This week a couple different things happened: the CDC shifted its stance on wearing masks (fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear them in most situations) and the dreary cold spring weather New York has been having finally broke, resulting in a streak of actually sunny 70-degree days. With the caveat that there is still very much a pandemic happening, it feels like…normal spring again? I can’t believe it either. But I did what one would do to mark such an occasion: blew off the dust on my Resy app, opened it up, and booked a patio table for my friends for dinner Friday night.
Friday afternoon rolled around and I found myself standing in front of my closet in a familiar state, trying on every dress I own to determine what I should wear for an ultimately inconsequential gathering. But this time felt regressive, even bad — I felt utterly adolescent in my body insecurities and had a silent little pathetic breakdown about how the dresses I’ve worn every spring and summer for years seemed to fit differently on me after 14 months in quarantine. I mean, they mostly still fit, and I’m having a hard time distinguishing how much has actually changed about my body, versus how much my body dysmorphia is simply working overtime after a year of mostly being perceived through my laptop camera in Google Hangouts meetings. Regardless, after one calendar year spent mostly living in leggings, putting myself into normal clothes doesn’t really feel good.
Part of why I never talk about my body online is because several years ago the worst people in the world spent a few weeks doing that, so I don’t really feel the need to contribute much to that conversation. But what I will say about my body: It’s about average-sized by US women’s standards, and I fluctuate from a size 12 to 16 in pretty much anything I wear. You could classify me as “small fat.” For the most part, I relish the autonomy of wearing whatever the fuck I want, “dressing for your body type” be damned, and not second-guessing it. Outside of this specific blog post I try not to spend a lot of time meditating on or contemplating my body (for reasons why that may subconsciously be the case, see the top of this paragraph). It mostly does what it’s supposed to and I’m mostly fine with it.
Except for times like this when I revert back to the abject horror with which I regarded my body for much of my adolescence, forgoing meals during the day, learning appetite suppression techniques from pro-anorexia blogs, squeezing into a pair of pants a size smaller than I could have comfortably worn out of a desire to be like my peers. I felt an urge to return to these behaviors during certain lows amid the past year, and in that regard, my problems are hardly unique. Plenty of people have undergone body changes or experienced a wide range of effects on latent or existing disordered-eating mentalities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m grateful to my body for carrying me through the past year — I’ve moved apartments twice since the start of the pandemic, found fitness classes I genuinely enjoy instead of treating them as punishment for my body, and have gone on many, many long walks around New York.
But it doesn’t matter how much I try to mentally frame existing in my body as a positive — sometimes it really sucks! In September I bought a pair of mom jeans that I brought with me for a weekend trip upstate. They were slightly too big for me then and when I tried them on again last month they didn’t not fit but they were, uh, pretty snug. Someone more comfortable with the evolving state of their body would probably be like “Oh well, that’s life!” But even after an entire life spent playing this exact game of chicken with various pairs of jeans I still had a small meltdown about it.
I find the “body positivity” movement stuff on social media espoused by thin, cisgendered, white, normatively beautiful TikTok and Instagram influencers “bravely” posting their postpartum stretch marks to be completely exhausting and useless. I don’t know who this co-opted, watered-down-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness language is for. What I really want to do is say that existing in my body fucking sucks sometimes, but the Girlboss Industrial Complex makes you feel like you can’t say that (for more information about what the gatekeepers of the Girlboss Industrial Complex look like, see the top of this paragraph). It feels like there’s a lot of pressure on people with bigger bodies to always be carrying the torch of body positivity even when we don’t feel like it. The thing I’d most like to aim for is body neutrality but even that feels like a reach sometimes. As my friend Amanda once put it: “By existing in this body for my entire life, I actually EARNED the right to have self-loathing be a choice rather than an ever-present state of being. I worked hard for self-hate to be something I can pick up and put back down so I’ll pick it up whenever I fuckin feel like it lol.”
A couple weeks ago I moved into a new apartment — it has a balcony, and I spend most of my time while the weather’s nice sitting out there, watering my plants, watching the birds, and looking at people walking by and hanging out outside the restaurant across the street. What I’ve seen is so many people of different sizes — and there’s really no other way to say this — getting their best ‘fits off. Everyone looks incredible in their spring clothes. That sentence looks insane and sounds so dumb now that I typed it out but it’s true! It feels like we’ll have a whole summer of doing this together, getting dressed up and going out and doing things, and the prospect of that actually does excite me. I want to wear my new flouncy big dresses to dinner and drinks and the bar and parties and not think twice about how I look because I’m just so happy to be with other people again safely. Everyone looks great wearing the clothes they, like me, probably bought in anticipation of being able to wear them outside where they can see and be seen by other people — and I hope I can eventually grant myself the same kindness and warmth I extend these strangers outside my window, because ultimately, this summer will be getting whatever body I give it. I wish I had a neat way of ending this but I don’t, so I defer to my friend Emma in Vogue:
I may never be totally comfortable looking at pictures of myself in a bikini, and that’s okay; nobody feels good about their bodies all the time, not even Sports Illustrated cover models. What I want for myself and everyone else in a physical form that doesn’t fit the normative mold, though, is the freedom to celebrate our presence in the world and the wisdom to understand how hard our bodies work every day to keep us going. Some days, I honor that hard-working body with a kale smoothie and a long run; other days, I honor it with an equally long nap and a trip to Fort Greene Park for one of the Mister Softee cones of my youth. The ice cream tastes as chalky sweet as it did when I was a kid, and I feel good eating it in the warmth of the sun, and right now, that’s enough.