This is your life: You are born into a family with a history. One child has already died. As children themselves, your parents endured abject poverty. Their greatest fear, now, is loss of control.
This fear manifests itself in rules. You learn from your sister what happens to people who break them. You become a follower: of rules, authority figures, societal expectations.
This is your life: You grow up hating your body because it does not match the pictures in Teen magazine. Your mother suggests eating an apple instead of ice cream. Meanwhile, she makes a pie for your father and your brother.
But at least your mother is not as bad as your friend Michele’s. You spend a lot of time at Michele’s house because she has a pool. One day Michele’s mother brings out squares of orange cake with cream cheese frosting. For Michele, she brings out a plate of sliced tomatoes.
“You don’t need to be eating cake,” she says.
Michele is a size 2.
This is your life: One bad boyfriend after another: the bully, the clinger, the entitled Republican. The list goes on–and just when you’ve decided that you’re done with it, another guy shows up. He’s cute and smart and funny. He tells you that you’re beautiful.
You know this isn’t true. You understand that this is what men say to women. Still, you think he’s sweet for saying it.
This is your life: You get married. You fight about ridiculous things: how often to do the laundry, how to load the dishwasher. But after a while, you get tired of fighting. Who cares how the dishes go into the dishwasher, as long as they do?
This is your life: You get pregnant, and then you lose the baby. You didn’t realize how much you wanted a child. Now, you aren’t sure you’ll ever have one. But then you’re pregnant again, and everything is normal.
Until it isn’t. The doctor sends you straight from her office to the hospital. You’re sent home later, put on bed rest. Nothing is normal. You’re angry that your body has failed to do what both your sister’s and your mother’s bodies have done, seven times, without incident.
Then a beautiful baby girl is born. You’re amazed at what your body has done.
This is your life: You get pregnant a second time, while working on your Ph.D.. One of your professors asks “Was this planned?” You don’t think it’s any of her business, but that isn’t something you can say.
You shrug. She shakes her head. “Two kids before your dissertation,” she says. “You’re either really brave or completely crazy.”
This is your life: Your daughter comes home from preschool crying because a friend said that her mom is fat. “I don’t think you’re fat!” she says. “I think you’re beautiful!”
You tell your daughter that fat means lots of different things to different people. You tell her what really matters is that you feel good about yourself.
“Do you feel good about yourself?” she asks.
You know the right answer to this question, but the right answer is not the truth.
This is your life: You finish your Ph.D. and get a job. (Brave, it turns out.) You move your family to Texas, settle in, buy a house. Some years later, you volunteer to chaperone a group of girls from your church on a weekend retreat.
The girls want to join a group that will climb to the top of a nearby hill.They want you to go along. It’s been years since you climbed more than a flight of stairs, but you say yes. Halfway up the hill, you realize why this was a mistake.
By the time you get to the top, your heart is beating much too fast. Not BOOM BOOM BOOM, but bbbbbbbbb. You’re afraid the counselor will have to call for help. EMS will have to carry you down the hill on a stretcher. The girls’ parents will be called. Please come pick up your daughter. The chaperone had to go to the hospital because she was too fat. You would almost rather die than have this happen.
So you pray. God, please help me get off this mountain. I’m sorry I’ve let myself go like this. Get me down from here and I promise, I’ll do better.
You know this isn’t how God works. Still, you get off that mountain.
Later, you tell your husband what happened. You buy a treadmill. At first, you can barely walk a mile. Then you can walk two miles. Then it occurs to you: maybe you could run.
You hold on to the handrails, afraid you’ll fly off. But then you let go.
You are 40 years old, and you are running.
This is your life: You’re on the way to the mailbox when your next door neighbor says “Did you give up eating for Lent?”
You’re at the zoo with your family when your daughter says “You look like such a jock.”
You’re wearing a pair of running pants and a t-shirt. This is what you wear anytime you aren’t at work.
This is your life: Your children grow up and go to college. You go to the gym three or four times a week. You donate the treadmill to Goodwill.
When you go to the gym, you push yourself a little farther than the last time. You don’t run anymore, thanks to a bad knee, but the elliptical machine lets you move fast. The stair climber assures you that a hill would not be a problem today.
You still don’t look like a picture from a magazine, but you don’t read those magazines anymore.
You go to the gym because you like knowing your body is capable. You eat an apple because it’s good for you. Being strong and healthy makes you feel beautiful.
This is your life. You lead it.