Header image: Left — Me, May 2018, at my skinniest. Right — Me, yesterday, at my heaviest.
This summer, I decided not to shave my thighs. I didn’t change any of my summer wardrobe — still shorts, still swimsuits, still dresses and jumpsuits — or any of my summer activities. My thighs were fully exposed in a lot of situations. Did you notice? Did you see my thigh hair? I bet you didn’t.
Last year, when I moved into my new apartment, I started taking advantage of the small community gym I could get into for free. I was on the elliptical or treadmill three times a week. I drank protein shakes. I used an app to count calories, down to the handful of baby carrots that I called a snack. I obsessed over how many calories I was eating in a day and I’d push myself harder if I knew I was going to eat even more. I got myself down to 140 pounds. That’s almost 40 pounds of weight loss. It was the smallest I’d ever been in my adult life. Clothes fit better, or they were too big. I’ve never been skinnier, and I’ve also never been more depressed. I wanted to die. I told my husband every day how much I never wanted to wake up again. I showered maybe once a week, or every 10 days. I wore my greasy, knotted hair back in a ponytail all the time. I wore the same clothes for days on end. But I went to the gym. Because skinny girls are pretty, and pretty girls are happy. (Mom: I’m okay now. Nothing happened. Everything is fine!!)
That fall, I started going to the theatre. I got out of the house. I got too busy to go to the gym. I didn’t have time to track calories. I ate what was fast and what was available. And I gained all that weight back. I’m looking down the barrel of 180 pounds right now — and that’s the most I’ve ever weighed. But I’ve never been happier with my life and with myself and my body.
This year I made a conscious decision to stop hating my body. I’m not gonna go so far as to say I’m going to love my body — we’ll get there I’m sure, but let’s be friends first. I realized recently that nobody cares about my body enough to judge me, because we’re all too caught up in our own bullshit to think about other people. Case in point, my thigh hair. I’ve been socialized for years by Gillette commercials that the right kind of women have toned, tanned, hairless legs and bikini areas and that’s how I should be. I’d been shaving my legs since the first sign of hair, probably third or fourth grade. I even remember one of my elementary school lunch ladies telling me how I should’ve only shaved up to the knee, not all the way up my thigh. For the first time, most of my body went unshaved this summer and nobody cared. And neither did I. (And I saved money on razors!)
I started drinking more. Usually this is not a good thing. But I started going out for a drink with friends. I started making time for friends. I started being a better friend. I started reaching out to friends and telling them more actively that I love them and I value them as friends. I didn’t worry about how many calories were in a beer. All that mattered was that I was spending time with people I care about.
I started wearing the clothes I wanted to wear. I declared this summer “The Summer of Hips,” and I bought three jumpsuits that I wore nonstop. They are high-waisted, they show off my forever-wide hips and my butt and most of them have pockets and I love them all. I bought a pair of very striped pants that are a huge statement and I get compliments on them all the time. I love my body in these clothes. They do not hide my stomach, they do not hide my thighs, they do not hide my arms. My clothes are a reflection of the woman I am and the woman I want to be. This body is part of who I am.
I have a much healthier relationship with food. My husband and I plan our meals for the week, and we cook dinner most nights. Our meals may not be strictly clean eating, but they are made by us with our hands and our bodies are nourished. We try new things and decide what we could do next time to make it better. We even cook a small chicken stew every week for our dog so her body can be nourished too. I don’t count calories anymore. I love lattes and refuse to give them up. I get extra butter on my popcorn. (This is reminiscent of an anecdote Dorothy tells on The Golden Girls — she had a friend who was on vacation in Paris. She was watching her weight, so she just had a salad for lunch. Leaving the restaurant, a gargoyle fell off the building and hit her on the head and killed her. The point of the story? Eat the cheesecake.)
I will never be skinny. Even if I lost all that weight again, my hips will be wide my entire life. I am nearly 5’7″ and will never be slight. The point is, my life has shifted where I don’t want to be slight. I’m consciously taking up space for the first time and I have glided into a spot in my life where I feel I’m finally starting to own my power. My entire life I’ve been told I’m too bossy, too bitchy, and now I spend my evenings as a stage manager and those qualities make me very good at my job. I get paid for it. I can’t afford to be meek.
Overweight people face numerous accessibility and discrimination issues in our society and those issues should not be overlooked. These are systemic and cannot be changed overnight, and I highly recommend Roxane Gay’s excellent book Hunger for more on this topic. I am in no way affected by these issues and recognize my privilege. But that’s just the point — I am not discriminated for my weight and yet I still hated myself. I’m undoing years of what media and other women (or girls, at a young age) have taught me about my body when it does so many incredible things for me — including write this essay. Let’s take good care of us, self. We’re the only one of us we have.