By Beth Cartino
This is the word I hear in my head whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a car window, bathroom mirror, or full body photograph. I sometimes freeze in disbelief. I have no idea who this reflection belongs to.
A dress, seemingly tasteful and flowing on a smaller body becomes obscene over the dimpled creased lines of mine. My body always seems as if it is trying to burst out of my clothes. I wonder how I live with myself sometimes. I wonder when my body betrayed me. I wonder when I betrayed by body and why have I made the distinction between myself and my body. I am two separate beings inhabiting the same skin and we are at war. We are mortal enemies. I am the Hatfield’s and my body the McCoy’s. I am Irish Catholic, my body Protestant.
There can be no peace between us.
I am my own body terrorist.
When I was a kid I loved to run. My heart trying to pound its way free of my chest, my lungs on fire, my throat raw, legs turned to liquid, my whole body vibrating with life. On the track I was free. I was fast. I was strong. People would talk about my body, about my legs, words like “sturdy, substantial, and thick,” were often tossed around to describe my muscular thighs. I knew somewhere deep in my gut that these were bad words to describe a girl’s body. I knew girls weren’t supposed to be powerful like me.
“You know,” She says in a conspiratorial whisper, “The girls should always stick out farther than your tummy.” She smiles as if she has not just said something nasty to me, this woman I barely know. My jaw clenches and I taste hot bile rising up the back of my throat as it constricts. She wants to know where I get my clothes because her daughter is fat too and nothing fits her right and it’s so disgusting the way her rolls hang out over her pants.
I want to punch her in her squinty eyed, fake tanned face.
I want to say, “You know, Aqua Net and teased bangs went out in the eighties.”
I weigh 255lbs
One morning I am walking into work. I am a newly anointed social worker and have the mortgage sized student loans to prove it. I am working as a therapist at a residential facility that treats folks with severe and persistent mental illness. It is early, too early, I hate mornings. The sun is still rising and the sky is a deep pulsing red. I stop and stare, still not used to witnessing this silent transformation. One of my clients is sitting at an old picnic table covered in layers of graffiti. She sits with another client who is rolling a smoke. I smile and say good morning. She smiles back. “Hey Beth,” She calls. “Are you pregnant?” She knows that I am not.
“No, just fat.” I reply. She and her friend begin to laugh.
I laugh too. See what a good sport I am? I smile. Keep walking.
The man sitting next to the woman says, “She’s too old to get pregnant.” I laugh again. “I’m not that old.” I reply and my stomach lurches and churns violently.
I am forty five.
Tears are threatening to stream down my face as I get to the front door.
I do not cry.
I am twelve years old and I am standing in line with a bunch of other girls in P.E. We are all waiting to step on the scale. I am tall for my age. I wait my turn listening to the teacher tap the small sliding weight down the scale and call out each girl’s weight.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
And then it is my turn. I step on the scale and watch as the needle sways back and forth until it lands at the bottom. I have never thought about my weight as anything other than a measurement of growth, a number your parents write next to your height on the door frame in your room, until this moment. Dread begins to spread through my body starting as a cold hard knot in my chest that spreads to my shoulders which roll in on themselves, I hide my face behind long thick bangs as I watch the coach nudge the needle until he hits the magic number, “123” He says and I hear the girls behind me snicker. I think I hear the word, “fat” whispered but maybe I am just imagining things. My face is hot with shame and even though my P.E teacher attempts to intervene-
He tells me it’s just a number.
He tells me it doesn’t mean anything.
He tells me I am the fastest runner on the track team-
The damage is done. I hear him but I don’t. I hear the girls chittering; I feel their eyes on me, judging me. I know I am a freak. I am the heaviest girl in the room. Yet another unwanted distinction.
Tallest girl. Check.
Biggest boobs. Check.
None of it is true of course especially the last one but no one is interested in the truth when the lie is so much more palatable.
I don’t eat for the rest of the day and I start my first diet.
The summer before I start the seventh grade I spend almost every day at the public pool with my best friend. I am 5’6” and am wearing a bra with a size C cup. I think this makes me mature. Older boys and men begin to take an interest in me. I am proud of my measurements 36-24-36 just like Marilyn Monroe.
That summer is the summer of kissing boys, the summer of mason jars filled with Ever Clear hidden in my childhood toy box. It is the summer of smoking joints with high school boys in the basement while all our parents are at work.
It is the summer the same four high school boys lock me in the same basement while all our parents are at work. I lay on a bare mattress my bra pushed up around my neck and my shorts and underwear bunched up around my ankles as I stare out the window at a white butterfly flitting between dandelions while they take turns raping me.
They tell everyone I am a slut. I am easy. I wanted it.
They are popular. I am not.
Everyone believes them.
I say nothing.
I am 15 years old and I am working at Dairy Queen. A man walks up to the counter, he is in a dirty pair of painters pants and a white shirt covered in paint. He wears a baseball hat and looks like he hasn’t shaven in a couple of days. He is old I think, older than my dad.
“Can I take your order?” I ask.
He licks his lips and leers at me.
“Damn, what I wouldn’t give to see you licking pussy in the centerfold of penthouse.”
I wish I could tell you that I told him to fuck off or that I dumped soda over his head or something equally kick ass and punk rock but I didn’t, I froze. I stood there unable to move, unable to speak. Some of the men in line behind him made noises of agreement. The moment stretched out forever until the man says,
“Hey girly you got the tools I’m just trying to tell you how you can use them.”
I don’t run anymore. I stopped after my freshmen year. I’m too embarrassed by the way my breasts bounce regardless of the strength of my sports bra. I am self-conscious of my thick thighs and the way they rub together making my running shorts hike up to my crotch.
I start reading Shape magazine like it is a sacred text. I dutifully follow each food plan and exercise plan. I do sit ups, crunches, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, lunges, and push-ups every night in my bedroom before I go to sleep. I try not to eat anything between breakfast and dinner. I manage to lose 10 pounds. I am 16 and I weigh 141lbs. My dad tells me I would be perfect if I lost 10 more pounds.
I don’t eat for the rest of the weekend.
I have a five year old daughter. She is smart, funny, kind, ridiculous, bossy and stubborn. She has intense piercing blue eyes. She loves fart jokes, playing super heroes, running, and gymnastics. She has my legs. They are so strong. She has so much power and I see the joy she gets from moving her body.
She sits down next to me while I am writing. She asks me to read what I have just written to her.
My throat tightens and my face gets hot. “I can’t.” I tell her.
She wants to know why.
“It’s adult stuff.” I say.
Beth Ann Cartino is a teller of tales and a listener of stories. Beth has a B.A. in Film and recently received her Masters of Social Work and is currently dreaming of her next useless degree. When Beth isn’t doing social worky things or writerly things she likes to read and sing silly made up songs with her daughter.