I am packed too tightly in my skin these days. Which is an odd thing to say, since I’ve lately been losing weight at a slightly alarming, but medically supervised, rate. Just over 60 pounds in five months, which is the average weight of a nine year old. I am a tiny human less, now. Strange, to slip a small child from my body without the hardship of birth. Perplexing, how I must lose the equivalent of several offspring that I am now almost incapable of having to become more a woman.
There’s a lot there. Let me explain.
It is about perceived value. And often, for women, that comes down to worth as a sexual being.
And every pound added subtracted from my desirability. So I have been told. So I have thought my whole carbohydrated, chubby life. And eventually I heaped so much flesh upon my frame that I lost my sexuality entirely. I ceased to be attractive to the general populace. More importantly, I ceased to be attractive to myself.
That is a lie. Oh, how blatant.
I was never a sexual being. I never believed myself to be attractive.
Again, an untruth. I did not hate my face.
I clung to that, as a husky teen. Curvy collegiate. Morbidly obese adult. All my parts were so large, bones rounded into obscurity. But not my face. Sure, I had a bit of a double chin. But my features, oh my face. My one desperate claim to being just like everyone else. Big eyes, full mouth, freckles, a nose that didn’t distract too much from the rest of it. My face was NORMAL. It DIDN’T SUCK. At least, that’s what everyone kept telling me.
“You have such a pretty face.”
The implication here, of course, is that the rest of you is ugly. So ugly that it’s shameful to even discuss it, so let’s just pretend it’s not there and focus instead on how lovely your cheekbones are… well, you can’t actually see them, sure, but… your skin is just… well, it’s lovely.
Please do not misunderstand. I make generalizations, of course I do. There are those few who would have found find my totality entirely alluring. But they were either in a different zip code, or never properly introduced themselves. There are others, rarer still, who simply wouldn’t care what my outsides looked like. I am convinced that there are no more than five of them scattered around the globe.
So. Here I was. A fatty. How did I survive? I cultivated humor. If I was gonna be made fun of, I would damn well make fun of myself first. I would be droll. Sardonic. My rapier-like wit would sting and delight the masses. At least, that’s what the movies I grew up with taught me. I would never be the lead in my own life. The best I could hope for was a plucky sidekick with zippy one-liners.
And I pulled myself down. Sure, yes, I didn’t do it alone. I had lots of help.
I leaned on the tree, knots jabbing my back. My hands were tucked at the base of my spine to ease the pain, but truthfully, I barely felt the imposition. They also lifted my torso a bit towards him. He was slight, but taller than me, so that when he put his hand on the trunk next to my head he leaned down, and I looked up, through my lashes, my eyes breathless and my mouth darting as I confessed my love. He leaned closer, perhaps too close, was I ready for this? His laugh, when it came, did not caress but settled on me like a thousand burning leaves. I could barely see through the flames of embarrassment as he told me to go home, and pushed away from the tree, from me. I was suddenly grateful for my hidden hands. I feared if I let go of myself I would tremble my body to the ground. So I stood, supported by the ash, by the tree, until I could keep my legs under me again, and barely noticed that I left a little piece of me at the roots, already sinking.
I practically bounced off the sidewalk, so solid was my stride. It was a 75 degree day and I had enough time between classes to walk across campus to my favorite ice-cream place. It was the kind with only about 10 flavors and two tables. Too tiny for comfort, but people would crowd on in nonetheless. As I got to the front, the cashier exclaimed and said she recognized me from the play I was just in. I preened, yes, it was me, IT IS ME, oh, it’s not hard to memorize all those words, no, but thank you so much, that’s very kind of you and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I don’t remember the exchanging of coin for cone or passing through the doorway. I was just suddenly in the sun, part of the shine; I was dazzling. And strolling down the sidewalk, licking up my glory, I heard a honk behind me. Swiveling my head to the car just passing me, I saw them lean out the car, heard them yell “MOOOOO! MOOOOO! MOOOOO!” until they hit the crossroad and turned the corner. Did I stop? I think I stopped. I did look, yes, please nobody be around, please nobody have seen that, oh please. Were there people? I don’t remember. And as I slumped down the sidewalk, hugging the buildings, trying to become invisible, trying to small myself into nothing, I didn’t notice, hardly at all, that a tiny piece of me slithered off, down the cracks, to the dark below.
All I can say is this. I had strips flayed from me. And I noticed them all.
So you see, I’ve been losing pieces of me all along.
This that I shed now, it is the weight of an unrealized past.
More of a woman. Yes, I said that earlier. I have all the requisite parts. They more or less function, depending upon the day, and the technical specifications have been met. Roundly. But all that was obscured. And as I endeavor to bring me back to light, I realize that I am 43 years old now. And I see time telling its story upon me. Sags and dimples, the years have pulled at me so much that I am left, limbs akimbo, searching my face for the part of me that remains attractive. And I am losing even that.
So as I see a waist appear, I see the neck slide a bit. And as my clavicles emerge, I see the loosening of my thighs, and I look at their betrayal, how have they stayed so firm? So closed? Where was the man who could look upon me and see me, a woman, lustful, thoughtful, kind and clever and so goddamned brave? Why was I never splayed, where did the heat of me, the heart of me go, if not to someone else, if not to myself?
It went to ground. To root, to crack, to the dark edge of a knife.
And here is the blackest laugh of this all. I feel better. Healthier. I can walk longer, my feet don’t hurt as much. And I look good. Better than I’ve looked in a long time. And it doesn’t seem to matter.
The other day, I wore a skirt. Knee-length. With green and blue flowers. And I had on my new heels, and a smile that wouldn’t seem to quit. As I’ve shed the pounds, I’m trying to shed the inhibitions. So, bright prints and leg-showing and a bit of a swagger in my taut calves. Two co-workers, whom I love dearly, came by to tell me how good I was looking. They said they were talking about it, among themselves, earlier. I exclaimed, delighted.
“Oh, yes,” they enthused. “We both think you have such a pretty face.”
And I was 12 again, and chubby, with a woman’s body coming at me way too quickly, a woman’s body that wouldn’t stop, would never ever stop.
Now I am nearing the end of my childbearing years. I never really considered if I wanted children or not. Because I figured I would never have any. I thought I would never be loved enough to be someone’s mother. To matter that much. And now time has made the choice for me.
Now I am nearing the end of my youth. I look at the years ahead, and the growing silver threads, and the veins mapping the back of my hands, and wonder who will want me now, even thin. Thinner, at least. Is sagging and wrinkled better or worse than fat and firm? I would like to say time will tell, but that makes me weep a bit too much.
So I am more or less a woman. That is a statement. And a question.
Perhaps one day, I will be loose enough for someone to lose themselves in me.
Until then, my eyes take my measure every day, breathless, and the mirror just leans, and laughs, and leaves me rooted and cracking and opened far too wide.