by Sandra Hurtes
After watching the Academy Awards I decided to go off my diet. Looking
at actresses who earn enough money to feed entire nations, yet appear
emaciated and in desperate need of a good meal, sent me charging to the
fridge. Thatís not to say I wouldnít like to be a size two and wear a
clingly dress like Uma or Hilary. I have been as thin as they are, and
the truth is, once the novelty wore off, I wasnít any happier than I am
Iíve spent over one-half of my life concerned about my weight. The
eternal ten pounds that I mull over in my mind, for a minute here, a
minute there, add up to a nice chunk of time that I could be thinking
about far meatier issues -- raising money for
AIDS research, housing the homeless, even my next article. But with the
self-centeredness of the body-obsessed, the scale in my mind never
sleeps. While waiting for a train, attending a business meeting, or
sitting at my computer, a voice inside my head comes out of nowhere, and
tells me, ďIím so fat.Ē
In the movie "Sex, Lies and Videotape", Andie MacDowellís character tells
her therapist that women would be fat and happy if there were no men in
the world. Although all the women in the audience laughed in
acknowledgment, I donít believe itís as simple as a female/male issue.
Iíve never been with a man who thought I needed lose ten pounds. Still,
I wage a daily war with myself, equating sexuality with being thin and I
dole out self acceptance with how closely I weigh in.
When the television program Melrose Place was on the air, I wanted to
send the show's female stars a care package. They were scarily skinny.
Was I jealous? Yes. But I was angry too. Although I knew better than
to let the media define me, the messges fed into what I've been taught
ever since I began to care about how I look. If Heather Locklear, a size
2, had a different man every week begging her for sex, somewhere inside
me I believed that if I was ever to have sex again, I had to ook, at
least from the back, like a pubescent girl. So during commercials,
instead of writing a letter to producer Aaron Spelling, I was on the
floor doing sit ups.
Donít get me wrong. Iím not opposed to healthful living. Itís just
that often the true meaning of the terms get blurred. Especially by me.
Several years ago I went to a health spa for a vacation. Comfortable
with my weight, I didnít go there for the dieting but to relax and spend
a week of healthy living.
After three days I got caught up in the low calorie meals and strenuous
exercise and the effect they were having on my body. I loved it,
believing I was only in it for the week. But when I got home, something
strange happened to me. I couldnít start my day without a bowl of
shredded wheat, couldnít even look at Ďfatteningí food, and the early
morning hikes I enjoyed so much, translated in city terms to walking
everywhere, forget about subways or buses. After a month of continuous
diet and exercise the pounds began to fall off. I was in awe of the
process and loved getting skinny. Three months later I was two sizes
smaller, and my hip bones stuck out prominently enough that I could see
them through my clothes. What a rush.
I looked good, although some friends thought I was too thin, I felt fit
and was eating healthfully. Sounds great. The problem was that all I
thought about was food. What I would eat for my next meal. What I
wasnít eating. What other people were eating that they shouldnít be.
How many miles I would walk the next day to work off the extra bites of
something I wished I hadnít eaten. I wasnít aware of the treadmill I was
on until I ran into a friend I hadnít seen in a long time, and she asked
me how my summer was. I realized that the only pleasure I had during
those leisurely months was showing off my new body in skimpy clothes. A
day at the beach was less about fun and more about saying no to food and
comparing myself to other women. It felt a little crazy and dangerously
close to anorexia.
I loosened my grip on myself, and my weight went up a bit. I've gained
a few pounds, an indicator that I love to eat and get great pleasure from
food. Iím not skinny anymore, but Iím not overweight. Can I leave
Iím trying. I went shopping for clothes the other day. Browsing
through the store I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and what I
saw upset me. It wasnít my body, but the way I was dressed. Long
flannel shirt, baggy pants -- a woman in hiding. I rummaged through the
racks and found something black, sexy, with a little cling. I bought
Still, this body acceptance thing is going to take time, and I canít do
it alone. You see, when I was shopping I noticed an interesting
phenomenon. Womenís clothes now start at size zero. How low can we
possibly go? Before starving into non-existence, itís time to stop and
think about something. Is this the change that weíve been fighting for
-- to be heard but not seen?
Sandra Hurtes' articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times,
The Forward, New Age, and numerous other publications. She teaches
creative nonfiction at Hunter College in NYC.