Maybe it was the rail-thin Barbie dolls we were holding that inspired the conversation. It’s been so long now, that I really can’t remember. But I vividly recall my friend Claudia’s words to me one day, as she slowly looked me up and down.
“How much do you weigh?” she asked.
“Forty-five pounds,” I replied, innocently.
“Oh,” she said smugly, “I only weigh forty.” I remember lowering my eyes – perhaps in shame – and noticing for the first time that my calves were heavier than Claudia’s. Not only that, but my thighs were like tree trunks, while hers were more like twigs. My arms – they were enormous! Why hadn’t I noticed this before? I was a big, fat, monstrous blob. And Claudia? She was a tiny little wisp of a thing, petite as can be. Perfect, in fact. And there it began. For the next thirty years I would compare and contrast my body to every other female form in sight. Unfortunately, I would always come up short.
It didn’t help, of course, that soon after my “epiphany” with Claudia, Twiggy came on the scene. It was hip to be hipless, or so we were told. And as much as my friends and I ridiculed her for being too thin, we secretly wished we could be that….malnourished – or at least look like we were.
By the time I was eleven-years-old, I had “ballooned” up to 99 pounds. Three months on Weight Watchers brought me down to a slim 88, but one month in Europe and the pounds returned. My weight became my obsession. I was continually gaining and losing weight, and continually berating myself for never being thin enough.
It must have been 9th grade when I first heard about weight loss methods that didn’t involve diet and exercise. My friend Terry had just discovered laxatives and was raving about the results. I tried them once or twice but ultimately decided that diarrhea wasn’t my forte’.
My friend Debbie, on the other hand, had another idea. She simply stopped eating. At first she looked great. Gone were the chubby cheeks and ample thighs. But soon her cheeks became hollow, and her arms looked like sticks. One day she didn’t show up for school. In fact, she didn’t show up for months. People began whispering that her periods had stopped and she had some strange disease called “anorexia nervosa.” It was the early 1970s and this was the first time any of us had heard of it. But really, it didn’t sound that bad. No periods? So what? At least Debbie was thin – THIN – like the models in the magazines. And she got to miss school, to boot!
And so our obsession with dieting continued – as did our frustration with never being able to successfully keep off the few pounds we managed to lose. But the years passed, and eventually we all grew into healthy, mature women who accepted our ample curves and, in fact, loved them. The fashion and film industries also changed, and women of size became regularly featured in magazines, television, and movies. Society as a whole finally understood that thin is NOT in, and flesh is actually sexy!
Oh – wait, I’m sorry, I must have drifted off into some sort of chocolate-induced psychotic fantasy! Models and movie stars are skinnier than ever. In the January issue of Allure magazine, model turned actress Elizabeth Hurley was quoted as saying, “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat. I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. She was very big.”
What’s sad is that there literally ARE women and girls who are killing themselves because of a perceived weight problem. And for every woman who actually commits suicide (or simply starves herself to death), there are thousands more who fantasize about doing it. Weight is an issue that dominates women’s lives. It keeps them from living their dreams. How many creative women are hiding away in their homes, ashamed to make their mark upon the world for fear they’ll be laughed at or ridiculed simply because they don’t conform to society’s unrealistic standards? How many women are waiting to make their move until they can “just get that weight off”? How many women wait their whole lives?
The good news is that in spite of the fact that Hollywood continues to send the “thin is in” message, we as women don’t have to accept it. We can love our bodies as they are and teach our daughters to love theirs. We can stop waiting for society to tell us we’re acceptable, and simply tell ourselves. Those of us in positions of power can start putting “women of weight” on television and in magazines. Perhaps this is starting to happen. While flipping through the channels the other day I happened to come upon the network “Oxygen.” Low and behold, there were curvaceous women hosting the shows! These were not women who were waiting until they were thin before they dared show their faces – and figures – on national television. These were women who were proud to be shapely, and rightly they should be! Hopefully, this signals the beginning of a new trend.
Last week, I dreamt I was in a room with a woman I recognized from high-school. She was yelling at me, “You’re ugly, you’re fat! You’re ugly, you’re fat!” But suddenly another woman appeared before me. She looked into my eyes and said very softly, “You’re beautiful.”
“What?” I said, “I can barely hear you.”
“You’re beautiful,” she repeated. I awoke with her soothing words still drifting through my mind. Instantly, I understood the message of the dream. After years and years of criticizing myself, the disapproving voice within me is indeed strong. But the loving, accepting voice is there too. Right now, I can barely hear her. I have faith, however, that as I continue to love and accept myself, the voice of approval will grow stronger and stronger, and the other voice will simply fade away……..