Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Letter to Me

To Alice, aged fourteen, 

I am writing to you today to tell you that you have become exactly what you feared and what you thought you already were - 


That body you see in the mirror - a body which, as yet, you do not have - is exactly what your body will be in thirteen years. You will have a tummy; and no, you don't have one yet, even though you do two hundred crunches a day to stave off a bit of softness in the abdomen. Your thighs will touch; really touch, no hint of the much coveted thigh gap. Your face will be round, your bum will be squishy, your chest will be, to put it bluntly, huge. 

And you will have the prettiest smile. 

I'm writing to you today in hopes that I can reach back through time and reassure you, reassure the skinny girl who finds pride in skipping meals, who takes photographs of herself late at night to make sure that she's not fat. I'm writing to you because I want you to go away and I want your voice, still young and shaking, to get out of my head. You don't have to do this anymore. 

I want to tell you that, just recently, you started smiling. No half-quirk of the lips in photographs to avoid chubby cheeks, no smirk - just real smiles which show that yes, you are enjoying your life, even with the extra pounds. I need to convey that life is, against all odds, much better in the future, and that you do have a lot to smile about. You have a husband and a home and family; you have your writing and your creativity and your intelligence. And none of those blessings are dimmed because of the moments you catch yourself in the mirror and see the image of roundness that scared you so much. 

I know you're going through a lot. I know that, no matter what you do, you can't fit in. I know that you starve yourself to find a place with your thin classmates - always more popular, always seeming so confident and easy - and are called disgusting when they see how tiny you are. I know you can't win - not in high school, not with friends, not in comparison to the tall, willowy girls who look effortlessly perfect. I know, I know. It's hard. If I could stretch my hands across the past and smooth your path for you, I would. 

But I can talk to you - talk to myself - and let us know that we are good and will be whole. 

I can say that, in thirteen years, you will have flaming red hair and you will love to dance. You might step on the scale and feel ashamed from time to time, and I'm not going to lie about that - but you will have constant support. You will have friends who say you're beautiful and who will love you for so much more than your appearance. You will have a man in your life who loves to hold you, squish and all, and with whom you'll spend hours debating politics and faith and science fiction. You'll have a beautiful sister who sees you as you are - lovable. 

And yes - you'll have strangers at parties and gatherings who think you're pretty. You'll meet men at the gas station and women at bars who give you genuine compliments. And while that feels really good it's just the icing on the cake because God, you know how to smile and mean it. And maybe that's the best part, the most attractive part, of the total sum of your life and your beauty: happiness. 

Oh Alice, you're going to be happy. 

You're going to get an answer to so many questions, and that answer comes with a price. You'll be diagnosed and put on a medication which absolutely makes you gain weight - fast. And you will be scared of that, for years, and you'll try every diet and still have days when you try not to eat. You're going to avoid smiling in pictures until right about now, these weeks and months before your twenty-seventh birthday - and no, I don't know why it takes so long, and I don't know why, all of a sudden, you figure it out. I don't know why it clicked with me that being happy shows in photographs, and being ashamed does, too. And you're going to be in weddings and see yourself in a new way because you are new. Because you've chosen to be better. 

Alice, there's nothing wrong with you. You're going to be okay. 

Fourteen years old and you don't know that yet. But you will. 

I hope that someday soon I can put you to rest, finally and completely, because while you are a good person you are incomplete. You haven't gotten the message that your weight is not the one measure of your value, and sometimes it is terribly tiring to hear you beg me to stop eating. I can write to you with love but also with a promise - soon you will be able to sleep, to relax. Soon you're going to enjoy food and life and your self-flagellation will fade away. It'll be good, I promise. I will take care of this body - you can let go.  

I hope that with this message, with these words, I can really tell myself that it's going to get better, is better.  I might not be able to see you - in person or in the mirror - but I can feel you in the back of my brain. So I'm writing to that little voice and saying, I love you. And it's about time. 

Signed most sincerely,

Alice, aged almost twenty-seven, overweight and smiling

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