Somewhere right outside of the whimsical hum drum that was my childhood, I started to hate my body.
I don’t remember the exact reason for it, but I know it was the first day of the fifth grade. The hate became tangible. So tangible, I could hold it. I remember this because in my first day of school photos, I wore a red and white striped dress with a giant, plastic yellow smiley face in the center. I was walking home from school and, disgusted by my pre-teen tummy sticking out with the smiley face, hit my stomach with my fist. I hit my stomach with my fist. Being round and healthy was suddenly so inconvenient, and my stomach was so uncomfortable against the itchy plastic smiley face, stitched awkwardly on the inside. My ugliness was screaming. I wanted to be thin.
My entire life since then has been a constant yearning for thinness.
The desire to be thin is like white noise. From that day onward, the yearning constantly rang in the back of my mind. Whenever I’d eat a piece of pizza during school lunch. Especially, when I’d have two. It would ring when I sat at home on the couch watching MTV Spring Break, doing nothing. It would ring on the school bus watching the thin girls get all the attention. It would ring when I admired celebrities in J14 Magazine and their long torsos and low-rise jeans. It would ring, ring, ring, ring.
As one can imagine, the insecurity only heightened from there. Britney Spears dropped her first album in 1999, when I was 12. I watched her like a delusional hawk, mesmerized by her sexuality. Hip-hugging jean skirts and belly button rings led me to believe I needed to be fit for true beauty. I wasn’t a sporty gal, so I didn’t upkeep a slender body. I was built strong, with big bones and broad shoulders. But I couldn’t fit into anything risky without looking overly contrived and totally awkward. I wasn’t coordinated and daydreamed about walking down the hallway in between classes with the slender allure of a Laguna Beach bombshell.
By the time I was thirteen, my boobs were huge and I got my period. Guys started taking notice but I hated the attention. I wanted validation from popular girls. I wanted them to see me as delicate, feminine, and primed to be dainty. Boys were vulgar and called me “BLT (Big Lucious Tits) and I started to, coincidentally, hate my chest. I wanted to be thin and coy. I wanted to be looked at for more than what was making me top-heavy. I wanted a long, thin waist. But I had nothing but squishy hips and the shoulders of a linebacker.
So, I started obsessing over food. I joined the track team. I bought a notebook and tracked what I ate every day, only allowing myself 1,000 calories (for a growing woman!!). I would think about consuming food hours after consuming it, muddling on the weakness of the act. I was curvy at a young age. And damn beautiful. And yet, thinness—the maintaining and wanting of it—would linger in my mind like an early morning fog.
I would think about consuming food hours after consuming it, muddling on the weakness of the act. I was curvy at a young age. And damn beautiful. And yet, thinness—the maintaining and wanting of it—would linger in my mind like an early morning fog.
The ringing, the wanting to be thin, got louder in college. Girls turned into regal women here, and I couldn’t see myself as beautiful as them. The extra time in between classes and naps gave me the opportunity to get into the gym. I went every single day and wouldn’t be satisfied if I wasn’t sweating through my shirt. I reached a point where I dreaded the elliptical. Working out wasn’t an outlet or a hobby. It became an obsession. But the obsession wasn’t helping me. The ringing was always there.
After college, I was at my skinniest. I was so skinny that I thought I’d contracted ringworm, and I bought my first size two pants at J. Crew. Those pants were a lifetime of success all in one blush colored denim skinny jean. I hate to even type that they were, but I felt a flood of happiness wearing them. The funny thing is – looking back, even then, I didn’t feel thin. The thirst was still eminent.
Shortly after purchasing my pink pants, I tried a juice cleanse. I had gained a pound or two and was feeling destroyed. The juice cleanse was four days long and I was fully prepared to sit in my house every night, sip fresh-squeezed juices (for only $240 a pack!!), and gain my confidence back. Thinness comes with a price, you know. However, the results were less than expected. On the second evening of the cleanse, I felt so lost and alone, I could barely be with myself. Something about the cleanse was alienating me from my friends, my life, and the outside world. I had two canker sores from all of the citrus and my tongue was raw from the tartness. I broke down and ate. That made me feel alone too.
Even now, as much as I’ve worked on silencing the wanting, I want to be thin. Most of the time, I love my body. But, it’s not all the time. I still notice my stomach. Especially when I’m sitting in my car and the seatbelt scoops under my stomach there, making it protrude out like a bag of flour. The ring of wanting is with me when I shop and try on clothes. I still want to feel thin in photos. I hate putting on old clothes I find in my closet that don’t fit anymore. Sometimes, I look back on old Facebook memories and see how thin I once was, and a ghostly emotional hole dips down on me like a barn swallow. I’m getting married next year and I silently haunt myself imagining gaining any more weight before then. I lay in bed throughout the winter months, big t-shirts and no pants, and watch my thighs. They pour all over the bed and sometimes I can’t help but stare at them in disgust, like they are giant piles of dusty pizza dough. I buy clothes that are too big for me, because I don’t like trying things on, and baggy dresses hide my curves.
I’m not saying I don’t have good moments, because of course I do. I know what makes a beautiful woman, and it’s not being thin. It’s being happy. And courageous. And sad. And free. I simply need all of the women in the world to know I struggle too. When women are expected to be beautiful and sensual, the pressure takes a real form.
I’m not saying I don’t have good moments, because of course I do. I know what makes a beautiful woman, and it’s not being thin. It’s being happy. And courageous. And sad. And free. I simply need all of the women in the world to know I struggle too. When women are expected to be beautiful and sensual, the pressure takes a real form. Take this into consideration. According to the World Economic Forum, a robot read 3.5 million books to see how we describe men and women differently. Beautiful, sexy, and gorgeous were used most often to define women. Men were called brave, rational, and righteous. Overall, adjectives used for women were focused on appearance. For men, behavior was key. Women have lived in a world of deep, deep expected perfection. The proof is in the books and stories, all the way back from 1900.
Shopping for wedding dresses has always been a minor fear of mine. So, when I set out to do that this year, I grew nervous. I imagined being unable to squeeze into a bodice or a tulle skirt. When I filled out the fitting questionnaire I wrote “No princess dresses or sleeveless, please. I’m very curvy!!!” like it was some kind of storm warning. The first dress I tried on was simple and a little tight, with a diamond cap sleeve. I barely shimmied into it, the clamps pinching my back rolls. I looked down at the belly pouch that was my womanhood, winced a little, and shuffled to the mirror while everyone looked at me with big, genuine love. The dress was beautiful. I was beautiful in it. I knew right then as I was standing on that tiny wooden podium, in front of the women (and woman) I loved, that this was one of those beautiful, big moments. That moment when I realized I had spent 20 years of my life thinking about the ugly, little insecurities, silencing myself from my bigness and grandness.
My thighs rub together because they’re strong and round. They hold me safely on horses, because riding makes me feel innately powerful. My body is a freight train and a peaceful river. It’s everything I want it to be, and when I can’t help but hear the ringing and the yearning to make it smaller, I have to let that be human too.
I’m trying to make more moments like these. And they happen more as I grow older. When I feel at a loss with my body, I slow down. I remember my body is actually incredible. It’s magical. I can GROW A HUMAN INSIDE OF IT. It’s BIG. It carries me across the world. It wakes up for me. My thighs rub together because they’re strong and round. They hold me safely on horses, because riding makes me feel innately powerful. My body is a freight train and a peaceful river. It’s everything I want it to be, and when I can’t help but hear the ringing and the yearning to make it smaller, I have to let that be human too.
Wanting thinness whispers and makes sound, but it doesn’t hush my grandeur.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.