I am an upbeat, heartfelt, engaged, enthusiastic person. I love my work, my friends, my family, my life. I have sad moments, sometimes about the way my body is treated, and more often about deeper uncertainties about my life and the world around me. But that is a deeply unsatisfying answer for the acquaintances, coworkers and strangers who rely on bodies to make sense of their lives and relationships, a shorthand for character and a glyph of success or failure.
But sadness is wily, fluid, finds its way into unexpected places. And happiness isn’t monolithic, nor is it a point of arrival, a place to stay. Our lives are not stasis, not carefully groomed worlds in suspended animation. We move forward, clumsily. We make mistakes, and we work hard to do better the next time. We lose relationships. We lose loved ones. Sometimes we fail; sometimes succeed. But we keep working hard in our messy circumstance. A body won’t change the tangled nature of our gorgeous, inconvenient lives.
When I told my father’s friend that I could be happy now, all of that was thrust into the light. If I could be happy at a size 26, then anyone’s happiness might be more complex than the size of their clothing. If I can be happy now, maybe he could, too. And that might mean tackling an unfulfilling relationship, digging deep into the recesses of the parts of himself he doesn’t like. It might mean that pouring all of his sadness into ruthless exercise regimens and flash-in-the-pan diets doesn’t make as much sense as it used to. Our bodies have given structure to our sadness.