While washing my hands in the bathroom of the Des Moines Airport, I overheard two girls of seventeen or eighteen having this conversation:
GIRL A: I’m 136 right now. Which isn’t too bad, I guess.
GIRL B: No…
GIRL A: But this summer —
GIRL B: What were you this summer?
GIRL A: 128? 127?
The anxiety was palpable. Both of the girls were pretty, even dressed as they were in sweatpants and UGG boots.
The weight conversation pained me for reasons that tangled up in my head as I lathered up at the sink. I felt first the Ms. Magazine stab, angry that young girls were wasting breath on an eight-pound fluctuation in weight while they’re clearly still forming. I felt a stab of nostalgia for an age I will never be again; seventeen was lousy in some ways (e.g., school, acne, etc.) but so great in others (e.g., inventing sex.) I’m ashamed to admit that there was a flicker of jealousy (or envy? I never know the difference) as I glanced at their tanned wrists and thick hair. I feel so poor today, so compromised — I had a pretty grim setback last night. Ah, but to be a young adult in good health is a beautiful thing — for a split second, I longed to change places with either of those kids.
The pair also reminded me of a promise I made to myself many years ago. At Mayo Clinic in 2008, in the darkest hour of that period, in a lucid moment — there were many moments I was not present for — I looked down at my infected ileostomy site, at the four different IR drains woven through my belly and rear, the IV, the PICC line, and all the bruises and my rapidly disappearing pounds of flesh and I said, “If I get through this, I will never hate on my body again. I promise. I will never complain that I feel fat, I will never say I look bad. I will love myself.”
I have not kept that promise. I still complain that my thighs aren’t toned enough. I worry about my hips. I try various Retinol treatments to improve the quality of my complexion, which is never satisfactory, ever. The desire to measure up to a beauty ideal has shown itself to be — at least in me — stronger than the memory of all that mortal devastation. And it’s about the saddest thing I can tell you.
It’s good to look your best. You’ve only got one life: Dress for it. And eat right because you’ll feel better if you do.
But girls, girls, girls. Ain’t nothing wrong with you.