Snickers From a Paper Bag
by YVONNE GEORGINA PUIG
It’s just as rude to ask a skinny person if they have an eating disorder as it is to ask an obese person if they have a thyroid problem. Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet. Yet many of these same folks have no problem telling a skinny stranger to drink a milkshake. I'm certain of this because it happens to me all the time.
I never know how to respond. Usually I just laugh and say no, I don’t, and tell them that, actually, I'm trying to gain weight. I think I'm going to get snide next time. Thanks for telling me I look emaciated and sick!! It’s not a confidence booster. If you're thinking that I'm a skinny bitch for complaining about being skinny: I'm not complaining about being skinny, I'm complaining about the fact that you might be thinking I'm a bitch just because I'm skinny.
The assumption is that everyone wants to be skinny, or should be skinny. I don’t believe this is true, and most people I've met who are naturally rail-thin skinny, like myself, want to put on some pounds. There's also very little collective sympathy for people with rabbit metabolisms who rarely exercise and can eat anything they want. When I lament to a friend that I’m eating every tub of Ben and Jerry’s in sight without effect, that friend usually tells me to shut up.
The naturally rail-thin skinny person is lucky, true, but the fear of losing weight is still real. Every pound is important. To this day, I'm still not legally allowed to donate blood because I don't meet the minimum weight to height requirement. If I don’t maintain my weight, if it drops below 110 because of stress, for example, I know that I probably do look borderline sick, unlike an anorexic or bulimic who looks in the mirror and sees too much weight.
In eighth grade, I was called out of class to the counselor’s office and confronted. "Yvonne, are you bulimic?" It was awkward, because I had been eating lunch in the bathroom. (I'd been reported by "two girls" who saw me go into a stall. To this day, I still don’t know who those girls were or what made them think I was vomiting. My feet were facing out and I was finishing my science homework, and, ironically, eating a sandwich.) Defending myself to the counselor meant admitting that I was skipping lunch period to eat in the bathroom because I had no friends. I confessed, but she still didn't believe me. Then I told her that I actually had a pass to go the nurse during fourth period and eat candy bars, because my metabolism couldn't make it all the way to lunchtime. I think this just made her think I was binging. She called my mom, and my mom laughed, but I'm not sure she was ever convinced. Her attitude suggested she thought my mother was in denial.
Here are a few more selected highlights from my life as a string bean spaghetti noodle: On our first date, my ex-boyfriend caressed my shoulder as if he was going to give me a compliment, and then asked me if I was anorexic. A group of construction workers in Boston once yelled at me from atop some scaffolding, "why dontcha go eat a steak lady!" A therapist, in a first (and last) session, looked deeply into my eyes and told me I was very… frail.
Recently, I got food poisoning while on a weekend trip with friends. I had to throw up in the hotel room bathroom while everyone was asleep. Half my friends were lying in bed thinking, "Oh my god, she's been bulimic this whole time and hid it from us!" If another person in our group hadn't also gotten food poisoning an hour later they might still think this. I'm paranoid to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of meals, especially with new people, because I don't want them to assume I'm bulimic. And last week over lunch, a friend I hadn't seen in awhile told me earnestly that I looked like a bobblehead.
Yvonne Georgina Puig is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about her favorite novels. You can find her previous work on This Recording here. She tumbls here.
Photographs are by Helen Levitt.
"The Plains, Bitter Dancer" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)
"Grown Ocean" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)
"The Shrine, An Argument" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)