She leaned back against the black restraint, closed her eyes, half smiled, ran a hand through her Toni perm and submitted. A sliver of cotton underwear smiled coyly from where the slimming black leotard ended and the opaque tights that contained a gently jiggling mass of soft flesh began.
And so my introduction to weight management for fashionable housewives circa 1978 commenced.
I had ballooned to 125 pounds that summer and that was unacceptable for my 5'8" teenaged frame. I knew I would never be the athletic type - that belief had taken firm root a decade earlier in gym classes where I'd vomit so I could be excused from the likely humiliation when I took last place in the running race as I always did.
I knew it was best to accept that I would never be a perky cheerleader or a sports superstar and to resign myself to my fate as a housewife in training. If I gave myself to the aggressive ministrations of the vibrating exercise belt at Gloria Stevens Figure Salon, there was hope that I could at least feign fitness and hopefully avoid a lifetime of counting Weight Watchers food exchanges and drinking Tab.
The permed-hair woman in the black leotard was probably not older than I am now. At 16, she is what I thought middle age was all about: lipstick, never swimming underwater at the beach, diamond rings and Gloria Stevens. And it was okay to have a little extra flesh at her age, but at mine...well, that scale tipping past 125 would surely render me unlovable.
I stumbled through college subsisting on beer, pizza and literature into the next decade of my life and well past the 130s lb. mark. It didn't matter so much then. I was declaring my independence and I didn't care much about what anyone thought.
In my mid-twenties, I lived in New York City, newly married and vomiting at least once a week. Except this time, 125 wasn't the magic number, 115 was. At the height of the obsession, I weighed myself three of four times a day, more on the weekends. At rock bottom, I hit 110 and stopped menstruating. I thought that was kind of cool and I had no need for womanhood and babies anyway.
I remember one weekend my husband left me in the house with a large bear-shaped cookie jar a friend had given us. Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies - several bags of them - beseeched me from the bear's innards. I don't know how many cookies I ate that day, but I do remember neeeeeding, anticipating, craving the next one. And I liked feeling like my own innards might explode because feeling something, however unpleasant it was, let me know I was alive.
It might have been a dozen, maybe two dozen cookies, I don't know, but once I'd reached what I thought was my limit, I calmly positioned my head over the toilet and emptied my stomach to make room for the next couple of dozen. I could not, would not, stop until every cookie was gone. And when my husband came home and reached into the jar for HIS cookies, I made up a tall tale most certainly did not involve vomit!
When we moved to Vermont in 1992, I was horrified to find that we both gained a few pounds almost immediately. Living in the city we walked everywhere. Living in Vermont, we drove. Vermont, of course, was not the fashion mecca I thought New York was, so slightly baggy sweaters and jeans were acceptable to hide my back-up-to-125 lb. secret.
It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because my body remembered what it meant to be a woman somewhere around 120 lbs. I became pregnant the one and only time in my life in 1993. My daughter arrived in early 1994 and within just a few days I was back in my size 4 jeans (which still hang today, out of style and not my size, in my closet. I have no idea why).
Obsessive weighing took over my life once again through my daughter's toddler years until one day I noticed my beautiful toddler copying my behavior. After that, I became more secretive and shameful, not wanting to infect my daughter with the disgust I felt about my own body for so many years. Eventually, between mothering, working full time, going through a divorce, aging and starting a high-fat gourmet food business (coincidence? I think not!), I began to feel and look, well...mostly normal and the urge to purge waned a bit.
But the anxiety remained - the incessant talk about weight and clothing size at family gatherings, the feelings of inadequacy and imperfection, the sense that how I looked on the outside and how much was in my checking account determined my value as a human being. I still find myself occasionally rewarding or punishing myself with food. "I don't deserve to eat lunch because I am behind at work" or "I must work for 10 hours straight without food to atone for being so inadequate."
Last year, at 48, I took up hoop dancing, an art form, a meditation, a sport that required me to be in my body and to move sensually without apology. Hardly the lithe, flat chested, flat stomached twentysomething shown in the instructional videos I watched, I was self conscious at first. In fact, when I did my hoop dance teacher training last year, I froze and melted down, paralyzed by my imperfect body, but determined to push through the paralysis and past the voices of "you're not athletic and you suck at all things physical." Every day, in the solitude of my hoop, I swirl away another layer of perfection's hypnotic song.
And I laugh as this middle aged, lipstickless, diamondless little girl reveals a new layer of the pre-teen, pre-vibrating-exercise-machine-junkie, pre-inhibited child who desperately wishes she could have laughed all those decades ago instead of puking.
Here now and healthy now, I work every minute of every day to take meals, menopausal body changes and personal challenges one moment at a time, perfectly reveling in life's imperfection.