BY LAURA JANE/ ILLUSTRATION BY JEN
I pushed my kitchen table up against the wall so that its longer edge no longer juts out and cuts into the largest fat rectangle of open empty space my little home has to offer. Now when you walk into the room the first thing you notice is a stack of books on the table instead of just the table. It’s: a book about the Beatles, a book about the Rolling Stones, Bart Simpsons’s Guide To Life, three books about astrology, Learning the Tarot, and a Spice Girls book called Spice. That stack of books has a lot of chutzpah.
There is one chair slotted into each short edge of the table. One has an olive green cushion printed with a pattern of jumping white rabbits offset by little flowers and flying petals tied to the back of it. I never sit on that chair. There is a pile of paper on that chair.
I sit on one of the two chairs tucked into the table’s longer edge, my back to my apartment’s front door. Right now I’m sitting like I’m stretching, my left foot tucked under my right thigh, my right leg splayed straight out across the chair next to me, my first four toes hooked under the edge of the table, my sad little gerbil of a pinky toe, my darling runt toe, hanging loose. I’m kind of pulsing it now that I’m thinking of it. You could put the whole of your body’s entire energy into that one tiny toe if you wanted to. Your body can do almost anything you want it to.
I was recently demoted from general to assistant manager of my restaurant. I don’t want to talk about it at all. I’m only bringing it up because I’m about to start out a sentence with “When I was first promoted to general manager of my restaurant” and I don’t want people reading this to think that I’m still the general manager of my restaurant because it isn’t true. And I like to say demoted because I think it’s funny and dramatic but it’s an overstatement. I was “demoted,” or rather “asked to step down” because I told my bosses I am moving to London in the summertime and they didn’t want to invest any more time, money or energy into training me. That’s fair of them. But there is a sliver of my rebelliousness devoted to wanting everybody to think that I was demoted for rebelliousness-related reasons. I won’t deny that the whole chain of events enkindled a little bit of rebelliousness-related fallout on my end, which I have definitely been shouting out a little bit more than is necessary, but I don’t think that anybody’s ever taken me for a woman whose actions were compelled by necessity. Of all things.
That being said, when I was first promoted to general manager of my restaurant, I thought it would be really fancy, but mostly it was just hard, and I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to go to the gym anymore. And I loved the gym! A cool grey space stuffed full of cold grey machines, populated by humans at their personal ugliest ignoring other humans at their personal ugliest: my exact preferred brand of human-on-human interaction. The gym, the marvelous gym: where I could space out and make up stories about my badass future self denying men who broke my heart in my twenties whatever the fantasy happened to be centered around their asking me for in my subtle and distinguished English accent while simultaneously looking bodacious in a skintight black dress and having recently won a Booker Prize while listening to Helter Skelter and Otis and running in place for thirty minutes, emerging from the daydream wet with sweat and rid of whatever petty anxieties I’d been bogged down by thirty minutes prior. And then I’d do some other stuff: the inner and outer thigh machines, half-assed crunches, bored bicep curls spent wondering what I was going to eat for lunch, etc. I liked that part less.
I never really knew if these workouts even did anything. I doubted they did. It’s not like I was really ripped or anything; I barely even looked like a person who went to the gym at all. Mostly I did it just to keep myself from going insane.
I went into anorexia recovery almost exactly five years ago. I worry about how easy it might be for someone to misinterpret that sentence as meaning “I recovered from anorexia almost exactly five years ago,” which is inaccurate. Maybe I haven't even recovered yet, even today. I can't decide if I did or didn't. I mean most of the time I’m pretty chill about food and eating and my body and all that but the fact that I even have to write down sentences like “most of the time I’m pretty chill about food and eating and my body and all that” while sitting here writing a thing about how “fat” AKA “disgusting” I felt when my old job prohibited me from working out maybe just maybe suggests otherwise. But it’s okay, it’s okay if that’s fucked up of me: I’m not trying to be anybody’s hero here, or even inspiring at all. I’m just telling the truth about what my life is like right now, at the beginning of March in 2014, while trying to avoid getting crazy deep into talking about my job, since my bosses recently started following me on Twitter. So, as you can imagine, I’m pretty paranoid about how they must’ve started creeping on my blog, and I’d rather they find out about my body image issues than my feelings about issues that pertain to their business. Because imagine if I wrote an expose about general management and then they tried to talk to me about it? I can’t imagine anything in the entire world worse than having to sit in my cold and empty restaurant explaining some fancy-ass sentence I wrote about my emotions to my employers.
I think what probably happened, if I’m going to be honest with myself, is that once I started general managing my restaurant and stopped going to the gym, which happened in November and was soon followed by everybody’s good old favorite life-ruiner the Holiday Season, which I’m not going to pretend doesn’t ruin my fucking life every year because it does, is that I gained about four pounds. Or maybe I’m selling myself short here. Maybe I gained ten. Or maybe I didn’t even gain any weight at all; maybe the entire thing happened in my head. But as I get older and sort of wiser, one of the major things I’m realizing is that it doesn’t really matter whether it did or didn’t happen in your head or outside of it or even at all, if it’s “legitimately” bad or just a “first world problem” or whatever the hell hashtag strangers are using to diminish your experience nowadays- if something’s shitty it’s fucking shitty and that’s it. Your personal shittiness is 1) intangible and 2) illogical and 3) entirely unrelated to anybody else’s so 4) who cares? If something’s shitty it doesn’t matter if it’s actually shitty or if it’s just your own bullshit creeping in to say what’s up and poison something average. Your happiness is not a fucking academic essay or an opinion piece some jack-off who’s a worse writer than you wrote for some blog you’ve never heard of that “seems” important but probably isn’t. You don’t have to explain anything to anyone. You don’t have to justify what lets you down.
What happened at the end of December was I started waking up feeling like I was wearing a unitard stuffed with foamcore. It was always in the earliest seconds of my day that I felt it the truest and hardest. Like there was me and I was real and then my bed was also real and then between us was an invisible bed-esque shield of me-shaped marshmallow fluff uniting us. Not a cool feeling. A person is not a bed. A person, no matter how much weight they may or may not have gained, is not wearing a suit made out of a bed, unless they’re wearing a suit made out of a bed. Which I wasn’t.
I fixated the lion’s share of my self-loathing onto my upper arms, which have never been the gold-star area of my body, and it was like when you’re trying to meditate and the only thing in the world you’re allowed to think about is yogic breathing only if you replace mediation with the furthest thing in the world away from meditation and instead of breathing it’s obsessing over how the tops of your arms are globules. Bouncy fat like fat on meat that’s been refrigerated for a couple days. Peeling the tinfoil back.
You don’t have to justify what lets you down; all you have to do is fix it. It began with a hasty Google search: best upper arm exercises or whatever. I remember doing push-ups against my kitchen table and then graduating to regular girl push-ups, on the floor. The magnificent conclusion to this story is that I found a website called “Fitsugar,” a fitness-related subsidiary of a website called Popsugar that I have barely investigated but assume spotlights celebrity culture from a principally female but in no way progressive viewpoint. And really the point of this entire piece of writing is that Fitsugar, in particular the “Class Fitsugar” aspect of Fitsugar (I’m pretty vague as to what the other aspects are), which posts life-changingly difficult and creepily effective ten-minute exercise videos to Youtube, changed my life.
There is literally nothing about the Fitsugar brand that relates to my politics or “Laura the cool weird writer” aesthetic at all, but that’s okay: I don’t really need the person motivating me to do a couple more plié jumps at the exact moment I’m about to put a fucking gun to my head and not do a couple more plié jumps to be “like me.” In those moments, I don’t even need to be “like me.” I like when life lets me not be like me. I could write this entire thing all over again and take away all the points about my not liking my own body and replace them with just as nice of sentences about how far away from being Myself exercising makes me feel, I could put a cool Hinduism spin on it, and the whole thing would be just as true. But I’m very attracted to having a negative take on things. I need everything to be dim and dull, though with a tiny bit of positive coming out the back, quietly just There, not making any huge deal out of itself but still taking complete precedence over all the crap. Like when you can still see the moon in the morning.
In the morning Mark is sleeping or showering and I’ve pushed my kitchen table up against the wall so it’s easy now. I take the liquor bottles off the top of the filing cabinet and place them on the counter with the vitamins so they don’t make awful clanking jangling noises while I’m hopping around but it’d never wake him up anyway. He sleeps like he’s dead. I’m wearing a sports bra and I’ve got my socks on and my sneakers are all tied up. I unroll my yoga mat, which is blue. So many yoga mats are purple, but I made sure to buy a blue one, just so it wasn’t purple. I don’t care about yoga. I’m not a yogi.
In the largest fat rectangle of open empty space my little home has to offer I swerve and bend my body into kooky and painful positions that never would have occurred to my body to move and bend into if it wasn’t for these lovely, sweet ladies: their pale peach tank tops and foot-shaped Nikes, their aerodynamic magenta capri pants, beautiful blonde ladies from Southern California who were beautiful ever since they were seven, eight, nine years old, when all the little boys in their classes gave them ugly safety-scissored Valentines on Valentine’s Day who grew up and chose to become personal trainers, telling me to “keep that booty tight” and “blast away that fat.” (That booty, that fat- like none of it is truly yours.) They are alternately perky and gentle. It’s very easy for me to believe in them.
My body, thanks to these women, has become truly mine. My body is a body and not just a picture of a body. I am a creature made of hinges. Now while I’m animatedly telling a story I am more than just the good old words. I’m abducting my hips and flaring up my rotator cuffs, rising up like a star and falling down into a toe-touch, knot by knot of my spine and grasping at my ankle like a drunk ballerina as I pour myself a seventh or fourteenth or whatever glass of wine. I’m dancing alone in my apartment and my repertoire of stupid alone dance moves is bursting outside of itself like a cartoon of a thermometer on the hottest day in summertime, like the jugs of milk in The Girl Can’t Help It exploding, when nothing will be staying inside of itself, as a very beautiful lady walks by.