Zibby Mag

The Webby Award-winning literary lifestyle destination.

Will I Ever Be Comfortable With the Way My Body Looks?

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

By Nicki Rachlin

I was born in 1972, which makes me a Gen Xer. In my day, the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue—the authority on female beauty—showcased the twiggy bodies of Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, and Elle Macpherson. It was the age of Jazzercise and Jenny Craig, and mothers across America smoked to keep their weight down. Parents let kids roam free, unsupervised, around the neighborhood for hours, with simple instructions to be home by dinner.

Mothers didn’t think twice about telling us if they thought we needed to lose weight.

One of my favorite items of clothing from when I was a child was a Wedgewood-blue sweater with a high neck, puffy shoulders, and three tiny pearl buttons on each tapered sleeve. The front was adorned with six or seven knitted pom-pom flowers. The sweater was beautiful, and I adored it. Until one day I put it on, and my mother said, “Take that off. You look like a balloon.”

Can you imagine? It’s rather shocking in retrospect. This probably wasn’t the first time in my life that I felt disappointed in my body, but it’s the first I distinctly remember. It was the first time someone I loved and trusted put my worst fears into words and said them out loud.

As I grew older, I devoured magazines like Sassy and Seventeen for cues on how I should look. Every one of those girls had clear skin, perky B or C cup breasts, and wore a size two. I was 16 years old and spilled out of a DD that looked like my grandmother’s brassiere. I was too self-conscious to wear bikinis or strapless dresses like my friends. One day, at the mall with friends, I heard a guy say, “Look at the tits on that one.” I burned with shame. He was clearly talking about me.

I flirted with being legitimately overweight for a period in college after breaking up with my high-school boyfriend. The relationship was terrible and had been for quite some time, but the breakup left me feeling raw and empty and alone. I filled the void with Krispy Kreme and late-night PB+J sandwiches. I discovered pot and got high with my friends. We got the munchies and ate Ritz crackers dipped in brownie mix and bags of BBQ potato chips. My jeans frayed from the strain of forcing the zipper closed, and eventually, I had to buy a new wardrobe. I built a wall designed to either protect my bruised heart or reinforce my belief that nobody would ever love me again. Maybe they were one and the same.

The summer after my junior year, I got a breast reduction—strongly encouraged by my mother—lost a bunch of weight straight away, and still more in the months that followed. I hoped that would be the start of me loving my body, but it wasn’t.

Like many of you, I am not fat nor am I thin. And though the internet tells me that my BMI is in the “healthy range,”

I am not now, nor have I ever been, happy with my body.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars in an attempt to reach my “goal weight.” My relationship with food has been fraught. I’ve done cleanses and juice fasts and have guzzled gallons of cayenne pepper lemonade. I’ve been on Weight Watchers, fasted intermittently, cut out carbs, and counted calories. When the FDA approved the first over-the-counter diet pill, Alli, I was one of the first people in line to buy it. Even the top three side effects regarding highly irregular bowel movements didn’t sway me. My mother had the grapefruit diet, Atkins, and SlimFast. For me, there was Paleo, Keto, and Whole 30. I’ve lost and gained the same 20 pounds for over 30 years.

I have a healthier relationship with exercise. I might be the girl who was so uncoordinated that she was picked last for every team in school, but I don’t mind moving my body. What started as something I forced myself to do ended up having as many mental health benefits as physical ones. The giant explosion of fitness classes over the years means there are enough ways to stay active without getting bored.

I’ll try just about anything that isn’t running or “sports.” Strength training, barre, kickboxing, spin, yoga—even Boot Camp, once, when I paid someone to yell at me in a parking lot at 5:30 in the morning while I did push-ups. Dieting makes me feel terrible, weak, hungry, and like a failure, but I’ve grown to love exercise. That chubby asthmatic kid who dreaded PE has gotten used to moving her body and likes the rush of endorphins and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from kicking a tough workout right in the rear end! It energizes me and makes me feel strong.

My teenage daughters and their friends wear shorts so short you can practically see what they had for dinner. They buy crop tops and cheeky bikinis and jeans that are almost entirely made of holes. Their flesh is on display all the time, and they take photos of themselves constantly. Their mothers know better than to even hint at the issue of losing weight based on the strong warnings from pediatricians and child psychologists along with their own childhood trauma.

Kim Kardashian is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. While I know our daughters are being constantly bombarded with Instagram-filtered images of women whose looks don’t exist in the real world, I can’t help but be a little jealous that they also get Aly Raisman and Hilary Duff and Demi Lovato. The brands they buy feature plus-sized models in their advertising. #EffYourBeautyStandards and #LoveYourCurves are trending on social media. It seems like diverse bodies are finally being appreciated simply for being. We had Kate Moss, they have Lizzo.

I’m nearly 50, and my metabolism is slowing down. There’s a strong possibility that my best-looking days are behind me. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to be comfortable with the way my body looks.

Not a model. Not a 20-year-old. Just me.


Nicki Rachlin is a lifelong reader and storyteller. She wrote her first story in 4th grade the night before it was due and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her work has been published on various corporate marketing blogs and in a pandemic newsletter called Learning Sh*t Together. She is currently working on her first novel.