I went on a walking tour of Brooklyn the other day and one of the women on the tour turned out to have gone to grad school at the same place as me, and she had lived in the same neighborhood during.
"Remember Gray's Papaya?" she said. "Remember Koronet's pizza? I think I gained twenty pounds."
"Oh, I remember," I said. And we laughed.
We had a little moment of bonding. The way women do when they talk about how much weight they've gained.
I think most women bond over college this way. I have had the conversation hundreds of times, now.
"Remember freshman year? All I ate was ice cream."
"Me too. I ate ice cream three meals a day."
"I gained twenty pounds."
"Me too! I totally gained twenty pounds!"
We've all gained twenty pounds during some ill-advised period of ice cream and pizza eating. That's what being a woman is about.
Sort of. At least, that's what we can talk about when we have just met each other. And that's what we can talk about when we are getting to know each other. And that's what we can talk about even after we know each other well.
Is it bad? I'm not sure.
I catch myself saying, "Oh, freshman year, don't get me started," and I realize I'm just saying that because it's the thing to say, not because I was actually devastated by my weight gain freshman year, and not because I'm even thinking about it at that moment. But because it is the way I've learned to communicate with other women. And it's hard to imagine not communicating that way. It would feel awkward and a little ridiculous to interject with, "We are all beautiful, no matter what our weight!"
But for a second, sometimes, when women say to me, "You know how it goes," and laugh and point at their sides or their belly or their thighs ("Right to the thighs!"), I feel awkward, and I don't know what to say back. I want to say, "You look great!" Because it seems like that's the thing they're worried about, underneath the joking.
Maybe it's nothing, I tell myself. We're just joking. It's fine. Which might be perfectly true plenty of the time. But sometimes I think there might be something more serious, just under the surface.
I realize that when I say, "You look great, though," it is an empty response. Our reactions to our own bodies are too complicated and deeply personal and dramatic and tortured and habitual and ingrained to rehabilitate through a casual conversation.
And, overanalyzing as usual, I get the sense that we are each very alone as we say blithely in passing to each other, "Ugh, my stupid fat thighs" and "That was a bad year -- fifteen pounds ..." and "Well, I'll never be thin like her. Can't stop stuffing my face like a pig."
Because sometimes I catch myself saying, automatically, "Look at my ridiculous arms! How did they get that fat?"
And it's not just casual. It's because I think about my arms a lot. Too much. And when my friends say, "What? Your arms are fine!" I don't even hear them. I already know. I know the truth. And the horrible truth fits so neatly into the language of weight and women that I don't even have to disguise it. I can say some of the meanest things I think about myself, casually, in public. And it will sound normal.
Maybe there's something a little bit wrong with that.
Which is not to say I blame the woman on the walking tour of Brooklyn. I'm glad we bonded briefly over pizza. Although maybe I'd rather bond over how good pizza tastes.
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