my life as a number
I can still remember the first time I was embarrassed by my weight.
I was eight years old.
It was at a friend’s house; I was playing on a rope swing. My older friend made a joke about how I might break it, and encouraged by the laughter it got from the other children, went on to ask me how much I weighed.
I can still remember the names of each of the four children who looked at me and waited for me to tell. I’m sure they don’t remember it. I’m sure I shouldn’t. But I do.
I had only just left the age when a few pounds meant the difference between a booster seat and the front seat. When is was something, like my height, to be noted and congratulated for at the doctor’s office. I was always small, shrimpy even; always at the bottom of the growth chart, always undersized. Always grateful for every pound or inch I could claim as my own. It was something I had never found shameful.
But suddenly, it mattered, and I looked around at the other girls as I confessed my weight, and for the first time, measured myself by a number, wondered how I compared.
It never let up after that, the numbering that we put ourselves through. Always with us, always aware of it, like an unshed caul, a phantom limb that we cannot shake. Our weight. Our dress size. Our every measurement.
In a recent Doctor Who episode, the TARDIS, which has been put into the body of a woman, is experiencing what it’s like to be human for the first time. “Are they all like this?” she gasped. “Bigger on the inside?”
And aren’t we, really? Aren’t we more than the shells that contain the strange elements that make us individuals? Anyone, literally anyone, could have been poured into this little, imperfect, tow-headed body. But it wasn’t just anyone. It was me.
Me, with my quirky sense of humor that next to no one gets. With my activism and passion and tendency to alienate normal people. With my messiness and magpie mind and inability to focus on anything that doesn’t interest me. With my dirty fingernails and handfuls of frogs and dreams of Middle Earth. With my impossible perfectionism and determination to be the smartest girl around, even though I’m not.
With my dreams and my desires that are stunted and forgotten every time I look in the mirror and don’t see perfection. When I see a number.
I think it’s time I stop it.
I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’…Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls.