Two words: Heroine chic.
At the tender age of 13, I twisted my body around in front of the full length mirror I'd purchased from the nearest K-Mart for $6.99. I used the business end of my inaugural pair of platform shoes and to my mom's chagrin, proceeded to hammer the mirror to the back of my bedroom door. Seventeen magazine and the stick-thin models contained within its glossy pages began a residency on my nightstand years before the walking hungry began gracing the pages of trash magazines like Us and In Touch.
Thus, the brainwashing began. Slow and insidious. Photograph by photograph, article by article, I began to believe the hype. Heroine chic. The two mismatched words suddenly a happy couple cavorting through Cosmo and Vogue like annoying newlyweds. Thin was in, baby! And it was here to stay.
It happened overnight. One day I was happily playing softball with my pals at recess. The next, I was inquiring, "Do these jeans make my butt look big?" In junior high it was THE bonding ritual between preteens desperate to fit in:
"Oh my God! I am, like, soo fat!"
"Totally! Me too. I ate soo much at lunch!"
"What did you have?"
"That is, like, so bad for you! Do you know how many fat grams are in the dressing? And the calories!"
"I just won't eat dinner then."
"Just drink tons of Diet Coke. You'll feel full."
Sounds silly, right? But at 28 years old, I'm still that little girl forever trying to pinch an inch. Constantly counting calories, walking the tightrope of to eat or not to eat. No breakfast so I can have a bigger lunch. Skipped lunch? Great, now I can have a snack when I get home. Better yet, I should avoid eating for as long as possible so I can binge-eat my stress away after work. Do I gamble? No, but I can run numbers faster than most pros if they represent calories or fat grams. It's an automatic thought process, as inherent as blinking. There isn't an item that passes my lips that isn't calculated in some way, weighed somehow against what went before.
"Quit being so obsessed about food. You're such a drag," says the boyfriend who can slam down two cheeseburgers, fries and a milkshake without gaining a pound. I want this feeling to stop. I want to have Marilyn Monroe proportions and feel sexy - not chubby - but I'm bombarded with images of barely-there body. Truth is, if Marilyn and her world famous 36-24-36 physique was a starlet in today's Hollywood, US magazine would be sure to direct our attention to her fat ass encased in Armani AND point out that Teri Hatcher "Wore It Better" in the fashion section.
Ever wonder why your grandma's always cooking? Always trying to feed you? Because she grew up in the days of classic Hollywood. Where buxom beauties like Marilyn, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner represented the ideal. "Eat! Eat! You're skin and bones!" Grandma shrieks every time I stop by for a visit. "Get something in you." She heaves herself from her rocker, so inspired to feed me she abandons watching 'her stories' and immediately sets to work, opening and closing cupboards, pulling tupperwared leftovers from the refrigerator. In mere seconds a hearty stew is simmering on the stove. After I'm forcefed, she sends me on my way with various packages including (but not limited to) loaves of freshly made bread, jam, cookies and of course, at least three jars of canned peaches.
I got food on the brain in some capacity at all time. What should I eat for dinner? I shouldn't be eating this. Ice cream sounds good right now, but I shouldn't. What will I order? Had a bad day? Cookie dough is the antidote. Stressed from work? I'm going to zone out in front of the TV with a greasy bag of microwave popcorn perched atop my lap while reading an US magazine with Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olson battling for skeletal supremacy.
And then the inevitible shame spiral that prompts me to embark on what is perhaps my thousandth weight loss program. The I'M-REALLY-SERIOUS-THIS-TIME kind. So serious I break out a pen and paper with which to script The Rules. This can happen alone or with a like-minded buddy. A penning of The Rules often proceeds a big event such as an impending wedding, reunion or party.
Every time I speak on the telephone to Natalie, my co-conspirator in many of the aforementioned diet scams, the same conversation since junior high will at some point rear it's ugly head.
"I have gained so much weight."
"No seriously. You have no idea. Remember when we could eat a full meal and our tummies would pooch out, like little pot bellies?"
"Yeah?" "Well mine's stuck! It used to go back down the next morning. Now it just stays pooched!"
"I hear ya, sister. You're preaching to the choir. I'm like, four months along over here!"
Not much has changed. We despise ourselves for our shallowness, for not following the much touted womanly mantra of loving ourselves for who we are. For engaging in these tired conversations. Yet I find them oddly comforting. Not only is Natalie my co-conspirator in the battle of the bulge, she is a fellow victim of heroine chic. A normal day for Natalie, like me, contains a whopping portion of fighting the fat. We know our husbands don't wanna hear it; most of the time they think we're digging for compliments anyway. So we're left to our own devices, taking comfort in the togetherness of our sad plight.
If Natalie successfully hopped aboard the workout wagon I'd feel betrayed. I'd shriek "Oh my god you look so good!" the next time I laid envious eyes on her. And I'd be happy for her. Kind of. Inside I'd feel abandoned to my food frivolities and failures.
And so the unwanted battle of the bulge forges on...
This article was originally published at The Girl Who. Reprinted with permission from the author.