My name is Sally and I weigh 123.4 pounds.
Addicted to the Scale?
I weigh myself on Monday mornings. I am the first person up. I tip-toe into the bathroom. (I still move like a dancer.) I turn on the shower so that the water gets really hot. (I love getting lost in the shower with hot water surrounding me.) I pee. (It’s important that all possible fluids be eliminated.) I strip naked. (It’s important to not be weighed down by any clothing…my threadbare pajamas must weigh at least a pound!) I pull out the scale from its somewhat unobtrusive and hidden location. (I don’t want my daughter to get the scale addiction.) I step on it. I hold my breath. The digital numbers flicker back and forth before settling into this week’s verdict. Aha! Under 125 pounds. My current magic boundary. I weigh as little as I’ve weighed since I was married 19 years ago. I feel ridiculously proud and virtuous about this dubious achievement. What a way to kick off the week.
My mother’s scale was in their walk-in closet – a small, dark, private room that always fascinated me. My mother’s clothes on one side and my father’s clothes on the other side. Hidden treasure boxes of old jewelry, old photos and other mementos on the shelving high up. This was where the Christmas presents were stashed away. She was not particularly modest. Dressing, undressing, bathing with doors open. I liked to sneak in when no one was there. Trying on her clothes. Trying on her shoes. Curious about her bras and under-garments. Examining the old jewelry, wondering if any of it fit me. Wondering about what I would be like when these grown up womanly items did fit me. She weighed herself every morning, naked. I did too.
At 10, I already weighed over 100 pounds and was “pleasantly plump.” (My father’s words. He used the same phrase for the Rubenesque nudes in the art he loved so much.) He loved ice cream and we had it every night. Usually Baskin & Robbins French Vanilla. Or Peppermint – my favorite flavor. He carefully measured out a precise serving. No over indulgence allowed. Or we had 2 cookies, usually Oreos or Fig Newtons. My mother had none.
In Paris, during our one truly extravagant family vacation before high school, my father and I sampled chocolate mousse at every restaurant. That trip was where I developed my taste for intensely dark chocolate and strong coffee. In Florence, the men wouldn’t stop touching me. It was an early taste, at 13, of sexually aggressive unwanted male attention to my “pleasantly plump” curves.
Entering high school where boys and girls began to do more than eye each other with curiosity from afar, I became sure that “pleasantly plump” was not what I wanted to be. Ambivalent about my curves and their impact on men and confused that “Pleasantly plump” became “Better not eat that, you’ll get fat,” I found myself in the mirror-lined ballet studio. In a leotard. About 15 pounds heavier than the ethereal tall, thin, breastless ballerinas I began to admire. Having reached puberty at 11 with a mesomorph’s solid and strong body, there was no way I was going to transform into an ectomorph. But I could try. And so I did. I upped my weekly dance class to twice, 3x, 4x, every day except Sunday. When that wasn’t enough, I started taking two classes daily. I learned the calorie counts of every food item and began to mete out allowable calories obsessively. About 1,500 calories. (For someone dancing 4 hours a day, 1,500 calories was starvation.) Starving yourself is impossible to sustain. So I would swing in the other direction and binge on large quantities of food. Alone. In secret. I couldn’t eat normally in public. Terrified of getting fat. Terrified to be thought of as beautiful and desirable. When I binged, I felt bad. Guilty. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Fat. I had to punish myself. So I would run. Take another dance class. Eat even less the next day. I tried the-vomiting-thing a few times. It really disturbed me on so many levels. It was gross. And I didn’t want to admit I had a problem. Avoiding vomiting helped me remain in denial that I had an eating disorder. Maybe other ballerinas did it, but not me. Instead I figured out how to keep my eating swings tightly controlled in my disciplined way.
Over the course of that year, I became incredibly strong and incredibly thin. I liked being thin. I liked hitting weight-loss goal after goal. Clothes looked good on me. I liked the breastless version of myself that I saw in the ballet studio mirrors. I liked being hungry. It made me feel alert and better than the other girls. I could resist food. (Except when I couldn’t. But I kept that to myself, hidden.) My weight got down to about 100 pounds. My parents never said anything. Did they not notice that their pleasantly plump daughter was now breastless and bony? It was dear, honest Emily, with the scale dipping to 98 pounds, who exclaimed, with true alarm, that she could see my ribs! I liked that my ribs were showing, but it jarred me enough to reconsider this aesthetic when she expressed such alarm. 100 pounds became my magic boundary. The low boundary. If I didn’t drop below 100 pounds and I didn’t make myself throw up, then I didn’t have an eating disorder. I carefully put on a few pounds.
By the end of high school I was a healthier weight and had given up ballet. Off I went to college where I easily gained the Freshman 15. And hated myself for it. To punish myself, I returned to ballet and 100 pounds. It felt good to be in control and thin again! But I was so unhappy. Through therapy and time, I learned how much food I could eat and how much exercise I needed to maintain a more normal weight. Love and my marriage helped. I was busy and happy. I was so busy and so happy that I threw away my scale. Hooray! I was done with eating issues. Besides, I wanted to set a good example for my daughter. I so wanted to have a healthy relationship with food and to model normal eating behavior for her. But she knows me. I measure everything. I don’t allow myself dessert except for maybe a yogurt or some very dark chocolate. I control my portions so carefully that I can neither tolerate sharing my food (it’s my allowance of food not yours) nor do I have room for any serendipitous treat offered to me (I ate my allowance already). I can’t just stop when I’m full. Because I don’t know when I’m full. I’m too obsessed with weighing what is the right thing to eat; what is the right amount to eat. I am too busy thinking to feel.
There was an easier time with my eating during courtship and early marriage where we ate out, we cooked in, we enjoyed food together. And then my 40’s happened. What isn’t discussed about disordered eating (to my knowledge) is that it COMES BACK! Just when you think you’ve got the eating thing figured out, its ugliness reemerges when you’re looking at middle age staring back at you in the mirror. If I could just lose 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, I will look younger, feel better, sleep more soundly, defy death. When my age creeped over 40 and my weight creeped over 140, I went into action. Back to the ballet studio, I bought a scale. I got thin and strong again.
Of course it is different as a more experienced adult. I don’t swing between extremes the way I used to. A calmer yoga practice has replaced an obsessive pursuit of ballet. I don’t punish myself. I do enjoy food. But my enjoyment of food remains controlled. The anxiety hovers under the surface. Intellectually, I know five pounds doesn’t make a difference in who I am. Intellectually, I know maintaining that magic boundary on the scales is not what makes me happy. Now I can laugh at how ridiculous it all is, while acknowledging its presence. It’s part of who I am. Stepping naked onto the scale every Monday morning, I am aware that I let the scale’s verdict influence my self-esteem. Stepping naked onto the scale every Monday morning, I remind myself to breathe, to be grateful for my strong body, to enjoy my chocolate, and to not let the scale’s verdict influence my self-esteem.