a more radical selfie, or rituals of body & size / by Laura Kochman

[TW: eating disorders]

"How did you do it?" asks one of my aunts, wanting advice. It is 2003 / I am 15 / 5 feet 8 inches / 144 pounds. I mumble something about diet and exercise, instead of: I skip breakfast. I eat one apple for lunch. I guzzle water instead of eating, drag the same Poland Spring water bottle around with me wherever I go, despair when I lose it. I obsess over the calorie content of my food without actually looking it up, because I am too afraid to know. Instead, I make it up, overestimating. I exercise every night to the same hour-long DVD, in front of the wide window in our living room, in front of my father, who likes to stand by and watch for a few minutes (me? the DVD?). I know I'm making him proud by making myself smaller.

In 2016, I am a full inch taller, and my doctor suggests that 145 pounds would be a "healthy weight" for me to aim at.

The first time that I remember being weighed at a doctor's office, the scale hits 103. This is not good, it is proposed to me, still in elementary school. My mother takes me shopping for pants later that day, bringing me pairs that are too small, in the sizes she had assumed I was. One after another, they stop at my thighs. She wrinkles her nose and sighs. "I just didn't realize you were that big."

At age 4 or 5, my mother and Bubbe take my sister and I to a diner. They order my sister a milkshake, which she doesn't want. I ask for one and am refused, told that I don't need it.

Everyone on my DVD is muscular and energetic. They sweat all over the place, just like me. I get used to the rhythm of the music, the places where the song changes, where someone coughs, where the trainer makes the same joke every night. I know without looking when he'll change sides, kick backward, shake his head just so.

At a family dinner, I am casually referred to as the garbage disposal.

I sob and sob and sob in the car outside the gym because I have gained 10 pounds. I don't know, at this point, that I have also gotten taller. I just know I've done something bad. I am taken to a doctor who lets me know I should work out every day for at least 60 minutes and eat a lot less / that should do it! That should take care of me.

In 2016 I can benchpress 120 pounds and I am finally starting to appreciate what my body can do, instead of the things it can't.

I run around the block for as long as I can stand it, longer—I don't stop until I place my hand on my stomach and it feels cold to the touch. I read a book about a teenager who takes a summer job as a gardener and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. I read a book about a woman who becomes depressed and takes long, numb walks and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. I read a book about teens who take up running, one of whom becomes anorexic and loses weight, and I hope it might happen to me. It does.

In a dance class in college, I smile and say something about being larger than the other students in the class—this is an easy thing to make a joke about. My teacher looks right back at me: "No, you're stronger, and that's a good thing." I'm a little confused, because this is not how the conversation has traditionally gone.

In 2016, I can load 225 pounds onto a metal barbell and place the barbell across my shoulders and squat down and stand up. A woman in my gym class talks about her 1300-calorie daily limit, and I start to wonder if I should limit myself in this way again.

I faint. Someone tells me it must be the heat / I agree /  my stomach is also empty.

My mother tricks me into joining a swim team, though I have expressed no interest in swimming. A few years later, my mother tricks me into joining the intensive summer training camp for middle school soccer players who are transitioning to the high school team, though I have never played soccer.

I try not to talk about weight or diet in front of other people, because I have been the person listening, and I fail, over and over. I am a good listener, but I've been listening to the wrong narrative.

When I explain to my doctor that 145 pounds would not be healthy for me, that I have only ever achieved that weight through disordered eating, that the number that appears on the scale is not inherently healthy or unhealthy and that the way we talk about weight and health should be carefully considered, she writes back: "OK"

Okay—I have never been satisfied. I have been told I should never be satisfied. I have been taught to love food, and to deny it. All descriptions of me as a baby are accompanied by descriptions of my weight. How it hurt to carry me around.