Lately, I find myself paralyzed by the realization that you can look in the mirror, recognize your person standing before you, but not actually see your body as it is.
A mirror is a piece of glass, buffed until it reflects everything your mind is capable of seeing through a combination of cones and light and filters and marks left on your waistline from where your jeans spent all day pressing against your belly button, reminding you that you exist — and that there are consequences to existing.
I’ve felt this way before, when I was much younger. My first period came when I was 11 years old. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was taller and wider than all of the boys and girls in my class.
I nestled my pain into loud music. T-shirts with anarchy symbols and ripped jeans and Converse with my favorite lyrics scrawled on the inner sole. I even convinced my parents to let me buy the semi-semi-temporary purple hair dye that one time, so on sunny days at recess, you could see flecks of maroon in my hair. I embraced my braces and decorated them with lime green rubber bands. The state of the body beneath these things did not matter to me. It was merely a canvas for a larger vision of myself, one that transcended thighs and folds of skin.
That time is now over. I am 25 and my BMI is 24. I recently reviewed the DSM guidelines for anorexia nervosa and was a bit sad to see I didn’t meet the criteria. At least it would provide some explanation for my current state. Unfortunately, for all of my internal warfare, I can’t seem to lose any weight. If anything, the more I think about food the more I want to eat it. Food is delicious, it is beautiful, it is everything to me. Flavors rolling over my tongue and marking the points in my day. Giving me rhythms and comforts to look forward to. Cheese and bread and ice cream. Though I know I am taking in calories, I don’t feel it’s the food that betrays me. The food is good. It is my body that is bad, for refusing to conform to my ideal of its own will.
My partner, who is smaller than me, touches his hips and sighs that he is too thin. My friend, who is smaller than me, touches her hips and wails that she is too large. My mirror tells me nothing, and so I walk through the streets, looking at the women that pass by me. Looking at their calves and biceps and asking myself, “Is that what I look like?” “Is that what size I am?’ I see a woman’s stomach straining against her jeans, or the slight reveal of a skin bulge above the tightness of a bra band and think, “Oh god, oh god. That must be how everyone sees me.”
It feels safe to say that my body has not changed at all in the past year, save for the fluctuations we are assured are so typical and nothing to skip lunch over. My clothes seem to fit the same. I still reach for the same sizes when I go to Uniqlo, but feel a deeper satisfaction when I pull on my pants to find them a perfect fit, as though I was bracing myself, expecting for the worst. Expecting that one day I will wake up and it will all be true. I am out of control of my body.
I was shopping the other day with my best friend of many years. We were in dressing rooms next to each other, and I came out to show her a pair of linen pull-on shorts I had liked on the rack. They fit fine, but my round ass pulled slightly at the fabric in the back. My friend took a hard look at them and said, “They’re cute, but I wish they were looser. Maybe try on a large?” I hurried back into the dressing room to spare her the sight of my lip pathetically quivering in response. Maybe try on a large. A LARGE. Me? A large? Christ.
Not long before this incident, I purchased Spanx, and wore them for the first time to a concert. They were barely concealed under the pink minidress I was certain would look disgusting if it did not bely a completely smooth body under its surface. Over the course of the night, the Spanx became extremely painful. After ingesting several gin and tonics, as well as a lime rice bowl (perhaps the healthiest thing on the restaurant’s menu), I could feel the elastic cutting into me, but to the outside world I remained perfectly sleek.
Then, the guilt. I am a woman who loves women. I aim to live a life that does not judge others based on their physical appearance, yet here I am, all to clearly willing to judge myself, to gaze upon a female body with disgust. I can’t help but feel this is some sort of betrayal not only to myself, but to my very concept of womanhood. How can one so shallow and self-obsessed be a feminist worth anything?
Perhaps this crisis of body, like the one that preceded it, will be outgrown with time. I can arrive in my 30’s successful and confident on the basis of my work and mind alone. My figure will be done figuring itself out and settle into the rhythms of physical maturity, and situations in which to wear a pink minidress will have evaporated themselves in the process.
But my fear is that I will never figure out what I look like. At least not without really trying, without really investing in the type of self-love that draws your gaze up from the irrelevant body and fixates only on the spark in the eye. The type of smile that invokes beauty, body be damned.
I saw a woman like that today. I was sitting on the bench outside of a soft-serve ice cream place during my lunch break. I had chosen that particular establishment over the one around the corner, the one that makes rich gelato and scoops it thick into narrow cones, because this one made their ice cream out of fruit and served it in vegan cones that totaled just 85 calories per serving — I still ordered the biggest thing they had on the menu, though.
God, I’m tired.
I am living my life as though there is a future me out there somewhere that I must work to unlock. My body now is merely temporary, and through some combination of will and witchcraft, it will appear to my liking in an unspecified time frame.
Maybe this crisis of body will end when I am able to accept that there is no future for my body, only the present. Only the blood in my veins and the fat on my thighs and the spark in my eyes hidden behind the doubt, hidden behind the dust on the mirror.