10 April 2009

body talk: part 2


easter best photo
(i'm the one in pepto pink and polka dots)
taken by dad

I was never a skinny girl. Especially as a child, I was blissfully unselfconscious about the soft, round shape of my flesh. Since it had been that way for the majority of my young memory, there was no reason to direct much thought toward it. I could swing my leg over the fence in the backyard and I could ride in the neighborhood big wheel races like nobody’s business. What else did I need?

This happy ignorance ended about the same time that I imagine it did for a lot of people: middle school, junior high, whatever you want to call it. Puberty strikes, a cruel combination of hormones and acne take over, and you are never the same again. I was especially blessed also to be dealing with some severe allergies and chronic sinus infections which left me completely lethargic most of the time. My body was stuck in limbo somewhere between childhood and adulthood in the awkwardness of puberty (otherwise known as the third circle of hell), and I had an incessantly snotty nose and itchy eyes to boot. Because clearly, adolescence isn’t mortifying and painful enough.

I realize now that everyone around me must have felt equally strange about the changes they were experiencing inside them and observing around them. At the time, it felt like I was the only one under a microscope, every miniscule aspect of my appearance magnified and occasionally used as fodder for thirteen-year-old boys to point and laugh at. These things didn’t happen frequently, but it was impossible to forget when they did. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear, just dissolve into the dirt and cease to exist. At the time, it seemed like the best option.

And so I carried myself in such a way as to try to be invisible, to blend in. I’d wear gray sweatpants and a soft, white Washington Huskies sweatshirt at least once a week. In class, I’d bury myself in whatever subject was at hand. I’d ride home on the number thirty-nine bus and if I didn’t have a particular friend to ride with, would set my large rectangular viola case beside me, my way of warding off anyone who might find me a convenient opportunity to make themselves feel less awkward. On those days, I’d bend my knees, rest them up against the back of the seat in front of me, and settle in for the ride home.

My habits of invisibility were hard to unlearn, and so I carried them with me into high school. I continued to excel academically, making me a star to my teachers. Socially, I did my best to blend in, rising barely above the surface of my desire to be invisible. I found a few friends to each lunch with, people I felt safe with, who shared my penchant for excelling academically.

It was my sophomore year that I wound up in a biology class with Mr. F. I quickly became fascinated with the science of living systems. I could tell you all about mitochondria or the precise path blood took through the heart and the names of all the valves through which it passed. I didn’t get queasy dissecting the lamb brain, the frog, or the cow eyeball. It was a cakewalk for me. At one point in the semester, we had a unit in which we learned about nutrition. Mr. F talked about different forms of energy: carbohydrates, fat, and proteins and the calorie counts per gram. I was no less fascinated, even though this unit did not require me to wield a scalpel or handle a cow heart as large as my head.

We were given a chart given the approximate nutritional content of a variety of foods: the total calories, as well as what types of calories those were. I studied it voraciously and was thrilled to learn that we’d be tracking what we ate for a week, recording all the foods we ate and their nutritional content. At the end of that week, we’d figure out the average number of calories we consumed on a daily basis and make the determination that if our eating habits continued, whether we’d gain weight, maintain our weight, or lose it.

Given my academic discipline, I knew I could excel at this project just like I could at any other. But unlike other projects, I knew I could really make this one work to my advantage in a personal way. I knew exactly what I could do armed with this sheet of information.


  1. Oooh, what a cliffhanger!

    There are so many aspects of the stories contained in this post that I have heard glimpses of before, through other posts or personal conversations with you. But still, hearing them again fills me with that same deep longing and compassion and love for the girl that you describe here, the girl that is you. How I ache for that girl. How I see in that girl my own story.

    The part that is new to me is Mr. F's class. So here is where the biochemistry major emerged on the scene! It's very fascinating to me to learn how you became the girl who chose that path upon entering college.

    Sigh. I love your story, each and every fascinating detail of it. And that's because I love you, piles and piles and buckets and buckets full.

    I can't wait to see you real soon.

    your Christianne friend

  2. Christianne and I must be on the same page. I finished and thought "Dun, Dun, DUNNNNNNN!"

    That poor girl, soft and fragile and given the tools to both her doing and her undoing. I can't wait to hear more of the story, your story, your heart.

  3. Darn. Leave me hanging! I have a lovely, pudgy student in the midst of adolescence who is eagerly losing weight with a group styled after The Biggest Loser. Hard to see her lose not only weight but academic and emotional clarity with less food to feed her shrinking body.... Tell me more. Tell me how you have come to now, to the Kirsten that knows her true beauty.

  4. unfortunately, i see exactly where this is going, and it makes me want to cry. body math. self-as-project. sigh.

    i like that soft little girl.