Trigger warning: Body image, disordered eating
I was skinny three months ago. The skin was taut around my kneecaps and elbows. My stomach was concave and tight to the touch. Bones peaked out from under loose-fitting clothing with size tags claiming XXS, as if it were a prized label of excellence. If I walked more than 1,000 steps in one day, my heart would begin to flutter, and upon standing, I would lightly black out, needing to steady myself.
Skinny is my comfort zone. It assures me that when the world acts in opposition to me, when troubles rise and unrest thrums late at night, I am still in control – a feigned control, though it may be. Skinny tells me that for today, all is still normal, that my worth in weight is still upheld. I understand skinny; it is like home to me. I communicate well with skinny, as we tell each other what we need and how to achieve it. He likes me small, she envies petite, they congratulate thin. We speak the same language that society and culture and gym teachers taught us when we were 8.
Skinny is a war zone. It frightens me with jagged breaths and aching muscles. Skinny tells me not enough, not quite, not ready. We’re brothers at odds, vying for the affection of the same woman, willing to slay the other for her love. I try to convince skinny to go away, to leave me alone. Skinny is a bad listener and a talented orator. I listen to skinny, and I’m convinced. For all the torture and exhaustion, skinny is still a dear friend, the one I trust the most.
I went away for awhile. I took my skinny body to a hospital room and sat in an electronic bed for ten days straight. The nurses flocked to me, calling me “poor little miss” and “you tiny thing.” People cared when I was skinny, found it cute that I was so frail; it was glamorous to be sick and the world approved. I forced ham sandwiches down my throat and sipped on meal replacements throughout the day. A bag full of fluids pumped electrolytes and minerals into my veins that normal people have stores of naturally. A television hummed listlessly in the background, showing me other skinny bodies, taunting me until I’d wheel my I.V. pole into the bathroom to purge pretzels and dignity from my system. I wrapped blankets around my skinny legs and asked for my sweater to cover my skinny arms. The air was always too cold. Skinny was an icebox.
From this hospital I was transferred to another – one where skinny was forbidden. I talked to therapists about how being un-skinny felt like twisting a dirty blade in my stomach, tearing me internally until my mind went to mush from the exertion of pain. I wrote poems to skinny, told skinny to leave me be for awhile. I ate un-skinny food and drank un-skinny soda. I sat on my ass for 16 hours a day, forcing skinny to screech in terror. I held my un-skinny body tightly when the scale announced that the world would no longer notice me for being small. I told un-skinny it would be okay, even though I didn’t believe it at the time. With tears behind my eyes, in the back of my throat, I told un-skinny I love you, you can stay for awhile. I told skinny I was tired, but would possibly be back soon.
After some time, I took my un-skinny body home with me, where we now eat breakfast together every morning and tell each other “I care for you” every night. Un-skinny is still unfamiliar, new, and a little erratic, but she’s more forgiving than skinny was. Un-skinny doesn’t make me feel like I should be more than I already am. Skinny still peaks in every so often to ask if I’m sure I want to eat lunch, promising me things that never panned out in the past. My un-skinny body is still trying to find the right size tag – I know it’s out there somewhere.
I wish I didn’t love skinny so much. I wish skinny was just an adjective in my vocabulary. Skinny has been so much more, though. I was skinny. The two of us were the same. How do I be me when I’m not also skinny? It’s a puzzle I’m working on, though a few of the pieces are hiding under floorboards somewhere. Un-skinny tells me to take my time, that she’ll be here when it’s hard. I believe her, though I’m not sure how. I guess when the sun rises each morning, just as it had the day before, I’m reminded of what can be, how different can also feel right.
I’m going to be un-skinny today, but only for today. And when tomorrow becomes today, I’m going to be un-skinny then, too. It’s a pattern I have to repeat until it sets, like damp paint drying on a humid wall – it’ll take time, but it’ll happen eventually.
I miss you, skinny. And I wish we’d never met.