Skinny and Number-Sixed: 2019 Orthorexia

Recently I was in a room of women who did not eat carbohydrates.

I am exaggerating, of course. I am sure they occasionally ate things like sprouted quinoa in bowls filled with other expensive elements meant to extend their lives by weeks or even months.

That is, if they didn’t choke on their own bile first.

Because these women were unhappy. They were rich women and they were white women and they were women my age. I kept having to remind myself they were my age, because they looked both older and younger than me. Their skin radiated a glow that mine only achieves about an hour after I work out–but really it was a sort of florescent, dangerous glow that spoke of misplaced determination. Their hair also spoke of that determination. It was very actively Not Grey, but not with the generic beige which less clever or moneyed women slap on grey hair. No, their hair was like a trip to the Grand Canyon or South Dakota’s Badlands–compelling flowing layers ranging from gold to burnt sienna–waves of sediment, not sea.

It was the hair of colonizers, not grounded mermaids.

All these women had the same nose, which surprised even me, who went to high school in a rich town, until I recalled there are only one or two doctors who give a really good nose job. Around these women’s eyes and mouths was a smoothness that working on a gossip magazine had taught me was a sign of expertly applied Botox. (Badly applied Botox pulls people’s features out of alignment so they look like living Picassos, compelling but not exactly appealing.) The problem with even expertly applied Botox, though, is that it rids you of expression and so these women were having a hard time conveying joy.

I’m not sure they were feeling much joy anyway.

The thing about some wealthy, white, straight women in 2019–especially ones who don’t have to work to support themselves or the people they love, especially ones who received excellent, expensive educations that they don’t use–is that they’re a doubly lost generation. Betty Freidan wrote their escape manual fifty-six years ago, you see, so if they’re not using it, it’s not because they don’t know about feminism. It’s because they don’t think it applies to sea wraps and breakfast kelp. Especially if they’re cool to the help and superficially talk the talk.

I can’t really get into why I was in a room with these women, but I can say that they were not bad people. That twenty-five years ago they were the types I went to college with, but somewhere along the way I became a witch and writer who can’t always make her rent and they became ladies of leisure, mothers with nannies–women shored by some man’s money, a patriarch or a husband, you name it. (Ostensibly I was the only queer woman in that room.)

It was like a WASP party from the 1950s–an Updike novel come to life. There was a plate of untouched appetizers languishing on a gorgeous ceramic plate from Joshua Tree and many, many empty bottles of wine. No one was laughing but everyone bore a tight, small smile and spoke in a high, flutey voice. There was also the unmistakable whiff of psychotropic medications–the prevailing vibe of the party was shall-we-say prescribed.

The challenges we less entitled women must take in stride –infertility, anxieties and phobias, food allergies–reigned supreme in that room because the stuff of mere mortals–the cost of childcare and health insurance, dirty dishes and laundry, how our larcenous administration is fucking our daily lives–didn’t touch them.

Mostly everyone was talking about their weight, only they weren’t using that word. Rather, they were talking about “cleaning out.” In short, they were talking about detoxes, not diets, but when I closed my eyes it was the same shit you might have heard in George Cukor’s 1939 film The Women.

Because these Women were still loathe to take up real space.

Understand I am not pretending to be unaffected by this aversion. In my youth I struggled so much with an eating disorder that I stunted my growth–something few realize because I already am tall. But my mother is four inches taller than me, and my feet and hands are disproportionately large, so if you are an observant person you might get an inkling that somewhere along the line my knees might have been the biggest part of my legs, and that I proudly bore that pelt of fur that keeps the skinniest girls cozy.

Understand too that I am not advocating against taking care of yourself, though I roll my eyes at the term “radical self-care,” which mostly seems an excuse to get a manicure or an expensive salt scrub. We all must tend to our bodies as lovingly as we tend to our heads and hearts and to others. We all must give ourselves the quality and quantity of sleep and food and exercise that keeps us strong and happy.

But if someone had told me at age 18 that someday I’d be a size 12 and still feel beautiful, I would have immediately induced a bulimic session. Or that these days I actually like carbohydrates– even gluten, which, I’m sorry, is just the latest demonized calorific foodstuff.

I can’t afford private trainers and pilates sessions, but I dance in the free Zumba classes along with the delivery guys, cleaning women, and other struggling artists who go to my local rec center. I heave huge packages up to my third-floor walkup–talk about a good workout!–and cook my own meals because it’s not only cheaper but healthier than eating out. Also very healthful: I actually have orgasms. (If you think a lot of women aren’t faking them to placate their partner’s egos, you’re not listening between the lines.)

I have big hips and boobs and a bit of a belly and absolutely no thigh gap. I even have wrinkles and white streaks. But I also have a wide, gap-toothed grin.

If I find myself a whole lot sexier, maybe it’s just because I’m so well fed.

How I finally began to eat is the stuff of my third book. But suffice it to say in that room the other night I literally loomed large–too tall, too loud, too fat. Yet if I felt uncomfortable around those skinny pale ladies, I was still comfortable in my own skin. And I knew they were not.

For they may eat kale rather than cottage cheese and drink kombucha rather than Diet Coke–have orthorexia rather than anorexia–but it’s the same old story. Pretty ladies devouring their own flesh rather than white supremachist cockacracy. Touting progressive politics and new-age truisms while eying the size of each other’s thighs.

Because in the back of their heads, they’re still hoping that if they’re thin enough, someone might love them.

Because they’re not loving themselves.

I feel sad about it, though I know I sound merely judgmental, maybe even sour-grapey. It’s just that I hate wasted energy and, worse, wasted opportunities. And these particular babies have backed themselves into that corner. They’re Stepford Wives with Number 6 clogs* rather than aprons. Gen Xers who read the Feminine Mystique but still succumbed to the brainwashing it describes. And the rest of us don’t have the time for that shit.

The revolution surely will be televised. But it sure as hell won’t be hangry. For we revolutionaries will feed ourselves so long as we can find food to eat. We need the energy to burn.
In full disclosure, I have three pairs.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy