the weight we carry

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.


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.

the gathering kind