I watched this TED Talk on a recent lunch break and it brought me face to face with some things I’ve been thinking about lately.
For most of my life, I had a unique disdain for girls and women who expressed doubt about their looks, especially their weight. “She only says that she’s fat because she wants everyone else to tell her she’s skinny,” was my typical put-down: I despised needy girls, insecure girls, who I assumed were only seeking others’ opinions to inflate their own egos.
I would never do that, of course. I was above caring. I was big into the body acceptance movement, although deep down I might have recognized this was mostly because I knew there was nothing about my body that might be considered unacceptable. If not convinced of my own beauty, I was at least very secure in my slenderness; I’d been told for years how thin I was, and I’d never had to do anything to earn what I recognized as praise. There were other things “wrong” with me, of course: I was too tall and gangly, my forehead was too big, my nose too sharp, my hair too unruly. But at least I had a flat stomach.
There were times, of course, when being thin was not particularly helpful—for instance, when I was desperate to develop double-D breasts (never happened), or when my parents briefly suspected me of having an eating disorder (I didn’t.) But the rest of the time, thin was great. I’d preen when mall saleswomen suggested a smaller size than I had pulled off the rack, or when friends’ mothers, watching me feast on chips and chocolate and pizza and ice cream without gaining a pound, sighed “I miss those days!” I’d been thin all my life, but even though I’d never experienced anything else, I was instinctively aware that being skinny was better than the alternative.
I like to think that I was never hateful toward other bodies, but I know that I was not entirely free of judgment. Given my own miraculous powers of eating anything I wanted without consequences, it took me longer than it should have, especially as a self-avowed feminist, to recognize that other bodies worked differently. And even after I came to this realization, I didn’t stop taking my own slender form for granted. While my college friends eschewed the ice cream machine in the dining hall or turned down Halloween candy, I indulged myself. I drank sodas, ordered rich desserts, ate second and third helpings. I never denied myself, or gave a thought to the calories (and chemicals, and junk) that were going into my body.
Part of this, of course, was because my metabolism was fast and I ran every day, which made me almost constantly hungry; but it was also because I could. I was thin, and in my mind I always would be, and I never needed to extend compassion to girls who desired outside validation of their own prettiness or skinniness. I figured those girls were just shallow, or too dumb to see what was in front of them. I knew better than they did. I didn’t buy into the popular opinion of what was “beautiful” (and of course I would have insisted that this had nothing to do with the fact that my own body fit within those standards, and it’s always easier to reject a privilege when you’re one of the privileged).
Then I fell in love, and it ruined everything.