meditations on measurement
00. This is apparently how counting starts. I don’t make the rules. Maybe the “double zero” jean size was invented because negative numbers on tags might tell women that we can or should take up negative space in the universe, which is to say that instead of displacing air with our bodies, we can or should create more empty space with our presence.
0. This is how I might measure my body: The space that I occupy in the universe is really just a certain volume, you see. When I walk into a room, my body displaces a number of cubic centimeters of air, and that air goes elsewhere because my body is there, my body is here. This is my place in the universe, and we cannot manage to achieve negative sizes. I am not sure if this idea troubles me, but it occurs to me every time I see the 00 and 0 at the top of a stack of jeans, the idea of occupying a negative amount of space in the universe. Women have always had a complicated relationship with our own empty spaces.
2. In second grade science class we each had to step onto a scale, record our weights, and then step onto a different scale that showed us what our weight would be on Mars. I knew that this second scale probably just did a quick calculation, but when I looked down at that generously small number, I felt a little smaller, a little lighter, and a little more beautiful. It is logistically difficult to skip meals as a second grader, but certainly possible.
4. After fourth grade, I graduated to a school where we were granted much more freedom during lunchtime. You didn’t even have to be in the cafeteria. You could sit in the library for the whole 25 minutes, and nobody would notice. Which is to say that I could sit in the library for the whole 25 minutes, and nobody would notice. There is a certain comfort in using the second person to write about such things. But this is my story, not yours.
6. In sixth grade “swim gym”—which was the affectionate term for the two weeks when gym class took place at the pool but not necessarily in the pool—we all had to line up on the benches in our swimsuits and have our weights measured and recorded by the gym teacher. I cannot remember the reason he gave to justify this ritual, but I can remember sitting on those benches and looking down at my thighs and noticing how they flattened out more widely on the bench than the other girls’ thighs and hating the gym teacher and hating myself.
8. If you weigh yourself after you’ve just eaten a meal, you’ll regret it. Either skip the weighing or skip the meal. Some people say that skipping a meal must take incredible willpower, but for some people it takes much more willpower to avoid eye contact with the nutrition facts on a box of crackers. This is not about nutrition. You will learn that counting calories does not start at double zero.
10. There is something magical about women because once we grow to a certain size, once we occupy a certain amount of space, it is as if we aren’t there at all. There are numbers in this list above 10, but you cannot see them because they are invisible.
8. Recovering from an eating disorder is a combination of gaining and losing control. It is more of a practice of restraint than indulgence, which sounds counterintuitive, but trust me. Try to smile politely at those people who comment on how good you look, but do not thank them.
6. Recovery will remind you every day that you are not fully recovered. Sometimes occupying the right amount of space in conversations is a lot more difficult than occupying the right amount of physical space. This comparison is troubling, but you try to see your social anxiety as separate from your eating disorder. It is not.
4. You will begin to wonder whether you are the same person you were before, because of course there is less person here now, fewer units of person, fewer cubic centimeters of You are there to displace the air from a room. You will imagine the new empty spaces around your thighs and waist, spaces where there once was body and now there is nothing.
2. It is difficult for me to write about recovery in the first person, but I am trying. I know very little about losing weight, but I know even less about what it really means to call myself beautiful or to actually believe it. I will leave that to the experts. Writing in the first person seems less real, and I cannot give you a good reason for that. Maybe it’s because there is no jean size “one”—you go straight from two to zero, straight from second person to no person at all. There is no first person.
0. I try to appreciate zeros for their beautifully rounded edges instead of defining them by the empty spaces they carry. This helps.
00. I have come to appreciate roundness in many forms, and I have come to love the round parts of my body more than I once did, the way my round waist curves forward and gives way to my round belly, my round breasts, and those mounds of flesh that hang down from the tops of my arms when I spread them out to fly. Everything still jiggles when I shake, even after all that I have lost.