I don’t remember the first time I thought I was fat.
I do remember writing a list of New Year’s resolutions when I was in sixth grade. I had just turned 12. I had two Snoopy diaries, because my grandmother had bought me one a year or two before that wasn’t yet filled up, and for the second entry in the new one, emboldened by the sense of security provided by the cheap, easily crackable combination lock on my Hallmark diary, I wrote a list of promises to myself for the next year. Most of them had to do with normal 12-year-old things — boys, grades — although I did include a commitment to “work for peace,” which seems high-minded of me (I’m pretty sure I didn’t check that one off). I had to dust off the diary to remember what the others were, but there’s one that sticks in my mind, because I’ve thought about it often over the years:
“Stay 95 lbs all year.”
“All year” is circled in blue ballpoint pen.
Ninety-five pounds, in case you were wondering, is just about exactly 50th percentile for a 12-year-old girl. Absolutely middle of the road.
I was, at this point in my life, a fairly active kid. Schools hadn’t eliminated P.E. classes yet. I played outside at recess every day — kickball, swings, jungle gym climbing. I went to dance class once a week. I ate healthy home-cooked meals every day. I was exactly average on the growth curve.
And I knew, somehow, that fat was on the horizon. Clearly enough that on the verge of tumbling into adolescence, a time when nature would demand that I grow and change and get bigger, what I wanted more than almost anything else was to stay small.
Was that the beginning of everything? Almost certainly not. Obviously something had registered in my psyche at that point, some message that I was in danger of being too big, taking up too much space, that I needed to worry about my size at a time when my size was so perfectly normal as to be just right. Obviously that wasn’t the very first moment I had thought about it, because I had thought about it enough to know how much I weighed and be aware that it was something I needed to know and track and worry about. And it wasn’t really the beginning of everything, because “everything” wouldn’t come until much later. It would be a few more years before I tried skipping meals, another few years before I tried fad diets and pills, another few before I started obsessively documenting every bite of food and calorie of exercise, before the websites and binges and purges and stretching half a bell pepper into an entire meal, years more before therapy and nutrition counseling and official rehabilitation followed by more weight gain, more purging, more, more, more.
So here we are.
2018 is a year, for me, that will include one of those big scary birthdays that makes you take stock of your life and consider what you’ve accomplished. There are a lot of things I thought and hoped I would have accomplished by now. But there’s one thing that I have accomplished that has moved “learn to eat like a normal healthy person” to the top of the list.
A few years ago, I became a parent. I have two tiny little children now. And I know they don’t care right now whether I’m fat or thin, pretty or ugly, because all I need to be to them is Mama. But I also know that my attitudes about food and body are going to infect theirs, sooner than I think, and I know that because by the time I was 12 years old my own ideas about my body had been so thoroughly infected by the world around me — a world that was, in almost every other way, supportive and happy and healthy and wholesome.
So yes, because I have a big birthday coming up at the end of this year, but also because I have these two little people who will filter everything they know about themselves and the world through my lens for the foreseeable future, and because I owe it to them to be the healthiest and most-whole parent I can be, this year, for me, is about getting to the bottom of my relationship with food, with my body, with my health. I don’t need to be the thinnest and the fittest. What I need is equilibrium. Balance. A happy medium.
That’s what I’m searching for in 2018.