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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
BODY IMAGE

Weighing In
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 right now.

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 myself alone?

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 it.

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.


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