Life-saving medicine sometimes comes at a cost. A medication I took made me gain fifty pounds over the course of three months. I talk about weight loss and body image more here and about my attitude towards chronic illness here.
I remember the first time I saw a pair of my old jeans. I found them, and an entire box of what I call “pre-pills” clothes, while searching the garage for sweaters.
And as I held them up to check—and double check—that they were, in fact, MY old jeans, I had only one thought: I don’t remember being that skinny.
I remember being 145 pounds at 5’9. I remember that my BMI fell almost exactly in the middle of what “healthy” was supposed to be. I remember that being heavier than my body fat percentage would suggest, alluding to strong muscles. I remember coach keeping me out on the basketball court the entire game because I had that sort of stamina, and that I could run a mile in 7 minutes and 30 seconds.
But I don’t remember being skinny.
Instead, I remember standing on the scale and crying that it did not say 135. I remember wearing spandex shorts under my pants to keep my butt and thighs in check. I remember a semester where every day for lunch I drank a V8 and ate five dried apricots, nothing else, to keep my weight in check.
And I remember desperately wanting to wear a bikini, but deciding each year that I wouldn’t wear it until I achieved that beach body—which, of course, I never achieved.
So there was no possible way that these tiny jeans I held accurately depicted my pre-pills weight. They must have shrunk in storage. Or, you know…something.
I cast them aside and began searching for my sweaters again. And when I finally found them, I cringed, because they were so different from the old clothes I had just seen. These sweaters were huge, ugly, bumbling. A good fit, I thought wryly, for my huge, ugly, bumbling, post-pills body.
All day, I couldn’t shake the image of those jeans from my head. They had definitely been mine. I remember the fading at the knees, the streak of paint on the thigh, the way the hem was worn near the heels because, unlike my classmates, I did not wear boots with boot-cut jeans.
But seeing them had been so startling. It wasn’t because they reminded me of how much weight I had gained—believe me, I was well aware. And it wasn’t because, when compared to my current pant size, they had been skinny in comparison. I simply remembered being fatter.
You see, I had always considered myself to have a decent sense of self and body image. I was realistic, I told myself. I had wanted to lose weight, but I wasn’t one of those girls who thought themselves obese when they really were underweight.
Sure, a BMI of 21.4 was healthy, but I would also have a healthy BMI at at 125 pounds. No harm in trying to shed some of the “extra,” right?
But seeing those jeans made me wonder if, in reality, I had had a warped body image. What if, instead of having “a bit extra,” I had, in fact, been skinny?
I took to Facebook, and I found that I was, in fact, skinny.
Looking at my past photos, I can see the small pudge of fat on my upper thighs that prompted me to think of my legs as “tanks.” You can sort of tell that, if I gained weight, it would go to my hips. At the time, however, my hips were the source of my deepest body hatred; I was convinced I had drooping saddlebags that could only be contained with spandex and tight, fat-compressing jeans. Those saddlebags simply weren’t there.
I suddenly remembered the reason that we have ranges of healthy BMIs in the first place: sure, there is a range of body fat percentage that is healthy, but height and body fat aren’t the only indicators of weight. Some people’s skinny is heavier than another’s. The “healthy range” accounts for this variation.
So even though my BMI would have been technically been in this range at 125 pounds, this picture reveals that I didn’t have 20 pounds to lose. I would never have narrow hips because my bone structure simply couldn’t afford that. But I was amazed, gobstopped, really, that I had once looked at my pre-pill body and thought myself fat.
And a terrifying thought occurred to me. I was actually overweight now, nearing the BMI for obesity. But what if I wasn’t really as fat—and I use the world fat here not as we all pretend to use it, but as we actually use it: a synonym for ugly, grotesque—as I thought I was?
Heart pounding, I locked myself in my room, stripped, and looked in the mirror at the body that I hated so much. Turns out, my single revelation had not been enough to significantly improve my body image. I looked just as fat as I thought I was.
Thunder thighs. Proof that all my weight goes to my hips. Stretchmarks–like sunbursts, all over my body. My breasts had gone from a C to an H. My face had swollen to a disproportionate size, a trademark of my medication. And whenever I stood up straight — which was, I admit, a rare occurrence — I could feel a pocket of back fat I had never had to deal with before.
The sad thing is, I thought to myself, you’ve already lost 12 pounds. 188 pounds, and I hated my body as much as I did at 200.
On the bed behind me, the swimsuit I had bought at the beginning of the summer lay untouched, tags still dangling. It was a one-piece, of course, an ugly thing from Walmart that I had bought shorts to put over. When I bought it, I had told myself that next summer I would be 150 pounds, and I would reward myself with one of the gorgeous bikinis hanging in the store windows.
And then I saw, on the floor, my pre-pills swimsuit laying crumpled where I had thrown it. I had done so after I tried it on and realized that I needed to buy a new one, because I was still too fat to wear it.
I was haunted by how familiar the next summer promise sounded, not just because I was tired of repeating it to myself over and over again, but because I had just realized that my pre-pills body had, in fact, been that bikini body.
But that wasn’t a bikini on my floor.
I hadn’t worn a bikini at 145 pounds. What made me think that, when I was 150 or 155 and still covered in stretch marks, it would be any different?
Being fat, I realized, was for me some sort of mild, wide-spread delusion. I was always going to be fat, no matter how skinny I became, because my fatness did not originate in my thighs or hips or belly. It originated in my mind.
And I could blame society, say it is the fault of them who Photoshop models or them that sell clothes with 00 mannequins. It’s so easy to blame them, because they don’t have a face. The problem is, they aren’t going to fix my fatness any more than a diet would.
I could dislike my poor health, the way all my favorite clothes didn’t fit, or the fact that, for the first time in my life, walking up stairs winded me. I could want to lose weight and work towards losing weight. I could even get down to that coveted 135 pounds I wanted so desperately in middle school—but I knew that if I hated my body at 200 pounds, I was still going to hate myself at 135.
And so, before I started working again on my much more realistic goal of 150 pounds, I did the one thing that was going to help me get over this delusion of being fat.
I went out to the store and bought myself one damn fine bikini.