A few years ago during some holiday gathering or another, I sat with my family and we played one of those charade games where you ask questions to get people to say words and those words combine into a phrase and your team only has a fixed amount of time to get it right. One of the questions someone used to get us to say the word “weight,” was: “What’s something that everybody wants to lose?” Every person in the room answered simultaneously, without missing a beat. Weight.
The thing about the wars against ourselves is that winning isn’t succeeding, but surrendering. The paradox is that what life is really about is un-growth. It’s about un-learning to do, and re-learning to be.
As much as it is about becoming who you are, its about peeling off the layers that you’re not. Pain is just resistance, and it’s born of attachments and needs and ideas and a fixed concept of what’s good and bad. In this context, it’s adopting elements of other people as ourselves because it’s easier than the reality. But discomfort is a privilege in that it means you already know something better to be true. In the misery we experience trying to become everything we’re not, we are, in contrast, tapping into everything we are.
When I was in 6th grade, my best friend and I used to weigh ourselves together. I was four pounds heavier than her. The year before, my school teacher told us that if we wanted to clip off one of our school pictures and give it to him, he would put them all on his desk and never forget us. I gave him one. Mine was placed next to a girl in my class, Cara. She was beautiful, and I was not. And it was so obvious to me. I don’t even know if it was social conditioning at that point, as much as it was just understanding how looking at beautiful made me feel and how much I was not like that. Four years before that, I stood next to my mom at the sink of the bathroom while she got ready for work and played in her makeup bag. I put on mascara and blush and my eyes got wide and I remember thinking: “oh my god, I fixed it. This is what I need.” I just looked so much better and it was as though I had unveiled some magic, and finally understood why women did what they did each day. I told my mom about my epiphany, and she told me to stop.
The first assertions we make about things tend to become unconsciously adopted as our baseline “truth,” and we keep operating on them, even when the logic no longer applies. Even when we know better.
I talk about that series of instances because those were the genesis of my wanting to be thin. And beautiful. And charming. And a host of other things I felt, in my heart, were objectively “good.”
It didn’t dawn on me to question this until my early 20s. A friend’s friend from a college in New York was visiting my dorm, and he happened to be friends with some girls I went to school with. He told them he was coming to see his friend and I and the girls I once knew said to him: “ew, she’s a lesbian.” He told me, and I’m glad he did. At first, I flushed and tried to deny it. But before I could cycle back into that tired old song and dance, these words, for the first time, came to my brain: “so what the fuck if I am?” How crazy it was to me, the amount of time I spent feeling as though I was being accused of something “wrong” when the people using a sexuality as an insult were the ones that actually were.
I’ve been thinner and I’ve been bigger, and neither made me happier. I had a better life when I changed how I thought, and I changed how I thought the day I asked myself: “What if you didn’t want to be thin?” That’s where it started, a few years ago.
And what if I didn’t want a bunch of other things either? What if I chose to be grateful for the 30 pounds I gained from a medication that saved my life? What if a life well lived for me ended with a stretched out, scarred up belly because I have the kids I’ve always dreamed of and didn’t spend their first years missing a sleeping head on my shoulder or temper tantrum or music class to be at the gym? What if I thought about nourishing my body and brain and heart and soul?
I know I’m talking about weight, but I’m really alluding to something more, and it’s that what if our lives never evolve to the magnitude we’re told to dream them up to be, and what if that’s okay? What if we gave up on the idea of a big life and found solace and beauty and love in the little moments we already have? What if we didn’t accept our bodies in spite of them being imperfect, but we rejected the idea that such a categorical space for a body even exists in the first place?
What if this is all there is, and it turns out to be more than enough? What if we realized we don’t need to win the wars we didn’t start?
What if I did the most liberating thing there is, and freed myself from other people’s minds? What if my opinions were no longer the average of those around me? What if I stopped worshipping other people’s Gods, and stopped mimicking other people’s actions and stopped listening to other people’s thoughts and did the one thing that everybody is afraid of in this world: sat with myself. In the present. In the moment. In the nothingness that binds us to our ideas of other people’s standards and an endless cycle of worry and existential angst. This is why we turn away from ourselves, beat our bodies and minds into submission: we can’t face who we really are, so we need to make ourselves into something that we’re not.
So what if I did that, and what if you did too? And what if the silence spoke to us in a way that our minds couldn’t, and what if we completely allowed ourselves as we are and realized that it was what we were seeking all along?
What I’m trying to say is, what if I didn’t want to be thin? And what if I didn’t want a big life? Or an heir-worthy savings account or a lot of people who know my name or a ton of material belongings or a wide and fascinating social circle or a perfectly curated physical beauty or a life that even makes sense?
What if you didn’t, either?
What if we got past our suffering not by triumphing over an illusion but surrendering to the truth that we already know is there?