My mother loved melba toast. To her, it was the dieting panacea.
I tried explaining to her that it isn’t really toast. It’s not really anything. It’s like cardboard but without the great texture. Styrofoam, without the mouth-watering allure. There’s a reason the Melba food franchise hasn’t expanded. Their tiny toast squares are an insult to asbestos.
I chuck a handful in my purse.
Chicken broth was another of her favorites. My mother always swore by chicken broth. Like you’ve ever come home from a long day at work and said, “Man, you know what would really hit the spot? A cup of hot empty soup that looks like urine.” And not even normal urine. Urine from someone with a kidney problem.
I pack a powdery packet for lunch.
Today, I am going on a diet. Today, I am going to be good.
This has to be possible. There are thin people in this world. They can’t have all hit the genetic jackpot. Surely some of them must work for it. Some of them must spend their meals going head-to-head with a piece of cake, or a slice of bread, or a hunk of cheese.
The spiney, spindly model-turned-actress-turned-model, for example, currently swishing across my TV, simultaneously trying to sell me mascara and an eating disorder. She’s thin. She’s done it right. I already own the mascara, I wonder where I could purchase the rest.
It’s not like I haven’t done it. I’ve been skinny before.
I’ve visited South Beach and Sonoma. I’ve done Atkins, Metabolic and something called Iso-lean. I have downed pills, powders, and consumed large quantities of pepper, mixed with apple cider vinegar and de-ionized water. I have blinded myself digging through groves of grapefruits. I have worn sweat suits in the sauna. I have chugged bottles of Ipecac.
It works, for a time, until I lose momentum, or enthusiasm, or enough tooth enamel to think I deserve to take a day off. I can have this, I think. I can keep this down. I’ve been so very good.
Then, before I know it, the day turns into weeks, weeks turn into months, and months turn the scale right back to where it was. I have an entire array of sizes in my closet. I can’t get rid of them. I never know what I’m going to need.
So today is Monday, and I am counting calories.
I can eat anything I want, so long as I don’t go over 1200.
I got up early and went for a run. Ok, I went for a jog. Well, really I jogged some of it and walked some. Alright fine. I pretty much strolled. Cut me a break. I gave it a shot. Running is hard. Did you know running is hard? Who are those adrenalined assholes who come back from ten miles on the track and are like, “Wow, dude, I feel so invigorated.” Running isn’t invigorating, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.
I need coffee.
Can I have coffee?
I stop on my way out the door to Google how many calories are in my morning latte. Really, I would rather not know. Meals without nutrition labels are the dietary equivalent of Plato’s cave. I’d stay in the shadows the rest of my life if it means I can eat whatever I want.
350 calories. Man, that’s a lot. That’s like a third of my intake for the day. Wait, how many times does 350 go into 1200? Leave me alone. Math is hard. So what, it will be my breakfast. I had coffee for breakfast, that sounds good. I’m sure that’s all that model chick had, a latte with a side of cigarettes.
Ten minutes later I am on the train headed to work with absolutely nothing in my stomach. I have that great, cleansed/dizzy/pop-star-on-a-bender thing going on. Like I am above food. Food doesn’t own me. Dieting is easy. I can do this. No problem. Just like riding a bike. Then I remember, I hate bikes.
I wiped out when I was younger.
I fell and needed stitches in my chin.
You see, back then I was pretty. We thought I was going to be a dancer, or an actress, or some other career requiring beauty and lifetime of limited caloric intake. My parents had a plastic surgeon come look my face, but it didn’t make any difference. Even with his help, the scar ended up being quite large.
I can see it now, in the window of the train. One side of my chin puffs up larger than the other, giving it a faux, lop-sided cleft effect. I used to hate it, but now I am ambivalent towards it. I’m not going to be an actress and I gave up dancing years ago. Nobody cares if their desk assistant has a fucked up face. Most days, I don’t even notice it.
I wish I could say the same for my hips.
The insecurity developed over years of standing nearly naked in mirrors full of thinner, more talented, better looking girls never really goes away. On the rare occasion I look in a mirror, I don’t see a person. I see a sick, cellulite-infested puppet. Like if that guy from Silence of the Lambs finished his woman suit, filled with tapioca pudding and turned it into me.
Yes, I realize I am damaged.
Yes, I know there’s something wrong.
But there is hardly ever organized pity for obesity. There’s no Susan G. Komen foundation for overeating. No national Walk for the Cupcake Cure.
Weight, like cigarette or alcohol consumption, is something people think you should be able to control. And if you can’t, if you let yourself go, as people like to call it, you deserve all the ire and contempt headed your way. And they are right to judge me. I’ve failed. I’ve fallen. I’ve lost.
Standing in the middle of the car, the full-length window makes a mockery of my reflection. The glass curves out, lending my figure a furious funhouse effect. In an instant, my already significant girth has doubled. Every lump or bulge is magnified in size.
I am the antithesis of narcissistic. I would walk the Sahara in plastic sandals if it meant never again having to see myself from the waste down. I would lick the shoe of a poultry farmer. I would write love letters to Gary Bucey and the ghost of Pol Pot.
Outside, it’s still dark. The train clatters down the tracks, pushing past town homes and apartments. Hundreds of thousands of people who will wake up this morning and be forced to look in a mirror. What small fraction of them will actually like what they see?
My stomach groans but I ignore it.
Today, I am going to be good.