The paper that adorns the examination room’s bench crinkles and bunches as I hoist myself onto its surface. I kick my legs absentmindedly and gaze at the medical posters on the wall, silently willing my heart to stop beating so painfully fast. I emit a nervous, uncomfortable sigh. A nurse has just weighed me. By now, I’ve learned to dart my eyes away from the menacing scale, glancing anywhere but at the digital screen that will assign a very precise number to my self-hatred. Except this time, I catch the nurse’s scribble on my medical chart, and my heart plummets to the ground. Is that really how much I weigh?
I’ve become quite adept at avoiding visits to the doctor’s office. Colds and coughs are self-medicated with lozenges and DayQuil, and I rarely remind my mom if I’m overdue for a pediatric appointment. I’m only here, in this nauseatingly sterile nightmare, for the onslaught of immunizations required to attend college. But I know, in the tightest knot of my stomach, that the conversation will steer, as it always, inevitably does, in the direction of my weight.
My doctor is well-intentioned—they always are—but I dread the platitudes I’ll have to endure about how rewarding a thin body will be, how weight loss will alleviate my sadness, how my habitual binge eating is entirely my choice. As if it’s normal that I began my first diet when I was in the fifth grade, that I’ve been aware since I was child that I was not small like the other girls. I squeeze my eyes shut until I start to see stars and tighten my grip on the edge of the bench, bracing myself for the tears that begin to slip down my cheeks in indescribable exhaustion.
A groan escapes my lips before I can stifle it. I’m scrolling through my phone’s photo roll at a frenzied pace, trying desperately to locate any photos of myself that aren’t selfies captured with the front-facing camera of my iPhone. Attempting to find pictures that accurately represent my body for my Tinder profile is nearly impossible—during my middle and high school years, I’d avoided the sneering lenses of cameras to the best of my ability. I feared knowing what I looked like to others. I resented how distraught I’d become when friends took photos of me off-guard, pleading with them in embarrassment until they’d finally erase the picture. If there was no evidence that I’d ever existed with this exact body, perhaps when I was finally skinny and beautiful I could convince the world I’d always been that way.
Really, I don’t even want to make a Tinder profile. It’s the antithesis of everything I’ve tried to build my life around. It prioritizes the pure aesthetic of an individual and conventional standards of beauty, reinforces the male gaze upon women’s bodies and encourages callous, often vitriolic judgement of others’ appearances. But I’m also a fat girl who’s never been asked out on a date—let alone been kissed—and I’m sad and lonely and desperate for someone to tell me that I’m pretty. I can’t remember the last time a man told me I was pretty.
I’m still unsure about which photos I should include on my profile. I feel immense pressure to “advertise” myself correctly—to make sure everyone on the dating app is aware that I am, in fact, fat; to guarantee full disclosure and avoid any shocking first-date revelations. Eventually, I become so engulfed in frustration and self-loathing that I delete the app off of my phone entirely, resolving that online dating is, perhaps, not meant for people like me.
The dress is a little tight, but a good tight—the fabric is snug against the slope of my waist and chest, gently flaring out over my hips and thighs. The spaghetti straps reveal my plump upper arms in their entirety, which only bothers me slightly. Examining my reflection in the dressing room’s full-length mirror, I twist and turn, taking in my appearance from every angle. I let out an involuntary, childlike giggle. I can’t help it. I’m overwhelmed by how beautiful I feel.
It’s a feeling that comes and goes as effortlessly as the tide. Some days are far easier than others. Today, though, I hold onto the wave of self-love for as long as I can muster, letting myself believe, if only for a moment, that I’ve always been this lovely. I decide to buy the dress, not bothering to glance at the price tag—it doesn’t matter how much the dress costs. Being able to relive this moment every time I slip its fabric over my head is, unquestionably, priceless.
I writhe a bit as the tattoo artist’s needle gun grazes the soft, pliable flesh of my inner forearm. I decided on the design earlier that day—a strip of 35mm film, emblematic of the medium which brought meaning to my life on more than one occasion—and I’m only slightly terrified of the modification I’m making to my body. The ink is applied to the part of me that I can look at for hours without feeling uncomfortable. I want to be able to stare at my tattoo without fat rolls or cellulite or stretch marks hindering its beauty.
But as the artist finishes his masochistic endeavor upon my forearm, I can’t help but feel empowered. It’s an alteration to my skin that I asked for, a visible reminder that I am, ultimately, the singular owner of my body. My flesh is only there to encase my organs, to house my vibrant, curious brain, to swath my blood which flows freely and easily within me. The body I’ve hated for as long as I can remember, the body I’ve desperately tried to morph and minimize, is not where my story begins, nor where it ends. I’ve spent so much time resenting my reflection that I've forgotten my body’s fundamental purpose—to push me forward and carry me onward as I try to live an existence I can look back on with satisfaction.
I stare at my newly inked tattoo and my mouth quirks upward in a smile. I feel calmness spread outward from my ribcage in every direction, bursting from my ventricles and curling around my veins with contagious warmth. At once, I feel content existing within the confines of my body. I feel powerful and capable and inexhaustible. And for what seems like the first time in my life, I feel alive.
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