When I graduated high school, I was 110 pounds of lean muscle and curves. Gone was that stubborn baby fat, and for the first time in my life, I had a flat stomach. With joy and optimism, I embraced my future of size three hip-hugger flares and halter-tops and packed my suitcase for college.
Now graduation is once again looming ever nearer, and I wonder if Alumni Arena can accommodate the crane I will need to hoist me on stage so I can receive my diploma. Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but four years and 20 pounds after bidding adieu to Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, I wonder what in the heck happened to that stunning image of the feminine form I once gazed upon with fondness in my full-length bedroom mirror.
Not like it's any big mystery. It sort of adds up like this: hours of sitting around reading + no exercise + all-you-can-eat food orgy in the Richmond Dining Hall + medium-hot chicken wings + Anderson's + Wegmans + Jose Cuervo + Killian's Irish Red + aspiring pastry chef boyfriend = my butt remains in the living room even though I'm down the hall in the bedroom.
Of course, being fat in Buffalo isn't the worst thing in the world. It's not like I'm going to school at the University of Honolulu. This is UB, a university designed to accommodate and even encourage the "Freshman 15" with scarves, puffy winter coats, long-johns, hats, thick sweaters and vending machines at every corner. The extra blubber is necessary to survive life in this frozen tundra. However, this inhumanly icy, white Hell has apparently no effect on some members of our student body. It seems like wherever I turn, I am confronted by a midriff, usually pierced, sitting beside me in a lecture or office or, God forbid, I should dare venture into Putnam's.
Is it just me, or does every girl at this school look like a model? The number of hot guys I've noticed is certainly inequitable, and believe me, I keep my eyes open. My friend Kelly said that it's just because attractive people are more noticeable in general, so it might seem like all the girls at UB are physically perfect, even though they're not. I do not begrudge these ladies, who are superior to me in both genes and self-control, or the display of their midriffs. If I had one worth showing, it would be hanging out obnoxiously as well.
This leads me to one of my weight-loss and exercise ploys. I came up with the brilliant idea to get my belly-button pierced. I figured that since I would have a fashionable reason to show off my cute little navel, I would be motivated to get in gear and lose some weight and do some sit-ups. This ploy worked for a while, but with a little bit of laziness and cute long-sleeved shirts, I'm lucky that belly-button ring hasn't disappeared between my rolls.
Since then I've played any number of psychological tricks on myself. I bought a whole bunch of junk food and told myself that if I eat healthy for six days straight, on the seventh day, I could eat tons of sugary, fatty stuff as my reward for good behavior. Yeah, right. The Fruit Loops and Godiva white-chocolate raspberry ice cream disappeared in a matter of seconds while the box of shredded wheat got dusty in the cupboard and the asparagus rotted away. That reminds me . I think I have some moldy cucumber in my refrigerator that needs to get tossed. I'll do that after I finish writing this.
My boyfriend, Josh, said he is sick of hearing me complain about my weight if I'm not going to do anything about it, and if he has no problem with the way I look, why does it matter so much to me anyway? I guess he's right, but at the same time, I am not so concerned of what men think of my appearance as I am about the opinions of other women. That might sound strange, but the fact of the matter is simply this: Women are far more critical about how other women look than men are about women in general. I know very few guys who get upset if their lady-love puts on a little pudge, while I've heard far more girls say, "Have you seen so-and-so recently? She got SO FAT!" I myself am an exception to this in that the standards I have for my own appearance are much higher than the ones I have for other people in general, male or female.
I used to think I was intelligent, emotionally "deep," far beyond the images of beauty and perfection idolized by media and outside the all-encompassing scope of what my film teacher called the "male gaze." One would think that with age, I would have matured past these notions, but the fact of the matter is that the older I've gotten, the more insecure I've become about how I look. As I've heard from my relatives, a Sicilian woman is thin and beautiful when she's young, but blows up into a balloon after the first kid. In high school, my peer group was the so-called "freaks" anyway, and we thrived on looking and acting differently then everyone else. Now, I need to get a job, I need to consider my future, and I need to present myself to the world in such a way that will project a certain image that's conducive to being successful. Part of that image and self-presentation is my physical appearance.
Here is something certain to disturb you. It's terrifying to recall how emotionally satisfied I felt after regurgitating my dinner when I was suffering from a stomach virus or all the compliments I received from people after losing weight from a bad case of dysentery I suffered while teaching English in China last summer. It's no wonder so many girls have eating disorders! Up until the point where you're lying on the hospital bed with a ruptured esophagus, all you feel is a sense of self-control, and all you get is a shower of flattery.
I met with my best friend from elementary school who gave me some pretty sound advice. When she was a fat fifth grader, she had no idea that eventually she was going to be 5'8" and all that weight was there for a reason. Her theory, though it may seem radically feministic, was that society wants women to have as minimal input as possible, and this includes the notion of physically "taking up space." Thin, pixie-like girls appear weak and do not have as imposing a presence as women with larger bodies. I wasn't sure how much I was supposed to buy into this until my friend said flat out, "Be healthy, exercise, and what your body wants to be, it will be."
Why am I afraid of taking up space?
I know that I will have to take the initiative to get up off my booty and work out, spend the extra money on fresh produce if it means I'll feel better about myself and be healthier. But food is one of the few things that gives me joy, and eating is my favorite social activity, whether it means inviting my friends over for a dinner party or going out for a romantic night with my boyfriend. I guess the ideal approach to take with my next dieting endeavor is to exercise self-control, but not self-deprivation.