Think Thin.

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.

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19 thoughts on “Think Thin.

  1. Before I read your article I saw your pictures and thought, “She looks so thin!” Are you seriously not skinny in LA? Because you sure as hell would be here in Toronto, and this city is full of thin people!

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    1. That’s too funny. My sister in law is from Toronto, and she’s super thin so I can only imagine what her home turf is like, but honestly I don’t think there’s anyplace in the world quite like LA. I’m sure a lot of this probably depends on your neighborhood and your circle of friends, but no, I’m not thin here (and no, that’s not just my body dismorphia talking). I’m not even really “thin for a mom” in this town, or think for being (almost) thirty-five. I think we’re just living with a different standard here. Which I think maybe kind of sucks? Or maybe it just keeps us all striving to be better?

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    1. Oh, well, thank you! I suppose what I’m learning from the feedback I’ve gotten to this post is that maybe a lot of what I feel is totally in my head. I used to think it was just because I was living in LA, but I felt it when I lived in Europe too… Like I said – all in my head! Thankfully it seems like there’s nothing that gets me out of my head faster than my daughter walking in the room, though I do wish I could have figured this all out earlier on. Hopefully she’ll have an easier time of it than I did!

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  2. Wow. OK – first off, you look amazing. Second – I love your outfit and your hair. I think I have the same clothes, only a few sizes larger! Now I want that haircut… BTW: It’s great that you’re realizing how truly beautiful you and your body are. Your daughter will def thank you! ♥

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    1. Honestly, my biggest hope is that my daughter will grow up with such self-assuredness and self-confidence (no matter what her shape or size) that she won’t even know that she needs to thank me for trying to figure it all out before I passed my body issues along to her. My husband and I sometimes think this is a pipe dream if we keep living in Los Angeles, but dreams can come true, right?
      And if you’re ever down around my neighborhood I’d love to send you to my hair gal. She always manages to make me look way cooler than I actually am 🙂

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  3. Once again our lives seem to have many parallels. I have also always had a very complicated and unhappy relationship with my body and food. It has taken the passion for running to change that. I have given up weighing myself and, when I do, I don’t really care about the numbers that much; after all I look at myself in the mirror and I can tell that there is more muscle than there used to be. I am not skinny, but I am slim. I also have a body type that will never allow for those small thighs that I so envy on others or hips that can fit into the smallest jeans. I have come to accept that. I love my food and have stopped feeling guilty about eating as much as I want of it. It is fuel that keeps me going on the long runs.
    I look at your picture though and to me you look perfect. You look slim and healthy. I think skinny is a word that only fits those undernourished women that you describe. Poor things – they can’t be having much fun, can they? I bet they won’t be lying on their death beds when the time comes thinking “I am glad I didn’t eat that burger”.

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    1. You are too funny – and right – about those ladies on their deathbeds. My mother in law tells me the same thing all the time (which is a good thing, because I am lucky enough to actually both like and love my mother in law).
      It definitely goes up and down for me, though oddly not always in a clear relation to my running. Sometimes running too much makes me wish I were thinner, or losing a little weight when I up my miles just makes me remember and miss what it was like to REALLY lose weight. But all in all, the running has been an absolute lifesaver. It’s something I can obsess over that’s actually GOOD for me! And even when I’m just in a bad place and feeling generally bad about myself, at the very least going for a run can boost my endorphins for a few hours or so, and wipe away all that guilt surrounding food for the rest of the day.
      Thank you for sharing this with me. Is it bad to say that it makes me feel a little less crazy?

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  4. Where would we be without running, eh? (A lunatic asylum?..) It is infuriating, really that us women have this crazy desire to be thin and perfect. Men don’t feel that way (but the bastards don’t get cellulite either!) and interestingly most women I know like their men a bit chubby. Definitely a but cushy rather than skinny. I wish we could just have a complete brain re-set. No more fat-days for anyone. The thing is that most of these fad diets make women actually put weight on anyway as they are not sustainable; in worst case scenario they just put the body in starvation mode and once they start eating again the body just uses every morsel for energy.
    Absolutely not a bad thing to say my comment made you feel less crazy – I am very happy it did as the last thing you are is nuts. Or who knows – maybe we are both totally insane. 🙂

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  5. I meant to comment on this the minute I read it because it touched me so deeply. Alas. The second I opened your post and saw your pics my visceral response? “Oh, I knew she’d just be gorgeous. Ugh.” Because we are always comparing ourselves to something, aren’t we? And while I feel like I’m finally getting to a place where I can truly be in my own skin without wanting to tear it off (or need to run for two hours in order to make up for the fact that I ate a half a box of cereal because I was sad), it’s still always there: a tiny voice that sometimes pops up and hisses a nasty comment about the slightly soft muffin top that my five year old son so loves to stroke. But what I’ve found, finally, is that I think I may actually be as beautiful (or thin!) as I say I am. So if the kids are with me when a doctor weighs me (or catch me on the now rare days I weigh myself) I say, “Oh, look! Perfect weight again!” And I say the same for my kids, especially my daughters. Because as long as we’re doing healthful things, we are perfect, right? If only I could go back and smack 18-30 year-old me for thinking otherwise (I’d smack 20 year-old you while I was at it, but she’d kick my ass, I’d wager.) (Which is why I started wearing polka dot bikinis after the twins were born, and I haven’t given it up… yet.) Thank you for this.

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  6. Okay, first off, I think we need some sort of “don’t read this comment while sitting in your office and pretending to be working through your lunchbreak” alert, because this seriously almost made me cry, which definitely would have blown my cover.
    Now that that’s out of the way… thank you so much for this beautiful and HONEST comment. It continues to totally blow my mind not only how mean we are to ourselves, but also how well we hide this meanness – like we are addicted to the pain we inflict upon ourselves with those nasty little voices, and we fear that if we shine a light on them they might all scurry away for good (and then what would we do with all that extra brain energy?). Or maybe it’s the opposite, and what we fear is that if we let on that we silently tell these things to ourselves, everyone else will start saying them out loud? Who knows. All I can say is that I really, really want to find a way for it to stop. Not just for me, but for all of those other women who feel exactly the same way, no matter how thin or fat or pretty or plain.
    It sounds like you’re definitely onto something that I need to try to learn from. I haven’t gone in public in a bathing suit since having my daughter (I’ve seriously made up bad excuses and missed really fun things just to avoid anything that might remotely require my defrocking), and this fear of mine is now even preventing me from scheduling a girls weekend away to Palm Springs for my fast approaching 35th birthday – I keep asking myself if I’d really be able to have any fun if I was just feeling awful and self-conscious the whole time I was supposed to be relaxing by the pool. I think the solution might be to seriously just bite the bullet and go big with my own polka dot bikini!

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    1. Just for giggles, if I weigh myself and my husband walks in and catches me (he hates me weighing myself, which is beautiful in and of itself) I say, “Ugh. I think I’ve lost weight.” And then he’ll say, “Gees! I knew it! Eat something!” And then he makes me eat huge portions. It’s so funny! We literally are what we say we are. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes, that polka dot bikini of mine! (And right back at you on the “possible tear warning” alert. My kids are running around me asking, “What? Are you sad? What?!”) And 35?! Make out with your collagen. Love it. Hug it. Stroke it. Ensconce it in skimpy polka dots! Crepe skin is still soft, but collagen is the bomb.
      I love reading what you write. Really. Keep doing it, please. 😉

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