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Creative Non-Fiction: "I Wish I Were As Skinny As You" by m.nicole.r.wildhood


There’s someone in my life, a fellow woman, who has told me twice now, in a

way that feels accusing to me that she wishes she were as skinny as I am. The first time, I

stuttered a compliment that included a deprecating remark toward myself, which left me

resentful for days. Resentful of her for “putting me in that position,” but more resentful of

myself that my knee jerk reaction was to put down what I (have to) work hard to

maintain.

     It’s not my weight I’m talking about. I’ve been thin my whole life. What I have to

work so hard to maintain is my health. I have a rare and chronic condition called Ehlers-

Danlos Syndrome; I have lived with the pain and others’ disbelief of this pain my whole

life. Even when there are vague outward signs of it—thin, lanky limbs (check), scoliosis

(check), stretchy skin (check), typically an injured joint wrapped or slung (check)—most

people wouldn’t put all that together and go, “Ah yes, EDS.” Most people wouldn’t put it

all together: scoliosis is its own thing; carpal tunnel syndrome is its own thing; flat feet,

stretched-out looking arms and legs, not feeling the pull during muscle stretches enduring

track practice, all their own things. And why you’re always icing a shoulder or Ace

Bandaging a knee is because you’re clumsy. Why the tendons in your ankle wrap it in

pain if you step ever so slightly “wrong” (whatever that means), especially when it’s cold

out, your doctors don’t know, but it’s probably “just” because you’ve sprained that ankle

before, “running (the rest of the two-mile) through the pain” at a track meet where you

couldn’t let your team down because middle school girls are vicious.

     So the second time she says, “I wish I was as skinny as you,” a large part of me

wants to reply, "Yes, since skinniness is all that matters; let's switch bodies. Then you can

deal with being in pain all the time and nothing you do relieves it completely. You can

deal with insomnia brought on by the intractable pain of hyper-mobile joints, over-

elasticized ligaments and the injuries those last two cause. You can deal with falling and

breaking a finger or a wrist just walking down the freaking street because your joints are

basically JELL-O. You can deal with appearing to be completely healthy to a world

indifferent to depth and therefore being expected to do all the things actually healthy

people can do even though, all the time, you are in pain and so tired you have walked all

the way to the bus stop on wet concrete before you realized you hadn’t put shoes on.”

But, because of thin privilege, I am not allowed to complain about anything physical at

all ever.

     A large part of me wants to say, "On the one hand, I didn't have to work to be

skinny. I have been skinny my whole life—so skinny, in fact, that people have worried I

was anorexic in high school even though I ate like a horse. So skinny that I didn’t start

my period until I was 16 because that’s when I reached 100 pounds and14 years later, I

still have never had a regular cycle. On the other hand, I also don't eat very much sugar,

any meat, or processed crap because I cook for myself all the damn time—when I'm not

too anxious or depressed to eat. I don't drink alcohol and I walk everywhere. I have a

devil of a time developing muscle but lifestyle does play a role in how I maintain my

thinness as aging slows my metabolism. Just like it's not my "fault" for being skinny, I

can't say it's your "fault" for being overweight (I want no part in fat shaming at all), but

you can't expect to be healthy, which could mean "overweight"—especially by society's

standards—with no effort.

     All this is true. But, while I resented her for her comment and myself for attempting to

deflect or appease or reassure by putting myself down, she and I both learned to have our

respective desires from this culture. And so what I resent the most is this society that

berates women into hating themselves so that the myriad facets of the beauty industry can

get fat with profit. It’s the same one that implicitly and almost from the moment of our

arrival into the world, sets women up to compete with one another for every last thing—

men, jobs, friends, appearance—because, it tells us, we are nothing as we are. We need an

appendage or a status or a subtraction. So a large part of me wanted to say just that, to

say,  “Don't play into those petty constrictions, don’t let white, Euro-centric notions of

beauty, which, by the way, used to dictate that heavier was beautiful because it indicated

you could afford to eat a lot, which indicated status, infect your idea of beauty. Norms

will change, shallow attachment to (mass) approval doesn’t seem to.

     But here’s what I said the second time instead: “I can confirm what bariatric surgery

patient, Lisa, says: 'Your problems follow you.'" She means they followed her down from

several hundred pounds to about one and a half hundred. I mean that I’m in the middle of

my second separation from my husband of four years (we’ve lived separately longer than

we’ve lived together); I still don’t have a clue what I want to do with my life (aimlessness

is a lot more crushing than it’s made out to be); I’m often so lonely that it’s difficult to

breathe (no, shortness of breath is not a symptom of EDS. The isolation might be, though:

one of the side effects of hard-to-manage pain and fatigue can be pushing-people-away-itis.);

and I often think my thighs are too fat. But I’m just as skinny as you wish to be.

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