I feel much more comfortable in my body when I have to work to button my pants than when I have to keep my string bikini from sliding off my hips. It feels odd and very radical, but it’s true. Clothes fit in a more appealing way and I actually have cleavage; I feel fully feminine and especially strong. I also feel relaxed and have a much easier time falling asleep at night. Rest comes easily. And so does pleasure. Cuddling and sex and the gentle intimacy of quality time feel wholly satisfactory with fuller hips, a round belly, and soft arms. Alone time in the creature comforts of singledom feels less harsh too. Soft life seems like the best life– until I have to face the public.
Ask any millennial woman about body image and their relationship with food and I guarantee that every single one of them would say something along the lines of “it’s been a journey” or “it’s complicated.” Even those of us who have done the work and who are at peace with ourselves occasionally slip back into a neurosis when a familiar item or size no longer fits, or someone makes an unsolicited comment about our bodies. We grew up with painfully thin female celebrities in baby tee shirts and hip hugging low-rise jeans that gave anyone with the slightest bit of softness the dreaded muffin top. And if women dared to bare anything other than tone and bone they were eviscerated by tabloid journalists, morning radio hosts, comedians, magazine covers, and too often the broadcasters on the local news. We were told that a cup of skim milk, half a cup of cereal with freeze-dried fruit was a complete meal for a grown woman. I have heard stories from women who when they were as young as 9 were put on starvation diets by their own mothers despite being healthy, active children. Children. “Children” as in fledgling humans who are still very much growing and need nutrients to do so. Honestly, I would be surprised if a woman who came of age during the aughts did not wrestle with disordered eating at some point in their life. I know I still do from time to time, subconsciously restricting when I’m sad or feeling uncertain, and sometimes intentionally when I feel rejected or criticized as a sort of punishment for existing; whether they realize it or not, people are kinder and friendlier to me when I am thinner.
In that hypothetical survey of millennial women, my personal relationship with food and my body has “been a journey.” I have been a size queen my entire adult life, with a range from a US 14 at my largest the beginning of freshman year in college to a size 4, the smallest my wide hips and strong, 5’9” frame will healthily allow. I am on the smaller side most of the time due to the athleticism of my work, but naturally tend to put on a bit of weight during the summer and early fall that I shiver away during the winter. And I am very much at peace with all of this, even while being in the public eye sometimes. But every handful of years I’ll put on a very noticeable amount of weight about which folks cannot help but to comment. Last year was one of those years. It was an especially stressful spring and summer with loss of communities, the ends of friendships, and the deaths of loved ones, and we all know how cortisol works; I put on at least 25 pounds by Christmas. The last time I put on almost that amount of weight from stress I became distraught by usually friendly clients suddenly turning cold and sharp-tongued and unsolicited comments about my eating habits from coworkers; I became hyper-aware of my clothing tightening on my softening frame. I dropped the extra weight and then some as quickly as possible and was at a size 4 by Valentine’s Day.
But this time I took most of the unsolicited comments about my body in stride; most were compliments in this wonderful age of body acceptance– except for the one from a colleague who straight up called me “fat.” I later confronted them about it and we had a heart-to-heart about body dysphoria and the internalized shame and fat phobia of our generation; he’s a millennial too. I hate to sound like one of those old-timers, but kids today have no idea how good they have it. Fashion is far more inclusive and accepting; the concept of body neutrality would have blown tweenaged-me’s mind. And there are also plenty of adults like myself who survived widely accepted and explicitly fatphobic messages during childhood and puberty who model how to openly love and nourish and celebrate our bodies as they are, even when they change without warning.
Though I felt good and very comfortable with the weight I gained last year, and my the person I was seeing couldn’t get enough of it, I got sick. I began to feel nauseated often, and at one point it was all day, everyday. Everything made me feel like I had to vomit, and sometimes I would. And those 25-30 pounds began to fall away, along with my confidence– and the person I was dating. I did not lose too much of my muscle, but was definitely too weak to perform safely for at least a month. I still feel nauseated a lot of the time, I even got a little queasy while writing this. I don’t know what’s causing it, but have been working with doctors to find out. I’ve been forcing myself to eat through the nausea so as to not completely waste away; yesterday I looked in the mirror and was glad to see that my face looked less paper-like.
I still celebrate my body, wearing audacious push-up bikinis, the ubiquitous variety of crop tops, and cute, cozy lounge wear that make me feel extra girly. But as I lie in bed at night trying to fall asleep or in the wee hours while trying to fall back asleep, I remember how much easier it was with soft arms, fuller hips, and a rounded belly to find peace in the night and to feel comfort in the day.