My mother likes to relate a story of a visit she had to her primary care provider many years ago, right around the time my little brother was born. She’d gotten down quickly to her svelte pre-pregnancy weight but was still distressed. “I don’t know what to do,” she said to her doctor. “I have such fat knees.”
“That’s how you know you’re thin,” he replied. “As soon as you start thinking your knees look skinny, that’s when you’ve gotten too big.”
The worst part about body dysmorphia is how easy it is to lose touch with the real size, the real state of your body. I was having a good stint with weight loss lately and was very pleased with how my body was shaping up, until a few weeks ago, I took a turn for the critical. I don’t know why. I was doing so well sticking with my plan and just living my life while the weight just fell off when I started to slip, cutting an extra 50 calories here, 100 there, seeing how far I could push my hunger, how little I could eat during the day, knowing that Skyspook and I would have our usual dinner together in the evening. I started weighing too often, petrified that I’d wake up one morning, 150 pounds heavier, all my weight regained, completely unable to explain how I’d gotten that way. I even had a minor binge, 600 calories of almonds (an acceptable food but in a quantity that was excessive for an afternoon snack) that I ate before I could explain why and immediately regretted the behavior. Skyspook ordered me to stop tracking my food for a while, just letting my intuition and common sense guide my food choices, and instructed me to stay off the scale, limit myself to once a week, if that. “Yes, sir,” I said, resolved to obey, regardless of how miserable I felt.
I looked in the mirror and saw myself as doughy, sad, dumpy, flawed. “It’s all in my head,” I’d try to say, but I didn’t believe it. I’d told Skyspook what was going on but tried not to talk or think about it. Talking about how unattractive I felt would only make me less attractive to others.
I went through the motions, prepping and dressing in the way that I knew to be flattering for my face and body type, regardless of how ludicrous and ill fitting I seemed to my eyes. I tried hard to focus on others so that I wouldn’t perseverate on how disgusting I felt. I managed to dissociate from my appearance, to feel sheer numbness when I looked in a mirror.
It was a definite improvement.
During this period of time, I went out with J and Legalista to meet a friend of theirs for the first time for tapas at a pub, ladies’ night for the four of us.
At one point in the conversation, their friend randomly interrupted the conversation to say, “I just want to say, Page. You are beautiful. Really, really beautiful. I had to tell you.”
J and Legalista chimed in to totally embarrass me. I choked out a “thank you” or two, perhaps sounding a bit too enthusiastic and forced, and poked feebly at my mussels.
“She doesn’t believe you for a second,” J mused.
“You’re so beautiful,” Skyspook said, smoothing my hair as we lie in bed.
We were barely visible to one another in the light from the blinds. “It’s dark in here,” I protested.
“I can see you with my hands,” he said, pulling me in for a kiss.
I remind myself it doesn’t matter how I look. Looks don’t matter. Personally, I don’t put that much stock in the looks of others.
The trouble is that I know it matters to most other people, equates to interpersonal power, social capita with an immediacy and prevalence that frightens me.
I’ve personally experienced how losing 150 pounds has radically shifted people’s perception of me, how I went from forgettable to striking, from tolerated to adored. It may seem shallow, but I don’t want to go back. It would be devastating.
“Page! You look so amazing! Your dress, your make-up!” I’m greeted at the door.
Sure, I do. Sure, I do.