Friday, June 28, 2013

The F Word: Wedding Edition

The “I am incomplete until I am thinner” message is a powerful one. Its ubiquity is so absurd that I sometimes wonder how any of us with BMIs over 20 manage to maintain a healthy self esteem. The Thindustry usually blends into the background of my everyday life - a diet pill ad here, a liposuction radio spot there - in a way that doesn’t usually catch my attention.

But I felt bombarded by the fear of Fat at a particular time in my life: during my engagement to Ian. Sure, I saw a few weight loss articles in bridal magazines and the targeted ads on Facebook. Yet, the most significant source of the Thin = Better messages I heard during the months leading up to our wedding was a group I never expected: my loved ones. No matter how important the occasion, it always hurts to hear the ones you love hate on themselves.

Let me be clear: nobody ever told me I should lose weight before my wedding day. Rather, for several of my family and friends, the wedding seemed to act like a catalyst for their otherwise-suppressed weight loss desires. It seemed like everyone close to us followed their congratulations with a brief calculation of how many months they had to lose x amount of weight.

Fortunately, I had a cop-out from this pressure: my wedding dress. I ordered my pretty ivory gown in a size 14, nine months before our big day, so it was imperative that I not lose weight, lest I want to pay beaucoup bucks for alterations on that lacey waistline. Yet, I kept hearing my loved ones malign their own lb’s throughout the wedding planning process. At one point, I felt so overwhelmed by the weight-loss efforts around me that I became a little paranoid about their intentions. Wondering if they were trying to make a subtle suggestion, I asked my bridesmaid sadly, “Am I supposed to be trying to lose weight?”

She reassured me of their intentions, and I got over it. July 10th arrived, I was at my normal weight, and I felt very pretty.

I’ll remember my engagement and my wedding day mostly for the obvious joyous reasons. But that time also sticks with me for a less pleasant one: it brought into stark contrast the beauty I see in my loved ones against their own body images. Faceless bureaucrats telling me I’m fat hurts; hearing my loved ones embrace those awful messages hurts even more.

At the end of the day, we should all try our darndest to see ourselves the way our loved ones see us. Let’s be our own Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones's Diary:

Mark: But the thing is, uhm, what I'm trying to say, very inarticulately, is that, uhm, in fact, perhaps despite appearances, I like you. Very much.
Bridget: Apart from the smoking and the drinking and the vulgar mother and the verbal diarrhea...
Mark: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.

Our third anniversary is coming up, and I look forward to reminiscing about the love we felt that sunny day in July. Most of all, I remember everyone looking like the best versions of themselves, but not because they were dressed up, or were wearing fancy makeup, or had lost weight. Our wedding guests looked beautiful because their faces were lit up with happiness. I’ll take happiness over dress size any day of the year; it looks good on everyone.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The F Word

Ian and I hosted a housewarming at our new condo on Saturday. Expecting upwards of 25 people to attend, I decided to buy two dozen Do-Rite Donuts for a fun, local dessert. This turned out to be a GROSS OVERESTIMATE because my dear friends ate only 17 of the 24. So, left to my own devices, I ate four old-fashioned donuts in 36 hours over the weekend. Maybe it was five. Whatever. I just know that by Sunday evening I was wearing my stretchy pajama pants because I felt bloated and fat.

But, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve felt fat since 3rd grade.

I had a chubby little tummy by the time I was 8, which is when I started to revere thinness. I bragged to my parents about my meager accomplishments on our now-dusty treadmill; I squealed with glee in the dressing room of Abercombie & Fitch when, once during junior high, I fit into a size 8 pair of green cargo pants; and I hugged my high school boyfriend when, after a day of “feeling fat”, he put one hand on my back and one of my stomach to physically show me that I wasn’t. As a dutiful, nice American girl, I grew up fearing the power of the F word: you could call me stupid, you could call me a bitch, but whatever you do, please don’t ever call me fat.

Nothing has changed. I’m a 28 year old woman, but I’m still a nice American girl, and if someone called me fat tomorrow, I might curl up in my bed and cry.

The mirror has always been my biggest critic. In high school, I didn’t think I was thin (I weighed 145 pounds); Freshman year of college I didn’t think I was thin (I weighed 170 pounds); After two semesters in Europe, I didn’t think I was thin (I weighed 150 pounds); A year and a half ago in Indiana, I didn’t think I was thin (I weighed 180 pounds); today, I don’t think I’m thin (I weigh 161 pounds).

These days, I could not imagine feeling thin enough until I weigh less than 150 pounds, or at least until I could comfortably zip up the pair of pants I bought in London. But then I must remind myself that I did once make those benchmarks, and I still felt fat.

One day, upon pondering this absurdity, I decided to focus on the deluge of Skinny that usually blends into the white noise of everyday life. For a few hours, I counted the number of Skinnygirl and Special K commericals on Bravo; I studied the Hydroxycut ads in Ok! Magazine; I tuned into the bikini body and baby weight articles online; and I listened to Jennifer Hudson sing to me about "Feeling Good" on Weight Watchers. I even watched the oft-shared Dove Real Beauty Sketches commercial only to hear: “She was thin so you could see her cheekbones. And her chin, it was a nice thin chin.” And “She looks closed off and fatter; sadder, too.”

Then, like slamming a book shut, I tuned it out. In the silence, I laughed a little at the ubiquity of the Thin = Better messages I’d just paid attention to. They were everywhere, obscene in their commonplaceness.

I finally realized that it’s not that I’ve never felt thin; it’s that I’ve never felt fully satisfied with myself. Ever since I became aware of an outside gaze, my body has been a work in progress. In other words, all the Biggest Losers and the Hydroxycuts and the Atkins diets - all of these images have been working in tandem to form a singular, powerful subliminal message that I, and everyone I know has always embraced:

That I am incomplete until I am thinner.

Fuck that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Are Big Cities The New Small Towns?

I miss Mayberry / Sitting on my porch drinking ice cold Cherry Coke / Where everything is black and white / Picking on my six string / People pass by and you call them by their first name / Watching the clouds roll by.
~ Rascal Flatts, "Mayberry"

When we decided to move back to Chicago from Indiana last year, we held kitchen-table talks and drafted several pros and cons lists. We had immensely enjoyed the special times we had spent my family and two of our dear friends who live in Indianapolis. We knew we’d miss them if we moved, and we do today - all the time. There were other pros in our Indiana column, too: the lower cost of living, the parking lots, and the tranquility of the natural environment around us.

Ultimately, though, we just couldn’t shake the heaviest con in my home state’s column: that we felt lonely.

It’s not that we didn’t spend time with our close friends and family there. We did, and we loved it. Rather, we felt lonely because of the suburbs themselves. For us, a childless young couple, they felt insular and quiet.

Of course, I thought it would be different. When we moved to Indiana, I had imagined a Mayberry-type sense of belonging: the smaller the town, the closer the community, right?

Not for us.

People held doors, but didn’t engage in conversation; neighbors pulled their dogs away from ours, instead of stopping to say hello; And no one learned my name in Zumba class for at least two months. It felt like everyone belonged to their own social group - a church, an office, a school, or a playgroup - and we were always on the outside. My mom even paraphrased A Few Good Men to joke about our dog’s boredom in our neighborhood: “Teddy was leaving his apartment for a walk, and he didn’t see a soul, and he didn’t meet a thing.” That was really the crux of our loneliness: we missed walking out our door and seeing people, like we had in the city.

It took moving away from the big city to help us realize what a powerful sense of community urban environments foster. So we moved back, and I’ve renewed my belief that big cities are the new small towns.

As I’ve mused before, I sometimes long for simpler times. I wish I could have been born in a Fried Green Tomatoes kind of era, where everyone knew everyone and people stayed put. In fact, one of my biggest gripes about “the real world” so far has been the stark dichotomy of life during and after college: we transition from a campus life full to the brim of social activity and friendships, to an office life of sitting in lonely cubicles for 9 hours a day, staring at computer screens, Gchatting with friends who are a plane-ride away because we all took jobs in faraway places. I can’t help but wish we all lived closer together, in a simpler time and place.

While cities are hardly simple - especially this one - they do cultivate the most basic form of human communication: face-to-face interaction. These days, we real-life chat with our neighbors in the elevator and learn about their goings-on. We greet our doormen by name, as they do us, and talk about parking tickets and online shopping. We bond with dog-owners as crazy as us in our local dog park. We roll our eyes with our fellow pedestrians at errant bicyclists and honking taxis. And right now, we can hear the shouts of our fellow Blackhawks fans outside our window, and we can’t wait to celebrate with them later.

Big cities force us together, and I can’t help but love mine for it.

Chicago is our new Mayberry, and once the interest rates dropped low enough, we got to buy a little piece of it. "Sweet Home" indeed:

The new digs.
Ian smiling about the Blackhawks win.
Looking into the sunroom
Bathroom. Aka Teddy's room (he loves the cool tile)

Bedroom pics coming soon in a post about our wall art. Teaser: Ian picked out the prints in the bedroom.