Four years ago I weighed 122 pounds. I held that weight easily for two years and felt quit good about myself in general, weight and otherwise.
Four years later, it's the monkey on my back. One hundred twenty-two pounds. Why can't I get back there? If only I could just slip down a few notches.
My jeans would fit.
My shirts wouldn't be the slightest bit tight.
I'd be able to order dresses online and be certain they'd fit.
I'd be happy.
For the last four years, I've chased the idea that happy is somehow related to a three-digit number yielded by a set of batteries on a plastic scale.
I don't think I'm alone. I don't think I'm uniquely distorted in this way of thinking. In fact, my friends tend to fall into two camps.
In camp one are friends who are also chasing a certain number: a weight, a size, a measurement. They tell me about pre-baby weight, wedding-day weight or college weight. They tell me they know they can do it; it's just a matter of buckling down. They just have to get through the holidays or the newborn years or the first few months at a new job. Then...they will focus.
On a number, arbitrary at best but representative of happiness.
I have another camp of friends who have let it go. They never talk about weight. Some of them work out; some don't. All of them have a 'few extra pounds,' but none of them is obese. They're just somewhere in the middle, between obsessing about food one way or another, between obsessing about the number on the scale, good or bad.
These people eat pizza when it's offered. They have no food restrictions. They are happy to have a cocktail, thank you.
They don't demean themselves after a plate of BBQ or say 'no, thank you' when dessert arrives. Neither do they binge eat cookies while watching Game of Thrones because they haven't had sugar (in any form including ketchup or Wheat Thins) for three solid weeks.
This camp, this is the happy camp.
I am not in the happy camp. I'm in the weigh-myself-every-morning camp. I'm in the food restriction camp. I'm in the tight ball of anxiety in my chest camp...because I missed a workout.
I think the other camp, the camp of people who eat with pleasure and aren't mentally measuring each bite or doing the math on calories burned in a workout, have realized what is slowly coming to me: being thin doesn't equate to being happy.
When I weighed 122 pounds, I wasn't happy because of my weight. I was happy because I had a close circle of friends, lived in a place for longer than a year, rode horses daily through the beautiful NC countryside and had found my rhythm.
The number on the scale was just a byproduct of being happy...not the other way around.
There is a huge cultural message sold to us in a million ways from people who have a vested interest in our unhappiness.
The message is: being thin/fit/toned/ripped will make you happy. You must wait, then, until the number on the scale matches the chart in your Inbox until you can start living a full and thriving life. Until then, you're a little bit less-than. You are on your way, sure. You are cutting out junk, taking up a Zumba class or refusing to eat wheat, but you're still not there. Not quite. Just another 5 pounds or toned triceps or refusal to eat sugar (fat, wheat, oil, nightshades, chocolate, meat, fruit).
This message makes a lot of people a lot of money.
A year ago I was in a hotel room in Leshan, Sichuan. China. I was with my Chinese best friend, who'd just had a baby a few months prior. We were traveling together and preparing to leave for dinner. I wore a pair of black yoga pants and a skin-tight black tank top while I put on make-up. My friend sat in a chair by the window.
"I am so ashamed," she said, her head resting in one hand, the window open slightly and a cool breeze filtering past her face. "I am fat."
I looked at her in the mirror and laughed. She wasn't fat. She'd just had a baby.
"You're not fat," I told her. "You just had a baby. You just need some time."
She remained unconvinced. Turns out that her husband, mother and nanny had all commented to her that her American friend is actually thinner than she is, a Chinese girl.
The Chinese are honest like that.
"I want to be slim and not have a belly," she told me, turning toward the window and looking out at the gray sky turning to dusk. "I want you to tell me what to do. What do you do so that you don't have a belly and fat cheeks?"
She pulled at her cheeks and looked in the mirror, and I saw in her eyes all of the comments she'd had slung her way.
I thought about deferring but then I decided to just tell her.
"I workout every day. I do online videos, which I love, that are a combination of pilates, ballet and yoga."
Intrigued, she asked me to model some of the exercises, which I did. She seemed curious and excited.
Then, I said, "And I watch what I eat. No snacking. Not too many carbs. No eating after dinner...that sort of thing."
Immediately, her face fell. She looked back toward the window and thought about what I said. Then, after several minutes, she bounced up out of the chair and said, "Okay. I am better. I cannot do that. I don't want to worry about what I eat. That would be miserable. So, I will have a little belly and plump cheeks. But I want to eat what I want to eat."
We never talked about it again, and we ate for the remainder of our trip with gusto. I gained five pounds and clutched at my stomach a few times and did some mental math about who long it might take me to lose the weight.
She laughed when her husband made a comment, in a park as we walked toward a pond, that she was fat. She looked at him and said, with a smile, "Yes, okay, I'm a little fat." He laughed in return and we all kept on walking.
The capital T truth (as David Foster Wallace says) is that our weight isn't a legitimate measure of our happiness. Happiness is a thousand other things, and sometimes we lose weight as a byproduct of that happiness, when we aren't using food as a balm to ease our anxiety or hurt or fear. But the number itself isn't the goal.
What would it be like to join this camp? Could I even do it after 42 years (probably 30 of them) worrying about the size of my jeans and any visible cellulite and whether or not I have 'bingo wings' on the back of my arms?
Maybe 2018 is the year to find out.
Happy Saturday...it is Saturday, right? Because I'd been housebound for a week now, due to a snowstorm, and it's all sort of running together into one giant, white blur.