The issue of my perfect weight.


In October, while I was in New York, I took the train out to Long Island to visit family I hadn't seen in nearly two years. My stomach was in knots. The relatives I'd planned to meet had never seen my tattoos, my red hair, my nose piercing (which I'll admit is tiny, but significant) and I was unsure how they would react. And there was also the matter of my weight - as a byproduct of recovery from my eating disorder, I'd gained about 35 pounds since our last visit. In the days preceding our reunion I played out various scenarios of how the day might go. I girding myself against possible shock or hostility or long, uncomfortable pauses. I was anxious. I couldn't sleep. I talked to my husband about it.

"Why do you do this to yourself?" he asked.
"Because," I said, but then I realized I had no idea. I was an accomplished woman, with three beautiful children, a successful blog, a blossoming freelance writing career and a book to publish. My anxiety made no rational sense.  These people were my family, and they loved me. I was being ridiculous.

When I arrived at my family's house, there were hugs and kisses and no mention of any of the things I was worried about. Well, not at first.

"Well," said my relative. "You look great. Really. You're at your perfect weight. This is your perfect weight."

The rest of the visit went by in a blur. Through our afternoon of lunch and shopping and coffee and chatter, I felt increasingly flummoxed. The words "perfect weight" hung over me like one of those thought bubbles in a cartoon. What did they mean? Was I at my perfect weight? Was this the way I was destined to look? That morning I'd spent fifteen minutes in front of the full-length mirror in my hotel room, examining the way my thighs looked in my suede skirt. They didn't seem perfect to me. Neither did my stomach, or my knees, or the backs of my arms. As a matter of fact, I was pretty dissatisfied with my body in general. It jiggled and took up too much space. If this was my perfect weight, I wanted no part of it at all. No sir.

Sometimes I feel like there's an invisible scale that follows me around. It sits next to me when I eat, staring pointedly at the pat of butter on my bread roll. It lurks in the corner while I'm running on my treadmill. I open the door to my pantry and the invisible scale glares at me from a shelf, dictating what I should and should not eat. And worst of all, it regularly reminds me of my lowest weight, the number I was when I was sick and starving.

That damm scale.
My damm weight.

I don't want to be the kind of woman who thinks about their weight all the time. Truthfully, I don't really give a damm what my perfect weight is. I invest a lot of energy in not thinking about my weight, and only perseverate on it when someone else (like my doctor, or husband...or relative) brings it up. I'd much rather spend my time concentrating on writing, or hiking with my kids, or thrifting, or reading a good book.

I understand that my relative meant well. I know they never intended to send me into a spiral of self-doubt. Ultimately, it's up to me to process comments about my body in a healthy, rational way. There will always be people who take it upon themselves to comment on my body, well-meaning or not, and that invasion is much more concerning than whatever my "perfect weight" is. I'm not sure when it became acceptable for anyone to comment on another person's weight, or body shape, or other attribute of appearance. Increasingly, it seems our bodies are not our own. Whether it's relatives, or the media, or self-help books telling us how we should look, the message is the same: As women, we exist for public display.

This morning I ate Greek yogurt with granola and bananas for breakfast. It was delicious. And I didn't think about my perfect weight once.


13 comments:

  1. I think you crawled into my head today. The only difference is that I'm stuck professionally because I'm too mired in my own head to move from a place that makes me unhappy into what I really want to do. I wish I could just think about "normal" things instead of all of my percieved flaws. I feel like I have a clipboard following me around with the list of bad things I've done on it. And whenever I make another mistake, it gets added to the list. Why do we (women) do this to ourselves? Baby steps...that is what I keep telling myself. Baby steps.

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  2. Well this story has the perfect ending. You didn't think about your weight while eating. Good job for getting over the anxiety of that dubious reunion and coming out a winner! I have always been very petite (always), and yet people seem to have this idea that they can talk about my weight and tell me what I already know. Thanks peeps, but my body really isn't any of your business.
    Great post!

    xo L.

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  3. Elissa this was beautiful. You are such a great writer and this was so eloquently formulated.
    This is a wonderful message and I'm so happy you shared it with all of us. I can't wait to meet you in March for TxSC. Right now I feel far over my "perfect weight" but unlike you, nobody has pointed anything out for me, which means I probably look fine -- I'm just being a nit picky woman about how I'm displayed to the world. Having a style blog has been both a blessing and a bit of an undertaking. It keeps me on my toes with things like this but it also can be a major downer. Probably a topic for me to explore in a post one day ... but thank you for your courageous post. What a nice way to start my morning blog reading session :)

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  4. Don't you just love when you don't think about your body while eating? Those are the best meals, I think.

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  5. When did we decide to ignore the old etiquette proscription against making "personal remarks"? Why on earth is it okay to go beyond telling a person that he or she is looking good? Who reared these people, anyway? Okay, people, here is the rule: You may offer a compliment, as long as it does not in any way refer to the person's weight (which is none of your business). You already know this, and you need to observe it, even with your family (especially with your family). End of sermon.

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  6. I've got the invisible scale, too. And I'm pretty sure whatever my perfect weight is, in my mind, it'll always be at least a few pounds lower than it is at any given moment, even though I am, in fact, right smack in the middle of my so-called 'healthy weight range.'

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  7. You described this really great! Even if i have been never "sick", I constantly wondered about my wight since I've been 14. But then I met finally a man - after some let's call them "idiots" - who told me that it (and he) doesn't care if i weigh 5, 6 or 10 pounds more or less. And he not only told me that, he shows me this every day again. and he has to hear quite a lot complains, but he never gives up. And it's happening more and more often now, that I don't wonder at all at night, lying in bed, what i ate during the day, but that I'm just happy to have the man I love at my side.
    xxx Anita

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  8. Elissa, this is a beautiful post. I am constantly in awe of how eloquently you voice things like this!! And I really respect and admire your transparency. Also, cheers to you for getting to where you are in your journey!!

    Blessings to you!!

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  9. Such a poignant and thought-provoking post. You know, we ALL have our demons, we do, and when weight is your demon, it is not easy. As much as I try to be an example of self-love, to drink my own kool-aid, you and I both know it is easier said than done.

    My weight has fluctuated for years, and I'm at the top end again. I don't know that because I've stepped on a scale. I haven't...I'm too in denial and too terrified of the number that I can't remember the last time I did. But nothing fits anymore, and as you know, whatever that number is that makes you feel good inside AND out, when you're not there, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says. You just hate it and yourself. But I try not to dwell on it and thankfully, I have an amazing husband who praises me when I'm athletic or voluptuous. That helps. And then I get my ass to the gym more and I cut back a little.

    Anyway, I'm glad that you have a healthy attitude about it all, and a network of support that embraces and celebrates you. It's hard for us to appreciate ourselves when we have options. So sometimes we need to contemplate a life without them, as in: If I had a horrible, potentially terminal illness, would I be thinking about an extra 10-35 pounds, or would I just be grateful for another day with my amazing family?

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  10. I admire you for being so open and honest about your recovery.

    It's hard reading this post because part of me knows that your family probably wanted to be supportive and encouraging to you. At the same time, hearing comments on weight, whether positive or negative, is always awkward and a "What do I say to that?" thing.

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  11. I wish people would comment on physical attributes less, especially strangers. I work in a public place and often express to my coworkers that I feel like an animal on display at a zoo with the way people stare and say awkward/rude/inappropriate things to me. I don't feel comfortable with the attention because I still don't live up to the standards I set for myself. It is, as you say, an invasion.
    Thank you for voicing this. We women are all more than our weight and other physical attributes. I wish everyone could make that point as well as you can.

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  12. Wow! You're pretty brave to write this openly, go see these relatives--all of it. I'm not sure I could do it in your situation. I felt a similar feeling when I first faced family after getting divorced. Really, I think they were probably thinking you looked great and they never want to see you suffering and unhealthy again but just didn't know how to say it.

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