Each January my social media feed blows up with health challenges, gym selfies, links to healthy recipes, and passionate vows to give up carbs or sugar or Diet Coke … followed by diatribes of self-loathing when the vows have been broken and goals quickly abandoned. It’s almost as exhausting as actually hitting the gym — which, by the way, is chock full of newcomers desperate to make good on their New Year’s Resolutions.
Yikes. I’m so glad I’m not one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like healthy recipes, and I’m more or less off sugar and have never had more than a sip of Diet Coke (in my day I preferred the hard stuff, straight up). And, I actually really like going to the gym. Really. I’m not an endorphin junkie or training for anything in particular; there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s for another post.
But this does bring up the one point I must make clear: I don’t go to the gym to be skinny. And neither should you.
If you really want to be skinny, don’t bother with the gym. Don’t bother with the sweat and the work and the months of dedication. The path to skinny is simple, and it starts with one crucial step: Just stop eating. That’s it. Don’t worry about healthy eating or fad diets or calories or any of that. Just stop feeding yourself. Then, with all the money you save by not buying food or going out to eat or for drinks, get yourself down to the plastic surgeon and buy all the bodywork available: liposuction, tummy tuck, the works. And while you’re at it, see if you can get yourself a new face, too. One that’s sculpted and plumped and as perfectly plastic as your favorite childhood Barbie. (Your loved ones won’t mind that you no longer look like you. I mean, I’m sure they’re all as dissatisfied with your appearance as you are and will take this as a welcome change.) Next, take whatever cash you have left and head to the mall to buy all the latest trends in the size 0 your skeleton-like body can now squeeze into (doing your best to save some dough so you can head back in three months when those hottest trends are decidedly “out” and you need an entirely new wardrobe). Be careful not to walk near the food court, though. We don’t want you passing out when the smell of all that greasy, fried goodness hits you and your empty stomach. Then, if you have the energy left in your sunken, malnourished body, go home and take a good look in the mirror — not at your hot new bod or your flat abs or anything you can touch, but deeper, into your eyes, into your soul. Look deeply and unflinchingly and honestly and say to yourself, “You did it. You’re skinny. Is this what you were wishing for all along?”
This is the problem with skinny. It’s not a destination with an easily-achieved, satisfying end point — and rarely is anything about it truly satisfying. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s ever overcome an eating disorder. Ask anyone still battling one. Ask any woman in America who’s ever looked at herself in the mirror and felt ashamed, embarrassed, or just plain not enough. “Dissatisfying” doesn’t even begin to describe what “skinny” really is.
Skinny is deprivation and mind games and guilt and shame. Skinny is exhaustion and malnourishment. Skinny is anxiety. Skinny is punishing yourself for an arbitrary number on a scale or the waistband of your jeans. Skinny does not last, because once you get there (if you get there), you don’t get to enjoy your hard work; you spend just as much mental and physical energy trying to stay there. Skinny is not being your best self. It’s doing crazy things to be somebody else — somebody you saw once or everywhere, or somebody someone else thinks you should be, somebody you think you’d be better off being. Skinny is not beautiful. It’s not self-love, not self-respect, not self-care. Skinny is not happy, and it’s not what I want to be.
Look, we all want to be beautiful, to be our best selves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing, and I see it as a sign of self-love. Somewhere inside, you believe you have potential, or at least that you could lead a better life if you were in your best condition. That’s a great place to be! It says that you don’t want to accept the status quo, that you can picture yourself happier and living a beautiful, idyllic life — that you deserve and are worthy of more. But the danger comes when instead of focusing on the process of bettering ourselves, on the process of affecting positive change, of eliminating harmful habits and building on the good we already possess, we sell ourselves out for a false ideal that was never meant to be a reality and will never bring true happiness.
This is not just empty preaching, here. I never was truly “skinny” by my definition, but once upon a time, I did look like this:
I was 21 and still had the metabolism of a teenager — a very athletic, always-moving teenager. From the age of 3 until the age of 22 I played at least one sport, beginning with itty-bitty T-ball and culminating with collegiate rugby. This body was the result of staying active, eating a lot of vegetables, regular conditioning, walking around my college campus all day, and pretty much just being young and genetically lucky.
When this photo was taken, I was preparing to compete in my third pageant, a local competition in the Miss America circuit. I look at this decade-old picture now and see physical perfection, my body in its best shape. But at the time, I didn’t see it. In actuality, I thought my butt and thighs were enormous. So much, in fact, that for the swimsuit competition, I decided to wear a bikini with a wrap around my tushy in the hopes that the judges would be distracted by my hard-earned six-pack and forget all about my thunder thighs.
For reference: I looked like this.
Thunder thighs? What. Was. I. Smoking.
Again, this is the problem with being skinny. The woman in that body looks beautiful. She is thin. She takes care of herself physically and she seems to have a lot going for her. But here’s the truth, the ugly, imperfect, worse-than-thunder-thighs truth: The woman in that body does not love herself. The woman in that body values herself so little that she went from one on-again, off-again relationship to another and yet another, so afraid of who knows what that she stayed for years with boyfriends who were dishonest, who used drugs, who cheated on her, and who made her feel that the highlight of her life was being momentarily and superficially adored by people who truly did not understand, appreciate, or deserve her. The woman in that body fought day and night to stay happy and buoyant on the surface, but she struggled for years with demons that eventually overtook her and all but destroyed her entire life. The woman in that body desperately longed for connection, to be seen and understood and valued, but she pushed away the only people who were capable of it in favor of a superfluous social life full of people who claimed to love the facade she put on but didn’t even know her full name.
This is the problem with skinny. In the pursuit or possession of it, you never get to know and appreciate your true self — or let others truly know and appreciate you. They like what they see on the outside, and you tell yourself that it’s good enough.
I’m here to tell you, it’s not good enough. And skinny is not worthy of you.
It’s been almost a dozen years since I was that thin yet disastrous person. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be that tiny again, and I am glad of it. For each pound gained and lost tells the real story of my life in which what may appear to be the physical low points were actually the emotional highs.
See, the woman in this body found the love of her life, someone worthy of her whom she strives to be worthy of:
The woman in this body has just been through 36 hours of labor that ended in a C-section and the most beautiful baby boy she has ever seen:
The woman in this body has survived a miscarriage and is carrying identical twins:
…and has carried those babies for almost 9 months and just given birth to two healthy, beautiful girls:
… and has only been a mom of twins for a few weeks …
… but didn’t take long to learn how to do the twin mom thing LIKE A BOSS …
… because she loves her family and her life …
… but most importantly, she loves who she has become and is becoming. But the woman in this body is not defined solely by her role as wife and mother; she has worked to develop qualities that have enriched her life and the lives around her. She has learned to forgive, to see the good in every situation, to find patience when she needs it most, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to receive love and give it freely, to truly honor and appreciate the miraculous things her body can do, not just for how defined her abs are (or aren’t). She has found great purpose in the journey — which is worth infinitely more than any superficial happiness she could ever hope to get from having that thin, skinny body she lived in once upon a time.
So as you get ready to take your next gym selfie, instead, take a minute to have that good long look in the mirror. Ask yourself if skinny is what you want to be, or if you have something better in mind — and if you have the courage and the perseverance to go after the best life waiting for you, beyond the gym and beyond whatever it is you hoped to accomplish by forcing your body to be skinny.