By Celia Finkelstein.
The first time I know that I am fat and that is bad is when I am ten.
That is the year I become a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. My mom says I asked to go on a diet. I don’t remember what precipitated this request, but I am sure she’s right.
I weigh 135 pounds at the first weigh in. When I find that first weigh in card ten years and 150 pounds later, I cry. I was my adult goal weight at 10.
Goal weight. It’s a phrase that causes mini-PTSD symptoms even as I type it. Along with words like “food diary” and “carbs” and “weigh in.”
My mother’s mother is weird about food. My mother is weird about food. I am weird about food. It is inevitable, I suppose. We live in the world.
When I was growing up, I could drink as much Coke as I wanted, but to this day I have never had a Twinkie because I wasn’t allowed. I know that I can buy them now, but they still seem forbidden. Also cancer causing.
One night, my mother and I split a Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Fudge Cake for dinner. We have Snickers ice cream bars for dessert. I am not supposed to tell my step-dad. My mother remembers this as a fun, whimsical evening with her daughter. I remember it as my first binge.
The first boy I like is “Joe.” At his tenth birthday party at a bowling alley, his sister asks if I like him.
“If he asks you out, will you go out with him?”
Later that day, Joe calls me. He asks me to go out with him. I have had time to think. I am practical now.
“What’s the point of us going out? What would we do? It’s not like we can drive or anything. I don’t think so.” I think there is something wrong with him. Doesn’t he know I am bad and gross? Does he understand the social risk he is taking?
Finding very logical reasons why I shouldn’t date someone who is clear about his intentions and feelings for me is a skill I have perfected in the years since.
Unrelated, I am single in my mid-thirties and pretty confused about why.
Are you wondering why I took the left turn into Joe when I was talking about weight?
We’ll figure it out together.
When I am fourteen a man in the theatre I work in gives me massages. I don’t want them and they make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes the massages veer into touching my chest or back or breasts or butt. It is casual enough to seem innocuous. But I know. We always know when we are not safe. I tell an adult. They tell me it is nothing, that’s just how “Paul” is. I tell my friend “Johnny” who is also fourteen. He appoints himself my personal bodyguard and the next time Paul comes near me, Johnny smacks his hand away and puts his body in between our bodies. Whenever I think of him, that moment is what I see in my mind’s eye.
Totally coincidentally, the year after Paul, I gain 50 pounds. I start wearing Doc Martens and flannel exclusively. My friends are kissing each other and wearing shorts and skipping school to go to the beach. I am angry a lot. I hit people and throw things and cry for reasons I can’t explain. There’s a boy I like, but I am scared of what that means so I am mean to him.
Eventually he kisses me. I don’t know why, I’m awful to him. We are in my car and Add it Up by the Violent Femmes is playing on my car stereo. I feel the need to acknowledge that we are kissing just as Gordon is asking why he can’t just get one kiss.
We have sex for the first time when I am 16 and he is 17 and he is home from college for Thanksgiving. It’s fine. We go to Wendy’s afterwards.
The summer after his first year of college, I am on a diet. I can’t eat carbs or sugar. I have lost 18 pounds so far. I am guaranteed to make my (ugh) goal weight in six months.
One night, I ask him to go down on me. He says no.
“Maybe in six months.”
I’m crushed. He didn’t mean any harm, he apologizes for years after, but this echoes in my head, even now.
I follow him to college. It’s a good college, but let’s be clear. I went there because he went there.
We break up a year later.
I start sleeping with “Mark.” Please note, I didn’t say date.
Mark doesn’t want to date me. He wants to be intimate with me, he tells me I understand him, but he doesn’t want to be seen with me. He doesn’t want anyone to know about us, but he goes down on me without hesitation so naturally I fall in love with him. I’d like to tell you that I cut it off. I shut it down. I told him that I deserved better and he was lucky to have me. I didn’t. I did that with him for a year. I deserved it, I thought. I didn’t think anyone would love me with my fat stomach and gross arms and very not perky breasts.
The summer after my sophomore year, I go to a fat farm in North Carolina. It’s the first place I am ever liked just for myself, not for my acting or what I have done for someone. A lot of the guys hit on me. I don’t like them because they are fat. I know. I’m awful. (If it helps I only date round comedians now. I learned the error of my ways and they are the cuddliest. Anyway, that was a slight digression for any round comedians who might be reading- you should ask me out. I’m a good kisser. Was that desperate?) Anyway.
I lose sixteen pounds at the fat farm. When I come home, a family member pats my stomach and says I still have a lot to go.
I go back to school and fall in love with someone new. We end up only ever being friends. He is the first person to tell me I am beautiful. He is the first person who wants to hear what I have to say- he thinks it is important. He thinks I am smart and good and funny. I’ve never met anyone who thinks those things about me before and I mistake it for love.
I graduate college and I move in with my high school sweetheart. I love him. And I believe he loves me, even if we aren’t the best at it. I spend my time eating, mostly. He has a 9 to 5 job and I am pursuing acting, so I meet him for lunch a lot. And then we order dinner in. By the end of the summer, I weigh 300 pounds.
When I get so sick I almost go blind, I go home to Florida for a bit. I am told I am sick because of my weight and I should lose it immediately. When I ask the doctor how, he says, “Stop eating.”
I go on a liquid diet and I starve myself for a month. One week when I don’t lose any weight I am accused of cheating. I go out with a friend and drink too much whiskey and eat a potato. I feel like a failure and a liar even though I’m pretty sure I’m neither?
I can’t drop the weight so I get a shunt instead. It saves my vision and now I am part cyborg. When I am better, my family goes on a cruise. We have to fly to Miami or something. On the plane, a very nice man starts chatting with me. He asks me all of the normal plane questions. When the flight attendant notices I’m not wearing my seatbelt, I tell her it won’t close. She brings me an extension. I buckle myself in. The nice man doesn’t ask me any more questions.
The next year, I marry that high school sweetheart of mine. When I shop for a dress, no one has one that I can try on. All the ones I love are sleeveless and I am told I shouldn’t wear those. I finally choose the $4,000 one even though that is an unacceptable amount of money to spend on an article of clothing because the designers are kind to me and build it on my body in their studio. It is the only time in the whole process that I feel good. I eat nothing but Lean Cuisines in the year leading up to my wedding. One day, at work, someone offers me a cookie. I take it and my co-worker slaps it out of my hand and chastises the giver.
“She has a wedding dress to fit into!”
I am 240 pounds on my wedding day.
When I get my wedding pictures back all I can see is the bit of back fat that spills over the top of my dress. Why didn’t anyone fix it?
In 2007, I have weight loss surgery. I don’t talk about it to many people because honestly I don’t need anyone’s fucking judgment. I am very close to being a sick person and it is my only hope. Over 8 years, I’ve lost 140 pounds and if you think it was easy or a cop out, you can fuck right off. I work out and eat tiny portions and sometimes I throw up everything and my brain and body have taken a fucking beating.
I have a lot of feelings about this.
I start pole dancing. For fitness, not money, though props to anyone who does do it for money, that shit is hard and you are powerful af. In there I look at the women’s bodies. I touch mine. At first I sort of quickly move my hands over my hips to get to my hair. The first year, I wear only yoga pants and tank tops. The first time I take off my shirt in class, I cry. But these women tell me I am hot. And they tell me I am sexy. And they hoot and holler and they are so gorgeous and confident, how can they be wrong? I slowly start to feel ambivalent toward my body, which is different from loving it, but also different from hating it. I like slapping my own ass during a dance. I like watching my strong legs do the Flirt, moving through the air slowly resting on the floor, ankles crossed. I like the power that comes with swirling my body around that pole.
A few months after I leave my husband, I start dating someone new. He is the most classically handsome person I’ve ever been with. I can’t believe my good fortune. He is nice and he thinks I am sexy and we kiss a lot. Obviously he is perfect, emotional unavailability notwithstanding. When it falls apart, I figure, of course. How could anyone who looks like that love someone who looks like me?
The first person I have sex with after him stops me mid-make out to look at me. He takes me in. This is weird. I feel uncomfortable and want him to stop. We we are together again, I make him turn off the lights. He touches my stomach and he holds me like he isn’t going to let go.
In between the first guy and the last guy…
(and I don’t mean that in an I met the love of my life way, I mean that in an I’m single and he was just the last guy I dated way don’t get excited I’m not about happy endings here)
… I date a lot of people. I have sex with a lot of people. They are all of varying levels of attractiveness and skill sets. I spend a couple years doing what and who I want. In that year, I learn what I like and don’t like. I learn that quality dudes don’t actually care about your weight and hair and whether you shaved today or not. I have incredibly intimate conversations in those moments after. When you don’t know someone and you’re unlikely to see them again, you say the darnedest things. I learn that every person walking on the planet thinks some part of them is the worst and will drive away anyone who knows about it. I start to feel less alone.
The last guy I date thinks I am hot. The feeling is mutual. One night I catch him watching me take off my boots and I giggle and he giggles. We have good sex in the daylight and with the lights on. I like his funny laugh and how he wiggles his butt when he bowls and his belly and how he takes lessons on being human from his queer women friends and how he sits with my inexplicable sadness and doesn’t try to fix me or change me. I realize I don’t want to fix or change him either. We are kind to each other and I begin to make space for him in my life. When he ends it, I am genuinely broken hearted.
I weigh 160 pounds. It’s not my (ugh) goal weight, but this puts me at having lost 140 pounds. A person. Ten year old me.
I’ve lost ten year old me.
I thought by the time I could tell you this, I would be madly in love with my slightly-strange-but-I-totally-understand-him-plaid-wearing-comedy-writer husband. I would be running my own show that I created and star in and write. I would be irresistible to all who meet me and when they walked away they’d say, “Isn’t she a gem?” I would be hosting regular Sunday dinners at my house in Malibu Colony and then we’d all run laughing into the ocean to go skinny dipping afterward like at the end of The Big Chill (I don’t know, I haven’t seen it). I would be happy.
I’m single. The person I want to be my person doesn’t want to be mine and he doesn’t care how much I weigh.
I’m not famous. I’ve been in a few tv shows and movies, but honestly the work has dried up the thinner I get.
I’m not irresistible. A lot of people are able to resist me. Trust.
I am not rich. I live in a studio that I love with one paralyzed cat and one passive aggressive cat and sometimes my family pays my rent when I can’t. I am lucky.
But I am not happy. Whatever that means.
The only thing that has changed is that I am thinner. I can buy clothes in regular stores. My body looks strange. It is loose skin and stretch marks. It has tattoos on it because I mark my body when something important ends.
I still don’t know how to let someone look at me. I still don’t know how to ask for what I want. I still don’t love my hips or my stomach. My butt has grown on me. That was terrible, I’m sorry. I still make terrible unfunny jokes.
I don’t think being fat is bad. I believe every body is a good body. Except for my body.
But I’m learning to live in it. To stop treating it like a commodity or an affliction. To let other people love it. To let other people love the person inside it. To remember that they are not mutually exclusive, the person inside and the house. You must love both or you’re not allowed to have either.
So I have lost ten year old me and I have not lost ten year old me. The weight of her is gone. Her broken, scared, armored little heart is still here. Ready to be loved and held.
Bio: Celia Finkelstein is an actor and a writer and a storyteller.
She has appeared in films, television, your local internet and on too many tiny church basement stages to count. She is probably best recognized for playing Margie Emerman in Horrible Bosses with Colin Farrell and Jason Sudeikis. Her TV credits include guest-starring/recurring roles on Rizzoli and Isles, The Mentalist, House M.D., American Horror Story, Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23, The Middle, NCIS: Los Angeles, My Boys, and the upcoming Angie Tribeca.
Her screenplay, Better, about a woman who must find a new normal after a failed suicide attempt and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, was recently chosen as a quarter-finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship and the Page International Screenwriting Competition. She also wrote the short film, Tail, which is currently on the festival circuit.
Celia is a graduate of Rollins College and The Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theatre.
She owns an unsettling number of clothing featuring cats and her Twitter account has been described as “sad and alienating.”