For most of my life, I’ve divided the world into three groups: women who are skinny, women who are not skinny, and men. I’ll let you guess which of these groups I fall into (hint – it’s not the first one).
With this worldview, it should come as no surprise that I spent many years of my teens and twenties struggling against (or struggling to maintain) disordered eating. I finally got a diagnosis during college – anorexic – also known in the local Los Angeles dialect as just another girl on a diet.
You may be tempted to read that last comment as snarky, but that probably just means that you’ve never been to Los Angeles. Because if you had been to Los Angeles (or, conversely, if you’re from here and have ever left long enough to see what the rest of the world looks like and then returned to this town), you probably would have noticed how THIN everyone is. Not thin in that slender French stereotype kind of way. Not ruddy skinned and strong in that Pacific Northwest kind of way. I’m talking about thin in that skinny because I just don’t eat as much as I should kind of way.
While the French can point to their genetics and Washingtonians can point to their adventurous outdoor spirits, what exactly is it that Los Angelenas can point to? Certainly there is an argument to be made that there is a magnetic force that pulls beautiful people nationwide to this mecca of model cum actor cum singer/songwriter cum waitress, so there is indeed just a higher concentration of naturally thin, attractive people – who then, of course, breed future generations of thin and attractive people, further increasing the concentration of this enviable gene pool of the effortlessly beautiful.
Or maybe, just maybe, some of us are trying a little bit harder than we’d like to admit. Because for all of our brazen public displays of cheeseburger eating, there are just as many days of picking at fruit salad, just as many nights of skipping dinner because we’re “just not hungry.” We have our garlic cleanses and our juice fasts. We have our vegan feasts followed by cigarettes instead of dessert. Because for all of our crazed health nut ways, none of this has anything to do with being healthy.
I wrote a post not too long ago about running a half marathon. I trained almost as much as I should have, I finished in not too embarrassing a time, and I continue to run three days a week or more. I eat pretty well, I avoid processed foods, I don’t have much interest in sugar. I haven’t had soda or fast food in years. I should be the model of health, right? Right. That’s exactly what I am.
And do you know what I’m not? Skinny.
When I look back at photos of myself, I’m now able to identify three distinct body types: wishing I could figure out how to be skinny (childhood through adolescence), achieving skinnyness but still wishing I could be skinnier (young adulthood), and feeling bad about not being skinny anymore (all grown up and too busy to be so hungry).
Which is to say, once upon a time I was skinny, but it never quite came naturally. The only way to maintain it was to eat less – a lot less – than three meals a day.
But eating less did not an anorexic make. Even though I had an official, insurance company billable diagnosis, I never really felt or acted like an anorexic. I never made lists of what I had eaten, never went a full day with zero food intake, never got into excessive exercise or obsessive calorie counting. I was doing a lot of drugs, and I just didn’t eat as much as I should have been eating.
Not only did I not feel like an anorexic, I never really looked like an anorexic, either. Even at my skinniest, all I saw was how much skinnier everyone else was. Even at my skinniest, I still couldn’t shave away those wide Greek hips or shrink the circumference of my ribcage. I didn’t look anorexic. I just looked the way girls who lived in Hollywood were supposed to look.
I was five years into a clean bill of health when I met my husband, and yet my dress size had only inched up one tiny little notch from those cocaine starvation heydays. Nobody would have called me anorexic. Nobody would have looked at my public eating habits and accused them of being restrictive. Not even I, graduate student of suppressed hunger, would have ever admitted openly to intentionally watching my weight – that’s just an appropriate and embarrassing line of conversation. Talk about that veggie chili that you made, or that smoothie kick you’re on, but don’t ever, ever talk about how you hope this new healthy eating might make you a newly thin person.
It wasn’t until I gained a little bit of weight that I realized how unnatural my skinny state had been for me. I moved in with my husband, started eating three meals a day, started exercising, stopped doing so many drugs, stopped smoking so many cigarettes. In short, I started taking care of myself. And the natural result was another ten pounds, another notch up on the dress size.
As much as I would like to say that I’ve adjusted to this with grace and dignity, I won’t, because that would be a lie. Every time I leave my house, every time I change my clothes, every time I see my friends (all of whom are thin, of course), I am reminded that I am no longer a member of that group of women who are skinny. And sometimes this makes me feel really, really bad about myself.
But then there are those other days, when I’ll slip into a size six skirt, pull on a shirt that flatters the waist that’s still coming back from a million pounds of pregnancy, and then walk out the door without even a hint of shame. Sometimes I’ll even find a feeling that borders on pride. Because no matter how I feel about myself, no matter how I’ve been conditioned to think about my body, nothing is more important than raising a daughter who can navigate this town and this world with a confidence that I used to find only from a number on a scale.
I know that the only way I can teach this is by being it, which I’m working on. In the meantime, I’ll just have to take a lesson from my actor/model/musician neighbors, put on a happy face, and fake it till I make it.