The Scale of Failure
Like most women, my childhood and my body image in are inextricably wound together.
My clearest memories of my grandparent’s house include standing in front of their full-length bathroom mirror at age ten and examining my butt for roundness- not too much roundness, but enough to be told by teenage cousins that I was “getting a booty”. My sister and I share memories of trying to convince our mother of how skinny she looked, at our father’s instruction. For her part, my mother spent her years post-childbirth obsessing over thinness, healthiness, beauty. I wanted to look like my mom when I grew up, but my mom didn’t.
Fast-forward to junior high. My double-d cup chest was the envy of my friends and sister, likely because they’d never had their ribs jabbed by the requisite underwire of dd-cup bras. But my waist was thin, my butt was round, and I felt pretty. I felt like boys noticed me more because of my shape, and even girls were friendlier than they had been before I hit puberty. This stayed true through high school most of high school, though I didn’t do anything to maintain my form other than eat what my body-conscious mother cooked and take my PE classes in the summer. When I left for college, the freshman 15 were far from my mind. I went into college weighing 130 pounds at 5’4” tall. I graduated 35 pounds heavier.
I avoided scales for four years. Between my general dislike of exercise, newly-discovered passion for body-positivity, and general knowledge of eating healthy food and junk food in moderation, it wasn’t a huge challenge for me. Our dining hall offered healthy, if sometimes inedible, options and I often ate more fruit and veggies than anything else. My friends would, about once a year, spend a few months encouraging each other to go the campus gym. I always opted out.
I’d seen the way that diet-culture had controlled my mom’s life. I didn’t want to obsess over my weight or my fitness. I didn’t feel good, but I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was drinking more caffeine than could possibly be healthy. I looked fine, and what small body changes I’d noticed were changes I was trying to accept and be comfortable with. The worst was my double chin, but I’d had that since childhood. I wanted to embrace it, love it along with my thick thighs and belly pudge and upper-arm flab. I still do.
But when I went to the doctor a month after graduation (cum laude, courtesy of copious amounts of caffeine), for the first time in years, I wasn’t prepared for the scale. I wasn’t prepared to hear, aloud, that I weighed 165 lbs. I wasn’t prepared to feel like a failure for gaining that much weight.
I felt guilty for feeling like I’d failed. Didn’t I support all bodies? Wasn’t I actually still enjoying thin privilege, compared to others? Hadn’t I seen how unhappy an obsession with being healthy, fit, and desirable done to other women, women I loved and respected? Didn’t I respect my body as a capable vessel for my soul, and not an object to be lusted after, sculpted, or envied? Then why did I feel so fat, and why did I suddenly feel like “fat” was undesirable?
I spent the next few weeks flip-flopping between determining to lose weight and deciding that I didn’t need to, only to turn around and plan healthy meals and exercise regiments, then quit before I started. I looked into yoga sessions and indoor-pool memberships, low-impact exercise I might enjoy that could also allow me to feel more fit or help me drop weight without investing too much in the process. I didn’t sign up for either.
Did I fail at being healthy by gaining weight? Or did I fail at being body-positive by worrying that I’d gained too much weight? Is any of it a failure, or am I just learning how to care for my body and unlearning the damaging ways I’ve been told to maintain it?
I’m still wondering where this leaves me on the scale, and whether this 35 pounds makes me fat, unfeminist, or simply human.