself of who I was then: a frightened girl, hardly a woman, who could only exert control over her body while the rest of her life fell asunder.

After a midday workout class, my friend and I fall into the elevator and I wonder aloud why we were the only women sweating. My friend says, You realize we were the fat kids in gym class. We talk about body shifts in our 30s, and tacitly agree that we aren’t who we used to be.

I read a post where a woman sees a rendering of herself and compliments the artist on the fact that she made her so skinny. The artist responds that she drew the woman as she saw her. I look at the drawing and the woman and understand wholly and completely why it’s hard for her to reconcile the two. Why is that skinny is the highest compliment many women think they can pay? I then flip through images of me from a decade past and wish I’d love myself more. I wish I knew that the body I had been given was enough — I didn’t need to go a decade-long remodeling project. I didn’t need to ruin what was already beautiful.

I still struggle with this. Every hour of every day. Age gives you perspective and knowledge, but it doesn’t make realizations, or any subsequent regret, any easier to bear. I talk about being strong, but then I find myself staring at the size of women’s thighs on the subway. This past weekend I see a friend and immediately cry out about how wonderful she looks. Did you lose weight? And as soon as the words leave my mouth, I want to pull them back. I want to rewind and delete. I say, fuck, no, you know what I mean, and she nods and I stutter, and I feel awful for not being more vigilant. For not believing in what I want to believe every hour of every day. For not buying into the line I’ve been feeding myself for the past two years. I believe but it’s hard.

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All of this puts me to thinking of India. I think about the juxtaposition of women covered in full-length burkas and women who walk with their flawed {at least from the perspective of an American} bodies on full display. They’re proud of their beauty, unapologetic even, and I look at the women with their midsections all out for the world to see, and how we constantly, unconsciously, pull at our shirts to cover and hide, and this breaks my heart. I live amidst abundance, but those who are abundant are also desperate for the minimal, the elimination, the whisper of a body rather than the shout of it. I envied the women in India, and wished for their confidence. I think about my childhood in Brooklyn and how Puerto Rican and Dominican women strutted proud in their plumage while my mother was constantly covering me up. If I was so healthy, as my mother kept telling me, why was she covering my body as if it were a thing worth being ashamed of?

This is a horror to which I’ve returned, and I can’t quite reconcile it. I’m back in New York, back to my fitness classes and brunch dates, and India is still a specter. The dichotomy of it, the largeness of it, and here I am, assaulted by one constant word, and that word being small.

18 thoughts on “the weight we carry

  1. So I was at a women’s networking event last night. It’s a monthly meeting of rockstar women (truly impressive careers) that come together to eat, support one another, and discuss a specific topic. Usually there’s some sort of presentation from an expert (be it financial, wine/ spirits related, etc), but the format is fluid, open, and warm. In short, it’s a nice night. Last night’s topic was around fitness. A former biz dev manager at Equinox was going to walk us through the various NYC fitness/food/diet trends and foster a discussion around figuring out what works best for OUR body. I was totally on board with that. But barely minutes in, the conversation devolved into what fat level of Greek yogurt we should be consuming. When the recommended answer was not full fat, I felt like a complete outsider. And it also really broke my heart. Mind you, the majority of the women in this room were the ones you described in the post above.

    I am thin, and have been labeled as skinny, so I often feel like I can’t comment on these things. But hearing those women go back and forth about how we should limit our bites (like celebrities do), and how almonds supposedly slow down your metabolism, and BLAH BLAH BLAH just made me want to scream. And again, cry for them. I feel so thankful to have grown up in a home where real, homemade food was seen as a beautiful, beautiful thing. Food is my favorite way to connect with people (as you know). This past Saturday I spent the afternoon in Brooklyn in a friends backyard eating bread and cheese, a massive salad, rosé, and salted caramels. To think some people could not enjoy that afternoon in the same way because they’d be focused on the bread they couldn’t eat sounds like one of the worst ways to live life.

    And yet, I get it. Skinny is treated as the highest form of currency, yes in this entire country- but especially in this city. Regardless of our weight I think we all experience the thought (and probably multiple times a day), “if my body were X, life would be so much better.” But the problem with X is that even if/when we get to X, we fill it with another X. And then another. And then another. It’s the same with our careers, finances, love lives, etc. I’m totally guilty of that pattern too, but sometimes it’s really like enough is enough. This is life. Like RIGHT now. So either eat the bread or don’t, but know whether you eat it or not is not going to equate to greater hapiness or self love in the long run. Happiness is something entirely different. And I’ll let you know when I figure that one out!

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    1. Clara,

      It’s funny you mention food because I was reading the article about Soylent in The New Yorker while I was in India (the irony of all of it doesn’t escape me in the least), and while I understand, philosophically and pragmatically, the founder’s rationale for creating this product, I balked at the idea of losing my very social connection to food. I straddle, much as you’ve noted above, two strange worlds where food is vilified and celebrated, and it’s a scary one. Exercising constant, consistent balance is not as thrilling as skirting the extremes, and I wonder, much as you’ve also noted, what happens to people when they get to a specific size, or a bank account. What then? The fall is bottomless, and when you realize this, it might be too late.

      Reading your comment made me also check myself on vilifying thinness. I have friends who are naturally thin and have an incredible relationship with their bodies (and some who don’t) and I don’t mean to say that thinness is evil, rather I worry about people who see a body size as an end goal rather than a natural state. Being a certain size or having a certain number of zeros in your bank account won’t make you happier — it’s fleeting! — it’ll just make you hungrier, insatiably so.

      I’ve finally reconciled the $ side of things in a real way, but the weight thing, well, that’s a continued work in progress.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh girl, I didn’t think you were vilifying thinness at all. I have the same exact worry as you- end goal vs. natural state. In short, we’re on the same page :).

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  2. Oh boy. That woman was totally me. Foot in mouth. Similar to how you felt after complimenting your friend, I almost deleted my instagram and then said – “eh, whatever.. I’ll leave it up.” :-(

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    1. Grace,

      I absolutely didn’t mean that part in the pejorative, at all. I think it was more of an example of how we’re all human– even with the best intentions. I’m hoping that was what my post got across!

      Warmly, Felicia

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a wonderful post. I’m still working on appreciating the body I have, I hope to carry it proudly like the women you saw in India someday soon.

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  4. Great writing Felicia. I’ve been struggling with this more than I care to admit. I’ve gained a few pounds and I don’t spend hours at the gym like I used to, but the truly sad part is that I feel guilty for NOT feeling guilty about it! Ooof. While training for a half marathon I lost weight and was down to my smallest size ever, and while that was cool I guess, I still wasn’t happy with myself then because I didn’t have time to lift weights and felt ‘skinny fat’, as they call it. I mean, really, it’s never enough!
    My husband is a great reminder for me- it’s not sustainable to run 25-30 miles per week, he prefers me at my ‘normal’ and tells me so, he reminds me that things and people change and I have different priorities. But still, I worry.

    You’re right about thinness/skinniness being so harped upon and being the ideal that we’re all striving for. And why? Because when we get there we move the mark, as Clara said above.

    A couple of things: I remember reading on Cup of Jo some time ago that the conversations that people have with little boys start out like “What’s your favorite sport? What’s your favorite toy?” but the conversations we have with little girls go something like “I like your dress/shoes/shirt” and “You look pretty.” And kids notice, and little girls start wanting to make sure they look good in their dress/shirt and that people find them pretty. It was alarming to me. I took notice because my husband is an elementary school teacher and I’m occasionally around small children.
    Something else, I’ve noticed a huge uptick in fitness articles and paleo/clean eating on blogs and while that’s great, I hope bloggers emphasize health in lieu of losing weight. I know it’s a trend, but I still worry about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In recent years, I’ve been mindful of how I compliment girls vs. boys. I no longer tell a girl she’s “pretty” or that her outfits are “cute,” I compliment them on what they do rather than what they look like. I tell my best friend’s young daughter that she’s creative, smart, witty, funny, etc. Pretty is part of the picture, but it’s not the whole of it.

      Excellent point.

      Warmly, f.

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  5. This post really hits home with me. I turned 46 this year and am struggling with a body that wants (needs?) to be softer, rounder, curvier than it has ever been. Do I accept this? Or fight it? Now, I feel like I would have to wage a full-on war against myself to get back to where I was, much less stay there. Do I want that? Can’t I just RELAX? I stopped coloring my hair quite a few years ago, telling myself that I wanted to just be me, whatever that is. I am at least 50% gray. What really surprises me is that I can embrace the hair, but not my current dress size. Why is it different?

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    1. Maura,

      Perhaps it’s the challenge of the control? The level of conformity? I’ve a considerable amount of greys myself (I got greys in my late 20s, and I’m now 38), and I color them for aesthetic reasons (wiry, odd against my black hair and pale skin), but I think I’ll go full silver when I’m a bit older.

      The body thing is a strange one, as I’ve been on an all out civil war against myself for several years. It’s tiring, no? It’s self-defeating, yes? I’ve been giving this some real thought, and I’m coming to this: I have this one life (depending upon on what you believe) and why should I spend it obsessing over the size of a body that will only disappear into the earth. I’m trying (so hard!) to focus on eating healthy, achieving balance, working out, and if my body wants to stay a certain size as a result, I think I just need to give in.

      Maybe we can channel that energy into something we could create?

      Warmly, Felicia

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  6. Hello Felicia, I discovered your blog thru a Deco Paint page… So I guess your words were really trying to get me.
    I´m 53 and been fat most of my life. The scale once got 150kg and.. Being 50 I went to a doctor who taught me healthy eating and I went from 137,400 the minute she weighed me, to a reasonable 102kg in three years. Never went back to the big numbers.
    Food has been love for me. The love I didn´t receive from my mother, the love I didn´t from my husband.
    Fat has been a trench where I walked to protect myself from violence. A way to put distance in between an agressive husband and my life.
    I didn´t know how to speak out my problems, so I ate my words in chocolate sandwiches – two loads of chocolate and words in between – . I was fat, more fat, and more…. Sad.
    Husband left us -four children and myself- when I was 42. That was a big change and relief. I felt relieved from fear and beating. And fat started to dissapear.
    As we were left without money and legal processes are very long here were we live, there were times when dandelion was salad, soup, and pancakes sole ingredient.
    After a very long trial – eleven years since I suited for divorce – the Judge finally found him guilty and pronounced the so needed words: You´re free.
    For some psicological reason, I think more fat will come out from me – as if those kilos were still on my back and body as a result of still being married to such a bad person. Some guilt for having chosen such a father for my children, to whom he´ll be a father forever although he´s not my husband anymore.
    You see… Argentina´s women in high society also want the slim figure, working women obtain better positions while being slim rather than fat.
    I just tried to survive. Had no time to think on being slim.
    It´s not that easy sometimes.

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  7. A fantastic piece about a pretty universal issue. I go through a constant cycle of trying to lose weight, while simultaneously thinking how silly it is. I’m fit, I’m healthy and I love food, yet constantly need to apologise for all this because I’m not skinny. I have been skinny in the past but only through borderline starvation. I remember a girl I hadn’t seen in a while actually saying “oh my god, you look great, do you have an eating disorder?”(I didn’t). It’s nice to hear other people’s perspectives on this.

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