(Not really a continuation of the last post. That will come soon. I think. Humour me.) Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in physical awareness among my friends. It’s not a bad thing; on the contrary, I’m getting excited. For years I’ve tried downplaying whatever features my older sister’s encouraging remarks about my physical appearance — long legs (even though I’m short), slender bone structure (that always got me injured when I did heavier training), thick, black, naturally curly hair (that I almost never let out of a ponytail or a bun), and certain other, ah, features that would almost always get noticed by people of the opposite sex (and not always in a good way). It’s not because of some high and mighty reason like not wanting others to feel slighted, intimidated, or envious of what I have. That’s just plain conceited.
It’s quite the opposite.
Until maybe two or three years ago, I was insecure about my appearance. There’s no other way to say it; like about maybe two-third of the population, I’m way too conscious of how I look.
It doesn’t always show. Nowadays, offhanded remarks about certain features of my anatomy are not uncommon, and I even make fun of myself for it. It wasn’t always like that though. Two years ago, any comment directed towards my body (even, and especially compliments) made me wince, hide, then bounce back with one of those stage smiles I used every now and then, and comment about an unrelated topic.
Being part of the Theatre Club had its perks.
It helped having good genes (thank you, mother and the other person who contributed the other half of my chromosomes), but then in the environment I grew up in, that point was moot. All of us were well versed in cutting down people with words after all, even at a young age.
Ah, but the part about not having enough to eat probably contributed to that.
People kept asking me why I was so skinny. (I’m not, actually. It’s all in the posture.) What could I tell them? That somewhere along the way, during my elementary years, we were struggling so much that I remember not having consumed anything but water for three days?
Yeah, not happening.
It’s not really because I’m ashamed of what we went through. It happened for a reason, and it did have its consequences. We all know how to share (not that we’d always do it), how to endure something bordering outright starvation, how to resist the temptation of food that isn’t yours, and how to “mark out territories” when dividing our food.
We grew up dividing anything and everything among ourselves — the room where we stayed, the bed, a single parent, a whole pie, a loaf of bread, the occasional single slice of brownie, a single bar of chocolate, an ice cream cone. Some of them were more difficult to share among ourselves (especially the parent), and some a bit easier. Surprisingly, in spite of the circumstance, the latter included food.
It wouldn’t have been surprising to open a box of something and see several marks defacing the icing, or a strip of licorice resting on top. A single diagonal mark on the slice of pie indicated it wasn’t mine, as my mark was something more distinctive. I knew to stay away from it, even if it stayed untouched for two days. The owner might be saving it for a particularly gruelling night of reviewing mathematical theorems and facing Laplace, and studying when you’ve been hungry for extended periods of time is not pleasant. I would know. Besides, it wasn’t mine; it didn’t have my mark on it. I had mine and I would take only what is mine.
Ah, maybe that was it. We grew up knowing how to share, but we are all highly territorial. And possessive.
It’s weird, but it works. Most of the time.
Back to the reason I didn’t have any kind of intelligible response to queries regarding my physical appearance. You see, for me, it would appear very much like an excuse if I used that as a reason. I know genes contributed to it. I know our circumstances did too. My fondness for movement probably added to it too. And, knowing how other people felt similar to me but for completely different reasons, I couldn’t exactly say, “That’s just the way things are,” and then shrug it off. Not if I wanted to avoid getting mobbed in a dark corner at a later date.
At any rate, I avoided answering. I couldn’t exactly tell them that it was a result of starving half the time as a child. That would give them the wrong idea, and I didn’t want to be responsible for inducing or worsening an already existing eating disorder or misguided notions.
By then, we had recovered quite decently, and our concerns about food — or lack thereof — had been a thing of the past. The only use it would serve was to remind us not to take things for granted. (“Left overs? You’re going to eat that tomorrow, right? What do you mean no? You idiot.” The ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ part is always left unsaid. Their loss if they can’t recognize it.) Apparently, it also left us with a physical constitution that most people would consider to be “better” than the rest of the population.
Sometimes, physical appearances are nothing more than that. Sometimes they’re so much more.
My brother and I had abs (yes, we did. Note the past tense.) because there was less fat to hide the muscles we developed. My sister’s biceps were well defined because there was less fat to remove. She didn’t have what the younger kids pointed to and called “wiggly upper arms” because there was no fat to wiggle. There was less fat because there wasn’t a lot of food. There wasn’t a lot of food to go around for four school age kids and a single mother who had just lost her job and her heart. But let’s not get to that.
Considering our history, it’s not surprising that all of us have a fondness for food that other people would gawk at. They would ask how we could keep our figure with the way we ate. I don’t really know the reason myself, but I’m telling you now that our current weights are probably the nearest to normal we have ever been since that time our lives collapsed all around us.
My last physical examination showed that my BMI was 22, a value considered within normal range. My siblings all have numbers close to it. Twelve years ago, that number was 15. For quite a long time, none of us had a BMI higher than 18. Mine became 17 after a year or so of intense training and muscle development. My height has more or less stayed the same for the past eleven years, growing or shrinking about an inch or so depending on the amount of sleep I get and the food I eat. I was underweight, and it’s not something I liked. Not for the reasons I was underweight in the first place.
Sure, I may have joked about it sometimes, but it always made me feel insecure. My childhood tended to do that a lot, for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe just not the ones people would expect, I’m not sure. I was insecure because people thought my body was amazing — slender, flexible, not too muscular, abs, curves, boobs. That was when I was twelve to fifteen. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But if you consider why and how it got to be like that, you might have to rethink your opinion of “Oh wow, I want a body like yours too!” Because if you had told me that outright during those years, I would have kicked you. And it would’ve hurt; I would’ve used the same amount of force I’d use to destroy blocks of wood and cement. Nothing undeserved with that insensitive comment, unknowing as it would have been.
(But, ah well, good thing I was a recluse…until my high school classmates dragged me out and made everything better. My attitude included.)
For the people who tell me they diet and succeed, I really admire them. I could never do what they do for the simple reason that I love food too much. My attachment to it isn’t obsessive, but I will get motivated by the concept of being rewarded with food. It’s like a long-awaited honeymoon with food that has lasted for five years, and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
I sound like an idiot, don’t I?
Sometimes, when I say that I can’t even imagine do what they’re doing (i.e., dieting), I imagine them getting annoyed by my callous remarks. After all, how could someone who has never been fat or struggled with her weight know, right?
I’ve never been truly fat because I didn’t have enough food for it. And I have struggled with my weight. On the opposite end of the scale.
I don’t think I can tell this to them yet without delving too much into old wounds. Or getting hit on the head for having such selfish thoughts. But, well. I hope none of them ever have to experience the feeling of wanting to get more meat on their bones. Or fat. It’s not something I would want for them. I guess, in a way, that’s one of the reasons why I get excited at the prospect of them wanting to take control of their bodies and appearance. It means they have something to shed (excuse the pun; I was aiming more for “shedding their insecurities”, but it came out like this), something to drive them forward. And, as long as it doesn’t bother them
and if my papers aren’t attempting to bury me alive, I’d be there to accompany them on morning jogs or evening stretches. Ah, but my cardio is atrocious after having dropped taekwondo, dance, and table tennis upon entering college.
One day, I might tell them about this. After all, they managed to fix something I had deemed hopelessly irreparable. For now, all I can do is maybe egg them on and encourage them with their portion control.
Maybe I could join them too? Ah, but I’d really have to get over my honeymoon stage with food first, huh?