When I first moved here, people had a lot of strong reactions. Some were envious, some were curious, and a surprising amount were worried about me. The ironic thing is that most of them were worried about the tangibles – crime, the drug dealers on my block, or the complicated nature of the subway system – but I did have one friend in particular who was concerned the city would eat my soul. I doubt he used those words precisely, but that was the general idea. I smiled, appreciated the sentiment behind his concern, but practically patting him on the head —I’ll be fine, I said. I’m a tough cookie, remember?
Let me start by saying that I am fine. I am, in fact, a tough cookie. But where I used to disregard this warning, I have now come to see that he was on to something. There is something in the air in this city – something clever, subtle, and seeping into all of our pores – and it’s not the acid rain or the exhaust from the taxi-cabs. There are a number of things I’m beginning to realize now that my Big Apple Honeymoon is coming to an end, and they’ll be the subject of many a future post I’m sure, but a couple in particular have been illuminated to me recently. First is the materialism here. Yes, this is America, and we do all live in a brand-washed, capitalist society in a country founded by people who wanted to pay less money to their government (presumably so they could buy more of their own stuff), and that’s true from sea to shining sea. But money is so important here – to live and to enjoy living here it’s essential, and since I’ve moved here I’ve found myself descussing it much more that I’d like. Caring about things much more than I’d like. And believeing that brands matter much more than I do. At least I work in Publishing, which keeps some of that non-sense at bay, but I still find myself thinking about money more than I should.
The other more alarming and startling norm here (and its consequences) is the average and acceptably-average range of weights of people – women specifically – in this city. Again, like money, we know this is a problem in our country. And I’ve always know that us corn-fed Midwestern girls and the men who love (or lust after) us have a different concept of beauty that the cocaine-chic elite in SoHo. That’s no surprise. But again, what shocked me was not the concept of the difference, but of the way it crept into my psyche. I’ve always been a pretty confident woman. Never a 10, but I always considered myself a fairly attractive individual, and despite the normal bouts of self-consciousness about my body, I never felt compelled to do anything unhealthy or unreasonable, and I always had a fairly realistic view of myself. Until now.
I’ve been feeling heavier than I would like lately, looking at myself in the mirror in the morning while I dress or watching the way my clothes hang, and I’ve really been on a kick to loose some weight. The right way of course – low calorie meals and healthy veggies, lots of working out, things like that. A little coffee to suppress the appetite, but that’s about the worst of it. All well and good. I’ve dieted before with weight-gain and I can do it again.
But the weirdest thing has been happening. A couple weekends ago, I was visiting some old friends in Washington, DC. We were updating my dating profile pictures and one mentioned I looked really slim – much slimmer than I did when she saw me earlier in the summer. I laughed, feeling quite the opposite, and I argued with her for a moment. Giving up eventually, thinking to myself she doesn’t see me that often, or I mush have selected a very flattering outfit. End event. The next week I was talking to my mom on the phone, also about dating, and she mentioned she thought I looked great in my recent Facebook pictures. Thanks, Mom. Because you know mom-compliments are always completely-without-bias, especially when they follow feelings of concern or self-consciousness. End event. Last week I went shopping with a friend and was complaining about my jeans and the awkward way they fit. Why did I buy them like this? I asked. Promise you’d tell me not to buy these if I was trying them on right now? Maybe you’ve lost weight, she shrugged. Doubtful, I say. End Event. Then the weekend. I have a date with a really interesting guy. Brilliant, passionate. Date goes late into the night. We talk about everything from Rodin to the marketing strategy at Victoria’s Secret (he’s a marketing guy too), and then he mentions something. He says it kind of timidly, knowing it’s not the sort of thing you really say on a first date, and I tease him, laughing because neither of us seem to do normal, first-dating very well. He smiles and says You know, I was surprised when I saw you. You say on your profile page that you’re curvy, and that’s a euphemism for – you know – a woman with a little extra going on…(he gestured and trailed off) But you’re not like that at all. You’re slim, and you look great. I probably bit my lip and smiled, thinking he’s perceptive if nothing else, and that chivalry isn’t dead. (but still, that’s it).
Finally, I’m at the gym tonight, and I step on the scale. Even at the end of the day (I often trick myself and weigh in the morning as a self-esteem boost), I weighed much less than I expected. Less than I was in most of college. That’s not possible, I thought matter-of-factly. It’s simply not possible I said, running my hands over my cushioned hipbones and across my soft stomach. I’m not that thin and it must be a mistake – simple as that.
And them I’m walking up the stairs, my thighs and glutes burning, and I realize how ridiculous I’m being. That’s a scale medical-issue, doctor’s-office-style scale, Rachel. They don’t just make things up, trick you to make you feel good, or mess with you just for the fun of it. Even if every single person who gave you an unconnected and unsolicited comment on the matter was doing so only to make you feel warm and fuzzy, that cold, hard plastic and metal contraption is not. It’s not the scale that’s off here. It’s you.
For the first time in my life, I actually find it hard to step outside and evaluate my physical appearance objectively. Since I’ve moved here I’ve been unable to determine where on the 1-10 scale I fall, and apparently I’ve been unable to perceive my own weight accurately either. That, my friends, is frightening, especially for a woman who prides herself on painstakingly-accurate self-reflection. I actually find it comforting to have noticed this about myself. You see, I don’t particularly like to keep my skeletons (or anyone else’s, as you may have been subject to) in the closet. I like them out there where I can see them. I like to know right where the demons are. I like to keep the devil on my nightstand. I feel better now, knowing that I can’t seem to accurately judge myself, and though I’d still like to eat more veggies (because who in the world shouldn’t be doing that), I plan to make friends with my friendly neighborhood scale while I’m doing so. And I promise, if you tell my I look skinnier, I’ll listen.
I am a tough cookie, and I will be fine. As the old idiom goes, if you think you might be crazy, you’re not. But for the first time, I can see the real demons that live in this city, and try as I might, even I’m not immune to them.