But I’m honestly not sure.
My body and I generally do not get along. When I was 10, I first started to feel what I later learned were the symptoms of celiac sprue. I started going to the bathroom with terrible urgency. I started to get tired all the time. I stopped growing. My hair began to thin. Being half Arab and fortunate enough to only have inharited the least pleasant traits from that side of the family (celiac included) the only part of me that continued to develop with any regularity was my butt. By the time I reached high school, I was a 5 foot, 98lb weakling with bald patches. I also had been diagnosed with asthma (actually anaphalactic shock) rhumatoid arthritus (actually just normal joint inflamation) and a whole host of other medical conditions that did not really exist. Nobody bothered to diagnose the decimated thyroid that kept me in bed up to 20 hours a day. Nobody bothered to notice that I broke bones and tore skin every time I tripped or stubbed a toe.
In college, I tried so very hard to take control of my health. My parents had taken me to so, so many doctors while I lived at home and I had had so many blood tests ordered. Each new doctor would act absolutely shocked when my ANA, the test for lupus, came back negative. Some then decided that I really did have lupus even though I obviously didn’t. Some would reinforce that I really did have rheumatoid arthritis, even though the test for that regularly came back negative other than a vague positive result of inflammation “somewhere” in my body. Others diagnosed me with fibromyalga and threw opiates at me. Some didn’t bother to hide their opinion behind politically correct terminology and told me with a straight face that they thought I had hysteria. Obviously, these doctors were all idiots. So, finally free of the pathetic medical community of that town, I started to visit every specialist who would see me at my new university’s hospital.
The problem with that was, every doctor wanted me to have whatever particular aliment her/his research was currently centered on. I was diagnosed with everything from familial Mediterranean fever to eating disorders. But, they gave me medicine other than painkillers, and that seemed to help. The thing is, a lot of what I was given were various forms of steroids and speed. Depending on the steroid:speed ratio I was given any particular week, my weight fluctuated from around 95 to 130 lbs. When I was receiving steroid injections, I’d gain up to 7lbs in a single week. My face never looked the same one month to the next. One week it would be thin and angular. The bones in my cheeks and forehead would stick out prominently. A few weeks later, my face would be completely round. There were so many different faces of myself each time I looked in the mirror, and I hated each and every one of them. I hated not knowing what I would look like from one day to the next. I hated having to own pants ranging from size 2 to 10 and not being able to plan outfits in advance because I never knew what would fit. I hated my body and I hated trying to joke about it to all the people who paid me such high compliments when my bones poked through only to turn around and disappointedly ask me what had happened a few weeks later when I was back in moon-face mode. I hated the uncontrollable anger that came with some of the medications I was on, and the manic fits that came with some of the other medications. I hated not having control over my emotions as well as my body. And through it all, my hair kept thinning, my bones kept cracking and my skin kept tearing. I dyed my hair. I put makeup on my scalp to camouflage the bald patches. I dressed goth, punk, preppy and cutesy all to try to feel some sort of connection to the body I was in. Eventually, I found religion. I made peace with hating the way I looked by treating my body as nothing more than a vessel to get me through this life. That helped. I was able to distance myself from the pain and to distance myself from the way I looked.
I went forward. I got a masters degree. I got into a doctoral program. I met the man I eventually married. Life continued and my body no longer mattered. It still hurt and I was always, always tired, but those were facts that I had come to accept. I put foundation on over my acne scars and wore eyeliner on special occasions. After becoming religious, I began to cover my hair. While I did lose a job and some friends over that decision, it actually was a huge relief to no longer be getting suggestions from literal strangers on the street about how to improve my hair, or comments like “oh you’re so pretty, but your hair is disgusting!” My looks no longer mattered to me the way that they had before. I knew I wasn’t pretty, but that was ok. I was smart. I was involved in several charity organizations. I had found the area I wanted to focus my research on. My life had a purpose. I moved, and I did not pack my scale. I mixed up all my pairs of pants, and just tried different pairs on in the morning until I found one that fit comfortably. I was content.
Four years ago, just before I started my doctoral program, I went to visit my father and he took me to see the doctor who diagnosed me with celiac sprue. After three days on a gluten free diet, I was able to get out of bed without first waking up a half hour earlier than I needed to be up so that I could take opiate pain killers. I woke up, and I stretched. I stretched out my legs, and they fully extended. I sat in bed and sobbed. It blew my mind not only that I could move, but that I could move easily and without pain. I started to gain weight for the first time in my life. It was real, healthy weight, not something artificially induced by steroids. I started to work out, marveling at what my body could now do. I grew breasts. It was incredible.
I gained the minimal 20lbs the doctor had told me I needed. I looked amazing. Then I gained 10 more. For the first time in my life, I started to seriously diet. I gained 10 more. Then I passed out while driving on the highway one day and was hit by a semi. While I was in the hospital nursing my broken pelvis, pubic bone, vertebrae, ribs and cheek bone, my torn liver and spleen and my bruised lungs and eyeballs, the doctors discovered that my thyroid had pretty much died, which apparently is incredibly common in people with celiac. I got on synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormones) and the weight started to pour off me. My eyebrow was reattached by a phenomenal plastic surgeon. I went to physical therapy. My face was monitored by that same amazing plastic surgeon, but remarkably eventually healed on its own. A few months later, once I was off the walker and the last of the blood red had faded from my eyeballs, I looked great.
I’ve learned to love my body and to try my hardest to take care of it. I work out on a strict 4 day schedule. Day 1, I tone my lower body with Pilates. The exercises are gentle enough that even my stiff pelvis can handle it and they’re shockingly effective. Day 2, I tone my upper body with weights. Day 3, I do cardio, usually to a kickboxing dvd. Day 4, I rest. There is still cellulite on my thighs and my butt is still disproportionately large. My upper arms still jiggle if I wave too enthusiastically. But there is shape and definition to my abs. There is more lift in my breasts. And I have so, so much more energy. I feel better than I ever have, and I actually like what I see when I look in the mirror.
I also weigh 150lbs, and I don’t know how to feel about that. I am a size 6, size 1 with vanity sizing. I know I look great. I know that I have gained both bone and muscle density. I know that muscle weighs more than fat. My husband compliments me daily on how good I look. I know that I look better than I ever have in my life. But…my scale says I am overweight, and I don’t know how to get past that. What I see in the mirror doesn’t line up with what I see on the scale. For most of my life I’ve been told by doctors to gain weight. Then I was told by society to lose weight. Despite that, I had no idea how firmly my body image is tied to numbers on a scale. I really do think that I’m pretty now. But that damn scale makes me wonder. So, I’m just not sure.