The Deuce: 30 Before 30: A whole nude me
Some people are born thin. They come from thin people, eat what they want, and never give a day’s care to the size and shape of their bodies. These people must have been very, very good in past lives.
Previously, I must have been a supervillain.
I’m not alone, though. More than 90 percent of women report they are unhappy with the way they look, and the biggest offender is weight — fat, if you will. A noun so powerful it stops women from changing in dressing rooms or eating dessert on dates. And if you’ve never struggled with it, give my regards to Gandhi when your number’s up, because you’re one of the few people on the planet able to put petty cares aside.
Because, largely, it is petty. These women worrying about what they look like in the mirrors at the gym are often only a handful of pounds overweight. They are healthy; they eat well with completely acceptable indulgences and get a reasonable amount of exercise. Their friends assure them they look sexy in fitted jeans.
But the facts are nothing compared to The Fat. The Fat is a living being, and it hates you. It makes you afraid to get up on your day off, because you’re worried you’ll overeat. It makes you eat yogurt and carrot sticks in the wintertime. It’s a pile of discarded clothes on the floor every time you get dressed to go out, and sleeping in a sweatshirt three sizes too big to feel small.
And it’s a ridiculous, self-inflicted, insufferable first-world problem that women need to get the hell over.
It’s not easy. When I was 14, I weighed 183 pounds. My family was made up of large people (somewhat, and I put this delicately knowing that they will likely read this, more than a cosmetic few pounds), and I assumed genetics had had the last word: the skinny girls were skinny by luck, and their salads and Diet Cokes were ours to ridicule. It didn’t matter what I ate, so I ate fast food and cursed my heritage. My prom dress was a size 18.
When I got to college, I was still under the impression I was unluckily fat — I had two tiny roommates that could have fit back-to-front in my nightshirt — but something changed. I stared at a blank screen, about to start a paper, when I suddenly had such a severe feeling of anxiety I felt like I swallowed a screwdriver. What was I going to say? What if it wasn’t any good? My professors would send me back to Michigan with a mark on my permanent record, repo my car, and possibly shoot my dog. I was convinced they could; I signed a paper when I got there.
I pushed back my chair, grabbed my ID, and went to the campus gym for the very first time. Where many freshmen put on weight, I reacted to the stress by running. Instead of stress-eating, I would bang out three miles on a treadmill, then sit in front of my computer and write 10-page papers without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. I had spent so long thinking of exercise as something you do to lose weight, not something your body needs to calm down — and, God forbid, something that actually feels good. Without those miles on the treadmill, I wouldn’t have made it through school without having an exam-induced stroke.
I returned home two years later, weighing 135 pounds. My family was sure I was anorexic. Our people didn’t look like this. They made bulimia jokes, poked fun at me for being cold. The truth is, they were threatened. I was challenging their entire worldview: If I could look like this, and they were just like me, then that meant they could, too. That scared them, to think they gave up before they ever really tried — that they had been miserable for so many years for absolutely no reason. Suddenly, I was the girl with the salad and Diet Coke.
That was nearly seven years ago. Although I’ve gained and lost weight since, the spectre of The Fat still haunts me. It’s a hard habit to break, giving up the Fat Girl Ghost; if I was to be successful in doing so, I would need a plan. Not a diet, not a regimen, but something to make me feel good about myself and my looks, something I would remember.
So when a photographer friend of mine was looking for nude models, I volunteered.
I had rules, of course. It was to be just her and me in the room. We would do it at my house, away from windows, and any shots I didn’t like would be immediately deleted. And if they ever showed up on the internet, I would put a hit out on her. She agreed.
I did my hair, mostly to affect some illusion of control, and put on heels. The shoot went unexpectedly well, mostly because she made me feel incredibly comfortable. The hardest part was the looks; it’s harder than you might think to look confident — or proud, or coy, or aloof — with someone pointing her Canon two inches above your boobs.
She sent me an 8 x 10, assuring me that while the colors were tinted, she did no photo-shopping whatsoever. I blinked, looked at in several different lights, and then bought a frame.
Because there was no getting around it: I looked hot.
I look at it as I write this, wondering if a hitting a weight loss goal completes a cosmic tick box on my 30 List. I offer that any event that changed my life — or my mind, more impossibly — definitely qualifies. Posing with my behind on a cold kitchen counter wearing naught but a scarf certainly qualifies, as does the resulting decision to skinny dip in a hot tub on a vacation with several close friends but that’s a story for another time.
I don’t show my picture to many people — and for understandable reasons, I’m not posting it here — but it’s not exactly in a hidden location. Most people don’t even notice, or don’t notice it’s me, which is alternately a great relief an extremely unflattering. But I know it’s me. It’s what I’m capable of. And it’s my response when I occasionally hear The Fat in the back of my head: “You’re not me. That’s me. And I’ll be back.”
Sarah Smallwood is a freelance writer living and working in Ann Arbor. She is currently rewriting her first novel, keeps a daily blog at The Other Shoe and hosts a podcast at Stuff with Things. She can be reached at heybeedoo at gmail dot com.