At this exact moment, I'm sitting in a dressing room trying not to cry.
All I can see is a horrifying blob, which is quite literally the thing I have available to call what is looking back at me in the mirror.
Well, that thought and, “Wait, when did *that* hair get there?”
Leaning back on the bench in the dressing room, holding several things I already know won't fit, I find myself looking up melodramatically to the ceiling waiting for solace to wash over me; À la Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge right before she croaks.
What kind of ass thought surgical theater light bulbs would work for a dressing room?
I’m tired. I’ve been working really hard the last five weeks on myself. Like, really working. Like, only eating DeFazio’s pizza once a week, working. I’m very intentional about food now, and have been working out six days a week. I’m as shocked as anyone, trust me.
I've lost ten pounds. That’s it. That ten pounds is very literally a drop in the bucket, and I have seen no other results. I’m tired and frustrated and so sick of my own skin that I don’t even know where to begin some days.
I’m trying not to obsess about every ounce gained or lost, but I find myself getting on the scale too often or crying if I’ve succumbed to the temptations of food not on The Plan. Get thee behind me Satan (read: french fries at the bar).
There isn’t one neurotransmitter in my brain that is allowing thoughts of self love today. I haven't felt that in a while, actually. I’ve barely had self tolerance recently.
You see, I don’t find beauty in my size. I don’t want to be healthy and heavy. I want to be thin. I want to be hot. Like, objectively hot.
I don’t want to be ignored at a bar while my hot friends get chatted up, I want to be the chatted one for once. I don’t want to be the friend with an amazing personality for one more second. I swear to our tiny baby lord on high (Blue Ivy), if one more of my friends tell me that *anyone* would be lucky to know me because I’m such an incredible person on the inside, I’m going to light something on fire. Or someone.
I’ve also noticed that a weird thing happens when my friends...even my closest friends...tell me they love me or that I'm beautiful the way I am or whatever crap they say: my brain kind of stops working. It just stops. I can't hear them, and the messages that somehow seep their way through the cobblestones of my brain are, "Why are they being so mean? Why are they being so sarcastic? Why are they treating me like this? Why are they lying? I wish they would leave me alone."
I know I’m funny and kind and all that other crap people say they want, but now I want to be someone’s fantasy because they can’t help themselves. I’m sick of having my weight fetishized - which by the way is a real thing - because someone is into “the big girls.”
I want the hotness, but first, I just want to look at myself and not cry. Just once.
And that’s the moment I look up into the mirror and see so clearly that there hasn’t been one day in my life when I've not wanted to look different. Not just look different, be different.
On the short list of things I'd ask the tiny baby Jesus for a re-do on, I'd start with: smaller hands; smaller feet; less hair literally everywhere; straight hair; better lips; better skin; bluer eyes; my 15 year old skin; my 16 year old swimmer arms; my 19 year old butt and thighs; better/whiter teeth; and to fart more daintily.
Just the minor things. It's not like I hate myself or anything, honestly - no matter what I just said - I just perpetually want a new body, face, personality, and sometimes eyebrows. The usual.
It was a mistake coming to the mall today. I was having such a nice morning too.
I swear to God that I left my apartment this morning in my trendy yoga pants looking exactly like Katy Perry. Why am I the mom from What's Eating Gilbert Grape in this dressing room?
See, when I’m alone in my apartment, it's possible that I have the opposite of body dysmorphia. You've never seen someone who thinks they look better than me ten minutes before they leave the house. Get me a glass of wine, and I'm essentially Beyoncé sauntering on stage at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Then, though, I walk into real life and see the other me. Sometimes it'll be the reflection on a car. Sometimes it's a shop window. God forbid I see myself in a mirror in a bar. The illusion is shattered. I don't recognize myself in the person I see.
This is why I hate shopping. So many of us do. I am not a size two. I’m not a size ten, actually. (God, I mourn a size ten. #RIP) Shopping is hard when you don’t fit into the clothes that clothes stores sell. Everyone can see me walk into "my" section of department stores that are segregated to maximize the shame, and everyone is watching as I walk into the stores designed for people like me.
I usually try going to the mall when I think no one will be around, but it was sort of unavoidable today. It’s a week before my cousin’s wedding. I can’t wait, truly, but also sort of hope I get run over by all of the rhinos in Jumanji instead.
Sitting in this dressing room, I'm still doing the best I can not to burst into tears while I look at my harshly lit body in this house-of-fun circus mirror that they have. Not just the one mirror, actually, it's a hall of mirrors. One in front of me, and one behind. It gives that mise en abyme effect we all dread.
I Googled mise en abyme. I’m not that cultured. It’s a reflection in a reflection in a reflection.
I also Googled body dysmorphia, and it turns out it's a real thing. And I know people who are afflicted with the actual diagnosed disorder, but I don't think that we need to be diagnosed to suffer it.
It’s the all or nothing thinking, the mind reading, the focusing on negative and discounting positive, and the personalization that we all experience. It would look something like this: “If I’m not a Colombian swimsuit model, I’m worthless. Obviously he thinks that other girl is more attractive than I am, how could he not? I know I’m smart, but the only thing he can see is my stomach. I just know that face he just made is because he’s disgusted with my looks, nothing else can explain it.”
We all do it. It's comparison central - unfair comparisons at that - at least with me it is, and I speak for you, so it is now for you too. It’s the unfair comparisons that cripple us. It breaks my heart.
It also makes me simultaneously nauseous and hungry. Comparing yourself to someone who airbrushes their life, sometimes literally, is Instagram jealousy. What a waste of time.
Therapy works, I believe in it, but sometimes, even after all the work you’ve done to overcome something, you still end up sitting in a dressing room sort of slumped over feeling a hopelessness that stretches from your toes.
I picked up my phone just now to text my best friend. She’d get it. She’s thought these things too. But right now I don’t care that everyone has these thoughts. It gives zero relief to know that hot people have body issues. So I put my phone back down.
I have a hard time connecting when someone tells me to love myself, but in the same breath says they'd want to kill yourself if they had a body like mine.
At least that's what I'm hearing.
The crazy thing is that every single person in my life wants something different in the mirror. Every. Single. Person. I've learned the hard way recently that poking fun at someone who is thinner, tanner, taller, who has smaller legs, or whatever the thing is that they have that I want, does nothing but make them feel terrible. They want things too, and they probably want to talk about it instead of being shut down like their body image issues are smaller than mine.
Deep, deep down in the darkest recesses of my tiny Grinch heart I know that the people in my life think I'm the bee's knees, and I trust them, so they must not be lying. Now I wasn't a math major, but I have seen the Confused Math Lady meme, so this all must mean that it's my perception on things, right? That's more depressing. I feel like all I do all the live-long-day is work on myself, and I'm still having these kinds of self destructive thoughts? Awesome. Add shame about shaming thoughts to the list.
Sheesh. How the hell does this shit work?? How can we be body positive AND ok with wanting to be different? How can we love exactly what we are, and justify paying hundreds of dollars on cosmetics and hair removal and injections and fad diets to be anything other than ourselves?
Is it that bad to want to improve? How do you improve without hating what already is? How does one Make Erica Great Again without having all the crushing shame?
Wait. Shame. I love shame. Don't I know something about this? Maybe some of the shame I'm feeling is about not loving myself every second of the day. Why can't there be room for the negative thoughts - that are more normal than breathing - to bubble up? The shame I'm feeling is trying to hold on to the bubbles. If I let them, they'll just belch their way on out, right?
I can't imagine a time in my life where I won't care about this issue. And actually, I weirdly think holding on to something so gross is somehow comforting. Unhealthy and destructive, sure, but comforting. It's like an addiction. It's always really scary and vulnerable to give up an addiction...there's nothing solid to lean on when you're just floating in that kind of space.
I don’t know how to practice this, so I’m guessing as I go. I'm putting my yoga pants back on and trying to leave this Dante’s wet dream in the dust. I'm not going to get some sort of cathartic Julia Roberts in Pretty Women moment here and leave with my head held high. I'm going to leave the mall as fast as my little legs will carry me, biting my bottom lip for dear life to keep it from quivering, get in my car - hoping I don't run into anyone - and erupt into hysterics on the drive home. Tears happen, and I'm not going to feel bad for a second about it.
When I get it together later, I'm going to ask my people to not say things unless they really mean it, and maybe to be a little more specific. Less "OMG you're hawt," and more, "Hey, I like your eye freckle today,” or, “Yo, I know that you’ve been working pretty hard and today I can see some results in your face.”
*That* I can hear.
Digging deep into the crap I practice, I close my eyes and try to name the things I hear, smell, taste, and feel. It helps get your head out of your ass and back on solid ground.
I feel this hard bench thing; it’s kind of cold even though this room is about a thousand humid degrees. I also feel hungry because I ate two poached eggs like a year ago.
I smell the scent of new clothes and the perfume I love that was given to me on my birthday.
I taste the water that I just took a sip of, a little metallic, and the spearmintiness of my gum.
And I hear voices of people hating themselves in the changing rooms near me, and…and...wait... is that "The Thong Song"?
I open my eyes and I’m looking into my own face. The hall of mirrors and I let a really slow smile spread across our lips. We have nice lips, don’t we? I’d kiss me. That song playing is freaking hysterical. Quite possibly one of the most inappropriate songs to play over a dressing room speaker, and yet, I whip out my phone to Shazam it because it’s also the greatest song to ever grace my ears. Truly the “Let It Be” of my generation.
The spell that shame had cast has a little less of a hold on me now because humor is an alchemist.
Pulling my mall hoodie on, I know I’m working hard. I’m doing this work because it’s in the “doing” that I’ve discovered that my body is mine now. My body is not someone else’s to ignore or be grossed out by or to be lusted over.
At the end of this day, my world will not have changed. People in my life know what I look like without makeup on and have seen me when I've been at my fattest. It's neither my job nor my problem if people think I'm really gross. It's also not my job to be the Colombian swimsuit model, and it's not my problem if they prefer me to look like a mannequin by Saturday. I won't. It sucks. But I'm going to have fun anyway, and I'm going to keep working hard because it feels good.
The more I do this work, the more I see the things I can do that I couldn’t before. I can lift more. I can bear more. Strength in all its forms feels pretty addictive. Right now, I might only feel that kind of Wonder Woman badassery when I’m lifting heavy things with sweat dripping into my butt crack, but slowly I am starting to feel that carry over to the parking lot outside the gym. Once last week I felt it on the phone at work. Maybe I’ll feel it someday at the mall in a dressing room.
I want it to freaking radiate out of me like I’m on damn fire on the inside. Hot. I want my nieces to want to be just like their badass Broad of an aunt, and to want to bring me into school for show and tell and just have their friends look at my Queenliness.
THAT. That is the kind of hotness that I want.
As Savannah said in Waiting to Exhale, ”There’s a big difference between being thirsty and dehydrated.”
Yo man, I’m thirsty for this kind of hot.
And that is why I'm now tying my neon pink sneakers and getting ready to kick this dressing room door down. The last thing I’m going to whisper to the hall of mirrors is, "We can do this man. We're going to figure this out."