Stories are supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end. They depend on conflict and climax and closure. The prince slayed a dragon and rode off into the sunset with the princess on the back of a white horse. They lived happily ever after.
I want to tell a story about my body but the only stories I’ve read about bodies are ones in which a broken body becomes fixed.
A story needs to be an unveiling — a before picture becomes an after picture. The hero makes the journey and comes home transformed. The audience knows all of this because the transformation is literal: he returns with a dragon’s head trailing from his horse. You can see it, point to it, feel the way the blood and gore turns your stomach. It’s real.
The rules are, if you want to tell a story about a broken body, eventually the audience needs to see the cure.
Another thing about stories: the princess is always beautiful. There are no exceptions. Our little kid stories demand beauty and then we grow up into people who talk about how the people we don’t like are ugly. We never outgrow this very fundamental idea that beautiful people are good and wicked people are ugly.
I thought the story my whole life was about was how an ugly person became beautiful.
But I find myself here at what distinctly feels like the end of a story, absent a physical transformation. I don’t know how to make sense of all this excess plot. I haven’t been taught that a happy ending might include my plain old unchanged body. How can the story end if I’m not thin?
The story is about how I felt (I’m sorry to say very literally) I was a monster, and how I came to feel better. The monster thoughts feel so foreign now, I don’t relate to them to the extent that I might think I was exaggerating if I couldn’t read those thoughts verbatim in my journal.
This is a story with a happy ending, I don’t feel that way anymore. ‘Cured’ seems like an intensely strong word, but I’m not far off. I look in the mirror and I like what I see, though I can objectively tell that I’m not, you know, a commercial model or something near. I just like the way my body feels soft. I like that the skin around my eyes is beginning to wear. I like that I feel free and happy and comfortable. I like not wearing makeup. I like the way a commercial for an anti-aging product comes on and the worry feels like it’s in a foreign language, maybe. An inside joke I’m only aware of through a kind of distant translation. I know it’s not for me.
This is not magic, this is a place I’ve worked very hard to get to. I’ve spent a few thousand dollars on therapy and then even after I pay I still have to show up and do the work. I’ve read books. I’ve journaled. I’ve forged myself in a refiner’s fire for the last few years. It’s hard to be vulnerable day after day, but it works.
Or at least, it works in a way that you can’t see. When I say it works I mean that my distress was there and then it was gone. Poof. But my body is still broken. I’m hyper-aware that this argument isn’t very convincing because the body is the important part. The princess must be beautiful. It’s not a very good happy ending if no one else wants it for themselves.
I don’t know how to convince anyone else this is a happy ending.
It’s so easy to say it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks and it’s so hard to not care what anyone else thinks. I’ve done this intensely personal thing and I don’t know how to talk about it. When someone I haven’t seen in a while asks me “what’s new?” I don’t know how to talk about this important thing. I don’t feel like I have anything to point to. It’s not like slaying dragons.
It seems really important to talk about the process of hating yourself and then not hating yourself, so why does it seem so hard? I always knew this was going to be a story I’d have to tell, I just thought by the time I got to the end I’d have more to “show” for it. I didn’t move anywhere exotic, I didn’t lose a bunch of weight, I didn’t do anything remotely easy or glamorous.
Maybe there’s a difference between what works and what makes a good story.
I don’t know why this idea is just striking me three decades into life and almost as much into my story-reading career. I don’t know why I’m waiting for it all to make sense to everyone else, either. It’s not as if anyone else’s disbelief is going to disrupt the harmony I’ve worked for. Maybe I’m afraid that someone else will do the work and not recognize the success because it doesn’t seem like what we’re taught success looks like. I think we learn that the things worth doing make a good story. They make sense when you tell them to other people.
If a story is going to help people, it should be honest. I know the kind of story arc I could tell that would sell magazines. I think it’s important to say that what really happened is different. It took me a long time to recognize that feeling okay looked different for me than I thought it would. I was waiting for a transformation. I was waiting for something people would recognize. I didn’t know that a happy ending might not look happy from the outside.