When the Pen Tips the Scales (Essay 14 of 52)

My thesis is submitted(!) and now … there’s summer clothing I can’t fit into.

Most weeks, I spend more hours at the gym than I do at my memoir, but some weeks I don’t. And the more productive a writer I am, the less I like my body. This is a conundrum I’ve faced more than once in my writing career, and given that writing is a sit-down job, it’s one I’m very likely to face again. And again. And again.

I was a fat kid. Not so obviously enormous that my family thought to stop feeding me, but heavy enough to often be the largest girl in the room. I didn’t like the feeling of standing out for a physical trait considered ugly.

I didn’t like my body growing up, and I’ve fought my weight since childhood. I was most satisfied with my body when I was in my mid-twenties. I lived in Los Angeles then, in car culture, sometimes driving 200 miles in one day for work. I joined a gym after living there almost a year, but I only joined to escape the boredom of my routine, which was primarily jogging, walking, yoga, and Pilates. Even while eating sugar-filled flavored yogurt cups I didn’t find unhealthy then, even while enrolled in a writing program, I whittled down to the smallest I had ever been. I wish I had kept a food diary then, because I still don’t know how that happened.

I know I didn’t write every day. (I still don’t.) I can remember spending 6-8 hours in one day at least once a week in Panera, depending on strangers to watch my belongings when I went to the restroom or went outside to move my car because each parking space had a 2-hour limit, and the lot was patrolled. I became a regular at two different Starbucks. At one, the late night barista knew I was ready to work when I came in with my hair straight and piled into a high bun or ponytail. A few times I left the other, the only 24-hour Starbucks I had ever seen, at 3 a.m.

My writing wasn’t great then, and my reading definitely not of the volume considered routine by graduate students. But I was sitting for hours on end.

And I was in my twenties.

Shit. I had forgotten about that. About how my metabolism will continue to slow. About how, because there’s about a 45-pound difference between me at my smallest adult weight and me at my largest, my body will always struggle to maintain a lower weight.

I haven’t forgotten yet how good it feels to look in the mirror and find sexiness in your reflection. I haven’t forgotten yet how good it feels to receive a letter from a journal editor asking, “Is this piece still available? I want to publish it.” In fact, I haven’t heard that request enough.

And I want to know the feeling of having an agent ask if they can represent me. Of finishing a book. Of receiving the galley copies. Of giving a public reading from a published book.

And I want to feel beautiful and not suck my stomach in as I read.

I also want not to think about this, not to have this conflict, not to feel as though my body and my life’s work are in an embittered battle in which one’s success depends upon the other’s failure. The damage American beauty standards and unrealistic portrayals of women’s body have done to my self worth be damned; I’m aware of them, and I’m not out to change them. I’m out to love me. Writer me. Published writer me. Five bikinis-owning me. Salted caramel and pistachio Talenti gelato-addicted me.

But spending more hours in the gym than at the memoir? Well, maybe it’s time for fitness instructor to be my day job—because on a serious note, this kind of work, even for those who manage to do it in an academic setting and receive the benefits that come with that, isn’t a cushy sit-down job. It’s mental labor that also poses serious physical health risks, not just vain ones.

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