I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud…
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
The body houses the self; it is not the self. Emerson would agree; Whitman would not. You cannot rent or buy a new home for your self, but you can remodel and redecorate the old one.
My hair stylist brushed chemicals onto my hair. The clientless stylist in the booth beside us talked about how she’d recently—finally—lost the weight she gained after getting off Adderall. She had been on the little orange pills far past the point of necessary, knowing weaning would bring weight gain. She had been afraid.
Once, in a five-minute phone call
I went from feeling beautiful to ugly.
Second baby aftermath
I was still overweight but was working on it. I counted calories and forced my body to sweat. There was progress. I bought new jeans and chose a token denim skort to save from my Goodwill cull. Maybe I’d do one of those amazing photographs one day, holding a waistband triumphantly far from my stomach, displaying a gap that used to be filled.
Not more, he said
Remodeling is a complicated process that can leave the homeowner feeling displaced; happy with the changes, but feeling disoriented. The quicker the changes take place, the more often the homeowner will furtively—or openly—glance at the corners of the room for proprietary marks; the more she will wonder at how it seems a whole new place, but still has the same bones, which both give shape to and limit the form.
Out of magic
The stylist next to us had been right to be afraid: she gained 25 pounds in a scary-short number of days. She inflated, enlarged, could fit nothing in her closet, regretted weaning off the orange pills.
I was asked to serve as a bridesmaid. I hadn’t even known the bride for a year yet, had never confided a secret nor received one, never called her crying for the comfort a good friend can give. She had gotten “born again” and fallen in love with someone from church. I guess her old friends were too worldly to be bridesmaids; she only asked new church friends.
Walking without sympathy for our selves
I’m glad Whitman loved his body so much. I can’t relate. I think most modern women can’t relate to standing before the mirror celebrating the body, or bathing and admiring, as Whitman does in his Song of Myself. Is it our gender or culture or everything?
Dual threat: rush plus budget
We determined to find dresses in San Antonio, on the rack—no time to order, the best man’s upcoming deployment making the wedding a rush job. Everyone was young and poor; we scoured department stores, hoping to find a deal—dark dresses made for funerals and church instead of lavender or peach ones made for weddings—that could be worn again. I was a size 16 while the other bridesmaids were in single digits.
Shut up girl you look gorgeous, my own stylist said. She did, but remember: she had already lost the 25 pounds. The compliment was irrelevant; the condition had been cured.
The proper pronoun
When people talk about those others who “let themselves go,” who “let the house fall apart,” “let things go to shit,” or “lost the farm,” they are talking about women.
Thwarted by money (lack) and fat (excess)
When we found a perfect dress—simple, dark, under $50—my size was missing.
Or maybe it’s all shallow
I don’t like the compliments that only come with weight loss. It highlights the type I got before: pretty shirt, nice necklace, I like your hair. Now they seem to be missing an element. I’d rather get no compliments than feel that my body is being rated, be it good ratings or bad. Maybe I only feel this way because I’ve never reached my goal.
A messenger from the middle
My own stylist confided that she had just begun Adderall for her ADHD. She had already lost five pounds. She yanked at her waistband, showing a coveted gap, the one I’d imagined having in my skort. That’s what happens when you don’t eat, she smiled.
Voicemail is a better destination for calls
A bridesmaid called a week later with the perfect solution. The bride had chosen that perfect dress, that didn’t come in my size, and decided to have a dressmaker
make me a copycat. It wouldn’t be the same material or exactly the same style, and it might look a trifle homemade. Oh, and it would cost three times as much, at least. But that’s what you get if you’re fat (my thought, not theirs, I think.). They’d already bought their dresses and told me I needed to get my material and dressmaker lined up ASAP.
Maybe, maybe not
What if Whitman was born in the 1980s? Could he admire his body so fervently in this age of self-hatred and bulimia?
Without a trace remaining
I said I needed to go, hung up, cried. My husband was furious at the bride and her maids. My new self-esteem, built slowly from sweat and denied calories, hard fought willpower and a belief that I could actually do it this time, vanished so easily.
A familiar look on an unfamiliar face
The other stylist looked wistful at the thought of the five pounds chased away by the orange chemicals.
Wearing homespun while others sport silk
I imagined wedding guests looking back and forth from my dress to the identical ones, figuring it out quietly: that one’s too fat. I considered not eating until the wedding. What had I read on eating disorders? Laxatives, speed, fingers down a raw throat. Two grapes on a lettuce leaf for lunch.
The nature of it
On the David’s Bridal website, the same dress can be ordered in sizes 0-30. The wedding industry wasn’t the problem. Neither was my body. The problem was the friends who so quickly and without my input decided I would be okay with being singled out. Who, for the sake of cheap dresses for themselves, decided that I should pay three times as much. Who made me feel lesser, who didn’t notice I was choking back tears over the phone.
The face is now familiar and the look always was
I pictured myself swallowing beautiful orange pills, a gap growing in my waistband as my body melted away. I recognized the danger in the conversation and my thoughts but still felt jealous of the prescription.
She had the right to choose; so did I
I could do as they desired or as I desired. I could back out of the wedding. There would be a groomsman without a bridesmaid. The ceremony would be rendered unbalanced. My body, fat as it was, was needed to maintain the equilibrium. My husband was friends with all the husbands and boyfriends of the girls involved. We could lose a lot of friends. Everyone would know why I backed out; everyone would know I was hurt.
I speak to you and to me
Call them back. Tell them no. Always: choose yourself, trust yourself, value yourself. Tell them they hurt you and tell them they have to do without your beautiful self standing at the altar and tell them what you’re worth. Try to banish the feelings of guilt that bubble up. Try, and try harder, to find comfort in something besides food.
I judge female bodies myself now. A defensive move. I don’t actually care what another woman’s body is like, but someone with a perfect home for their self may not like my home enough to get to know my self. I’d rather just not invest in my future pain.
Tell them you’ve worked too damn hard to let them make you feel lesser.