the cupcake exception

I haven’t seen myself naked in 13 years.
I exaggerate. It’s only been about three years since I took a gander at my own naked reflection. When I emerge from the shower, I’m already tightly wrapped in a towel that I swear keeps shrinking in the wash. In the morning, I avert my eyes when I pass a mirror until most of my clothes are on. And when I finally do look, it’s to make sure that the only skin showing is below my elbow or (barely) above my cleavage.
I don’t know what made me stand naked in the hallway before the full-length mirror today. Maybe I needed extra motivation for the diet that starts tomorrow. Maybe I felt it would discourage me from eating that extra biscuit at brunch. Or maybe Aliza Worthington’s complicated feelings about her weight inspired me to take new stock of my stockiness and really deal with it. 
ca. 2003, after a 30-mile bike ride.
I thought I was fat.
Aliza’s struggle with her weight and body shape mimics my own. My husband says I’ve had a poor body image since we met more than 30 years ago. And that’s because—excepting a year at 34 and two years at 40—I’ve had a poor body for three decades. 
At 52, it’s not only fat, but my body doesn’t even get me from here to there very well. At least two of my spinal discs are blown; my toes tingle, and my balance is compromised. Now I’m winded walking up the stairs, too. Being fat is uncomfortable and unhealthy. But that’s not to say this is all about health. It’s vanity, too. My current wardrobe consists of a closet full of elastic-waist skirts (a friend wisely calls them “crotchless yoga pants”), t-shirts from Target, and cardigan sweaters, seven of them black. My other wardrobe—the expensive boutique pants in size 6 and pretty sweaters and tank tops and trim suits—is packed away under the attic eaves for when I can wear those things again.
And I am convinced that I will wear them again. Because believing that I won’t means I’m stuck with this body forever. And even if it’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s not acceptable. I don’t even want to accept it. I might as well start wearing sweatshirts with cats on them.
2006: I called this one “jelly belly.”
A minute ago, I stopped writing to answer the front door. It was my neighbor, Anne, with a box of four homemade cupcakes. I am eating mine now—because of tomorrow’s diet. I would like to think of that cupcake as the exception, but it’s not. And nearly every person I know who has gained weight believes in the cupcake exception, believes she eats a relatively good diet, free of fast foods and extra calories, despite the half bottles of wine on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays; the extra servings of smoked almonds; the dressing she dips her salad in, rather than pours on it, even though she uses it all anyway. 
And that’s why I believe in diets, still, after all these years. Diets themselves do work. Whether you reach the calorie deficit by Atkins or Weight Watchers or Paleo or Beachbody doesn’t matter as long as it’s something you can stick with for the six weeks it’ll take you to stop hating the skinny bitches who always sit at your table when you go out for dinner. For the six weeks it’ll take you to get used to what eating right feels like, you just need to suck it up by not swallowing every morsel in your path. Which means when Anne knocks on the door with a box of homemade cupcakes, you say thanks and give them to the skinny bitches who always live in your house. 
It’s not that diets don’t work. It’s that you don’t. 
2014: The cupcake exception.
If it were that easy, however, my closet would be full of size-six boutique clothing, and I’d be able to find the Christmas ornaments under the eaves. But to blame diets for my own inability to adhere to them is to abandon all responsibility for the extra 20 pounds—and, worse, all hope for removing them. In my case, this is my fault. Even if it’s not about blame, it is about cause and effect. And though a few events might have had a hand in the expansion of my rear cargo space, the stress of my job or my father’s death or whatever else may be bothering me was not relieved by eating—or drinking—my anger or sadness. (And menopause sees to it that the damage isn’t undone easily.)
Some people advocate for making peace with our fat. I’m not that evolved. Besides, you haven’t seen me naked. This morning, after I recovered from the shock of it, I picked myself up off the floor, put some ice on my head, and put on my fancy crotchless yoga pants, Target t-shirt, and black cardigan in the dark. Then I went to brunch with some women I hadn’t seen since high school and ate the extra biscuit.

Because—you know. Tomorrow. I wish I could say it will be the last time I diet, that I’ll never again succumb to the power of cake, that I’ll never sneak a peppermint patty in the car, that I won’t cave in to the desire to enjoy an IPA every day after work. And I’m fine with that. But what I’m not fine with is spending the rest of my life uncomfortable in elastic-waist clothing when there’s a chance, however slim, that I can be uncomfortable in a pair of size 8 skinny jeans.

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