tales of a girl in the city

août 18, 2005

A Pound of Flesh

Maybe I'll always do it.

Maybe I'll be forty or fifty years old, walking down the street, and I'll still reach down and do it. When I see someone skinnier--someone whose body I envy.

I'll put my hand on my side, and pinch what there is to pinch. Fat. A little shelf of it. For the rest of my life, maybe, this will be my reflex.

It's a habit created, I'm fairly certain, from a series of traceable events.

Fifth Grade: Charlie Radborn came over to me at recess. I was wearing the biker shorts that I'd seen all the other girls in since the weather had gotten warmer. "You shouldn't wear those. You're fat," he told me, then promptly walked away.

I was nine.

Pulling my t-shirt down lower for the rest of the day, to cover the bumps and curves that were indeed--I saw now--different than those of the other girls, I would go home and push the shorts deep into the back of one of my drawers.

Before that day I hadn't cared that my legs didn't leave the fabric of my pants slack and gaping. After it I would walk down the hall and feel my thighs touch. I would covet the spindly legs of the other girls in gym class, drawing my own up beneath my chin.

Sixth Grade: My body was made for dancing. I felt that way. I'd been in ballet forever by then, and I loved the beautiful five positions. The free feeling of a good tour-jete. Pas de chat: step of the cat. I felt clever when I did those. Run-run-LEAP and you were up and off, defying gravity in the most elegant way. Until Mr. Reilly began to ruin it.

I loved to dance because it made me feel that I had no boundaries, no borders, just motion and spirit. Flight. But then he took his tall walking stick, paused for a moment, stopped pounding out the music, and THWAK!, hit my tummy, then hit my rear. The next week, "Boom!" he'd mimmicked my landing as we did a jump. "You dance like a truckdriver."

The insults came every class and they grounded me. I could hardly move I felt so heavy. "You're smart, but you don't have the body," and he'd point to Monica at the front of the bar, all legs and ankles.

I'd never wanted to be a dancer, I'd just wanted to dance. At ten, however, I didn't know how to explain this difference. What I did know: I had loved to turn, to leap.

His last insults, the final few prods and sharp hits, sent me stumbling down the stairs, my tears like lead weights, crashing from my heavy, heavy limbs. Afterwards, my mother tried to enroll me in a different ballet school, but I hated dance by then. I stood at the bar, in front of the mirror, and felt trapped by my own shape. I jumped and heard nothing but the thud of my landing.

High School. I remember standing in line for high school lunches: carton of milk, orange tray, silverware you picked up right after you'd handed the lady your money. I don't remember what I ate, but I remember what I didn't eat. What I wanted to eat but wouldn't let myself. I'd see Jennifer or Elle, Christina, Carrie. Jenny Coles, and back would go the Ho-ho's. The mashed potatoes would be passed by. We'd sit down to eat together, and I'd notice the smallness, the neatness of their meals. The straight silver sides of a can of Diet Coke. The perfect, pale green shine of an apple. Pretzels, I learned from careful observation, make a short, clipped sound when they're crunched.

The other girls didn't seem to want the messes--the slurps, the licks, the gobbles. But, I did. Even the salads I wanted weren't right. I wanted chunks and crumbles, the uneven blobs of blue cheese dressing, the chipped rectangles and fat pieces of real bacon bits. I craved them but denied myself. Instead I chose clean, perfect circles. Carrots, cucumbers, the tight redness of cherry tomatoes. The shape of things consumed me:

Jenny Coles had beautiful legs. Her pointy, angled knees were as squared off as the corners of my nearly empty lunch tray. With Paige it was arms. At cheerleading practice, I'd notice them every day, the little V just below her shoulders. Definite. Sharp as any knife. Each of them had something, some angle or curve, some smooth part of their packaging that I felt I lacked. I pinched the flesh on the side of my waist, spilling over my own edges. I became obsessed with my shape, with space. With the amount of space I took up.