I was brushing my teeth today and I look in the mirror and my face was caught between two panes of glass, a section of my forehead and most of my nose had been swallowed in the crack where the tri-fold doors of my medicine cabinet met.
It reminded me of that thing I used to do when I was a teenager. I’d stand in front of the mirrored closet doors, arranging myself so that my body was spliced in half by the crack and put back together, thinner. I’d look at my body, the body I wished I had, and imagine the life I would have if I looked like that. My fat midsection sucked into the thin slice of darkness, erasing my shame. Erasing the parts of myself that I was convinced were holding me back.
I watched a lot of TV growing up. More than I probably should have. I watched Even Stevens and yearned for the thin leggy beauty of Ren. I watched Hilary Duff in Lizzie McGuire and wished I had the body of that petite blonde. I watched Boy Meets World and deciphered that even the nerdy girls like Topanga were supposed to be beautiful and, well, thin.
I was convinced I could have these bodies if I worked hard enough. If I ate less. Worked out more.
I could achieve the body in the mirror. And I needed to achieve that body in the mirror, because if I didn’t I was worthless. I was nothing if I wasn’t thin.
I told myself all the things I could do once I was in my right body. I could make friends. I could go out on dates. I could get a job and go to university and get my hair cut short. I could wear sneakers with skinny jeans. I had all these rules for my fat body that I could leave behind when I was finally thin.
I starved myself into a size 4 dress for my prom and that’s when I felt like my life could finally start. My life didn’t start and so I decided I wasn’t thin enough. There was too much of me and that meant I wasn’t enough. I tried different diets, painfully measuring out honey and cayenne pepper and spending way too much money on fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I tortured myself. I weighed my body before and after bowel movements. I wondered how much my legs weighed my breasts weighed how much did the liver inside me weigh? I’d subtract these numbers, trying so hard to reach a point where I felt like a real person. I needed to take away pieces in order to pretend I was whole.
I gained all the weight back and then some when I started university. My first year of school I was thin but I didn’t know it. I was too focused on the way my thighs rubbed as I walked down the hallway. I participated in a study ran by a graduate student for extra credit in my intro-level psych class. She was brilliant, but the swell of her gut pushed against her cotton t, rolls of flesh swelled over the sides of her jeans. I told myself no matter how long I spent in academia I’d never let my body go, I wouldn’t get fat like her.
But I did. I gained and gained and gained and I hated my body, wishing I could chisel my true self free.
My fourth year of university, I took self-timed photos of me in my bathing suit in my poorly lit bathroom, counting every roll and dimple and stretch mark. My imperfections. This was my before. This was the body I would cast aside for my real body, my good body.
When I got into graduate school, I was still fat. And I told myself I didn’t deserve it because I was fat. I worried about moving to a new city, “How will I make friends if I’m fat?” I worried about teaching, “How will I teach if I’m fat?” I worried about sharing my ideas, “Who will listen to me if I am fat?” My body was something I despised. Something holding me back. I didn’t come up with these ideas on my own–this is what I had been fed my entire life.
Fat bodies are the before. Fat bodies are bad. Fat bodies aren’t actually bodies, they are flesh that needs to be peeled away to reveal the real body underneath. This is what I was taught. This is what I believed.
And I don’t believe this now. I know it’s not true. I’d been in the battle with my body for so long and I think I finally just got sick of it. I didn’t want to binge and purge. I didn’t want to weigh myself morning and night. I didn’t want to punish myself for not fitting into a pair of pants at a straight size store.
I stopped hating my body for being my body.
At least, some of the time.
When I’m sad. When I’m mad. When I’m alone and depressed, or dissatisfied, or scared, I remember that I’m fat and the idea creeps in that maybe I don’t deserve to be happy because I’m not thin. I don’t deserve to have a partner because I’m not thin. I don’t deserve ________ because I’m not thin.
Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my reflection, caught between two panes of glass, my mid-section swallowed by that little crack, and I think that’s perfection. Sometimes I can shake this thought out of my head, and step in front of a full pane of glass and know that what I see is good enough. Better than good enough.
But sometimes I can’t shake those thoughts.
And that’s why that Netflix series is harmful. Not only does it reinforce a harmful revenge body plot line and paint women’s bodies as objects, it supports my worst thoughts about myself.
It makes the awful things I thought about my body true.
This TV show takes the narrative from the shows I watched as a teenager even further–it provides the schema for how to get thin. And I don’t think it can get much more damaging than that.