Some people might be surprised to know how many of our readers are not fat, and yet benefit from and espouse the principles of fat acceptance. There are valuable lessons about body acceptance that can come from being thin — and even from getting thinner. Shapeling Dani recently endured a medical mystery that we called “Treehorn Syndrome” because it made her shrink so precipitously. A few days ago she made a comment in another thread about how shooting past a size zero made her understand how vital acceptance really is. I asked her to expand on the comment and I’m really grateful that she was willing to do so — I think her story is a great illustration of how truly ingrained our body hatred is, and how anyone can benefit from rejecting it. -FJ
Annoying Truth of the Day: If you hate your body, you will hate it no matter what size it is. If you like your body (or at least respect it), you will like (or respect) it no matter what size it is.
I learned this by shrinking.
(“Nobody shrinks,” said Treehorn’s father.
“Well, I’m shrinking,” said Treehorn. “Look at me.”)
As most of you who have checked out the Illustrated BMI Project know, I’m supposedly “normal” and visually effing tiny. What most of you don’t know is that during high school and college, I’d have given anything to have been two sizes smaller and fifteen pounds lighter.
Yes, this would have made me “underweight” and caused serious health problems. Yes, I’d have lost so much muscle mass that figure skating, around which my life revolved, would have been impossible. Yes, hating my body for sticking to its genetically determined setpoint weight made me pessimistic and cranky.
But I wanted to be a size two anyway. It’d make me able to wear pretty clothes, instead of hiding my shameful hips under giant sweaters. I’d be more popular. I’d be eminently dateable. (That I was never without some guy’s attention in high school escaped my notice at the time – wait till they saw how really squishy and fat and ugly I was, they’d run like hell.) I’d stop getting those nasty nervous shakes right before a performance. In fact, I’d stop being shy and nervous altogether, because no one would be able to find anything bad to say about my appearance. I’d have scads of friends as a result. OMG I would be so pretty and popular and sexy if I could only lose fifteen pounds! Right?
Last October, I did what I had been trying to hate my body into doing for years: I shrank four full dress sizes. Thanks to horrible drug side effects colliding badly with my already screwy pancreas, I half starved to death in six weeks – and reached that size two (and well below) I’d been coveting since age twelve.
And my life was a living hell. I could count my ribs and see where they joined my spine. My skin turned a grey ordinarily only seen on cadavers. My hair fell out in handfuls. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I walked with a cane; my skating was a thing of the past. My friends asked if I was “really okay”; my mother begged me to call the doctor; my husband announced that I was “way too thin.”
Yet I stared at myself in the mirror and, under the grossed-out fascination of seeing things I’d never actually seen outside concentration camp photos, I actually wished that my hips had shrunk just a bit more.
Now, I’ve never had an eating disorder. When I look in the mirror I know I’m seeing a woman on the small end of the scale. Even as a figure skater, I was raised on the notion that performance trumps appearance. But why let that stop me from hating my body, even to the point of believing that being halfway starved to death wasn’t thin enough?
And so I had to face today’s Annoying Truth: there is no magic weight, no magic dress size, at which life becomes nothing but sunshine and puppies. The Fantasy of Being Thin remained a fantasy, no matter how small I got. I got small enough to wear things I haven’t worn since fifth grade, and it wasn’t enough.
At some level, we all know that no magic number will solve all our problems – otherwise, we’d have broken out a Sharpie, written our magic number on all our clothing tags, and been done with it. We also know that our bodies function just fine even as they are, and even if they don’t, that making them disappear is no rational way to improve them.
(“Nobody disappears,” said Treehorn’s father positively.
“That’s right, they don’t,” said Treehorn’s mother more cheerfully. “But no one shrinks, either,” she said after a moment.)
Perhaps the oddest thing about shrinking so rapidly is that, while it alarmed my family and close friends, my acquaintances expressed nothing but envy. “I wish I could lose weight like that,” I heard over and over again. “Like what?” I wondered. “Like, seventeen percent of your body weight? Like, irrespective of whether it’s fat, muscle, or bone? Like, enough to ruin your life?” I never asked – I suspect none of them knew the answer.
If I could insert here some wonderfully inspiring and uplifting message about how Treehorn Syndrome banished all my nasty self-hatred and taught me to love my body exactly as it is, and also I thank God for every day because I almost disappeared myself even unto death and it was Teh Life-Affirming Scariez…I still wouldn’t. Because I’m not a Hallmark special.
Reaching my “goal weight” did make me realize that this is the body I’ve been given, and like it or not I’d better damn well work with it or I’m never going to accomplish anything. I realized that a society that teaches us a woman’s highest accomplishment is to disappear is fucked up at best. I realized that I will not start liking my body until I start liking my body. I also realized that it’s completely stupid to beat myself up over not achieving an utterly impossible fantasy. Hell, I also fantasize about winning Olympic gold medals or dating George Clooney, but I don’t beat myself up over never actually having done them.
Which of course doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped beating myself up completely. Like everything HAES-related, self-acceptance is a process. Just like intuitive eating or finding the right amount of exercise, telling my self-hating thoughts to find a toasty abode is an everyday activity. On the bright side, giving my inner critic a boot in the ass is more fun and more fulfilling than hating myself for not being a “magic” size.
(“Look,” said Treehorn. “I’m my own size now. My own regular size.”
“That’s nice, dear,” said Treehorn’s mother. “It’s a very nice size, I’m sure, and if I were you I wouldn’t shrink anymore.”)