A belated welcome to 2014, everyone! ‘Tis the season for fitspiration overload on Pinterest and gym promos and twenty ways to trim your waistline while eating chia seeds and lawn clippings and so on and so on.
It’s everywhere! I turn on the television, open a magazine, click on my little safari icon and boom – everyone wants me to be Lea Michele in a thong or, rather, a tangle of toothpicks in a rubber band. Just now, for example, as I was eating broccoli soup off a flaxseed cracker, which really does look exactly like shit on a shingle, one of these belly-buster magic pill commercials came on between news segments and my Janeane Garofalo-voiced inner monologue interrupted with, “You know what’s super for a quick slim down? Chemo.”
It’s strange watching the usual January deluge while on treatment, when, for the first time ever, it has no bearing on me. I’m trying not to slim down, in fact. I’m just trying to polish off some broccoli soup and a flaxseed cracker that has been rendered by chemo’s strange appetite-suppressing ways as rich as a cheesecake the size of a Mini Cooper. This is the kind of detachment from the unattainable body ideal I’d always tried for, pretended to have, and never really achieved. Until now. So I’m thinking of the ripple effects of past and present.
A week before the holiday break, my twelve-year-old daughter Hannah crossed the street and made her way under the oaks to our porch as I watched from the front windows with a cup of green tea. She’s tall and lanky like I was at her age, and I noticed as she stepped onto our lawn that she did so with my same long-stride giraffe’s gate. Then she shut the front door after herself, dropped her bag, put her feet together, and said, happier than I’d heard her in days, “Look! I have a thigh gap!”
The thigh gap. This, in case you’re unfamiliar, would be one of many eating-disorder-inducing obsessions plaguing girls of late.
Yeah, I had the thigh gap too when I was her age, and it was the source of ridicule. Like “hey spaghetti legs, you could drive a Mack truck through that gap” kind of ridicule. My obsession was in closing the gap, doing hundreds of leg lifts with ankle weights every night until I gave myself stretch marks down my hips and shuffled into gym class like a zombie John Wayne. You just can’t win in any era, girls, can you?
“That doesn’t even matter. You being healthy matters,” I told Hannah.
The other day, when it was nineteen degrees outside and she was headed to the bus stop without a coat or a hat or gloves, I told her she was going to get frostbite. She shrugged. So I added, “You know what frostbite is? That’s when your skin freezes and dies and turns black and they have to cut it off at the hospital to save the rest of you.” She shrugged again and left without her coat or hat or gloves. Point is, whatever I say has so little gravity right now. My words flitter past her like delicate, tiny butterflies, and poof. They’re gone. So chances are, she’s probably still measuring the thigh gap. And now there’s the bikini bridge. Which was a meme-plant. Which doesn’t matter. Because girls like Hannah are so primed to body-obsess that the number of inches your stomach sinks between your pelvic bones when you lie flat on the floor suddenly seems as reasonable a thing to measure as the space between your thighs.
Since my thigh gap closed of its own accord some time around 1994, I’ve followed practically every New Year’s-resolution variety diet. Five hours into the South Beach program, for example, I was once craving sugar so voraciously that I downed two packages of sugar-free peanut butter cups to keep from derailing and then went to a Spurs game. Have you ever read the fine print on those sugar-free candy wrappers? Afterwards, in my journal, I made a collage of the numerous wrappers I’d emptied in the shape of an explosion so I’d never forget. May have a laxative effect. Spurs lost that night, by the way, and it might have been because of the tenor of my atomic stomach gurgles. Oh the absurdity! Every single year. Until breast cancer.
Which brings us back to that bowl of broccoli soup. So, I was eating broccoli because it has cancer fighting phytochemicals and sulforaphane, which studies have shown may inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in particular. Those wholegrain flaxseed crackers are full of protein, complex carbohydrates (as opposed to simple carbs known to fuel cancer cells), cancer-fighting lignans, and omega-3 fats which some studies suggest prime cancer cells for the effects of chemotherapy. You see? The 110% overachiever me has been studying up, and for the first time I am focusing on what I eat for what certain foods can do to heal and support my body as it is right now. Nothing else matters. Me being healthy matters. Detachment achieved.
So instead of attempting to whittle myself into some semblance of a Hollywood bikini body this year while telling Hannah not to, My New Year’s resolution is to model for Hannah what it took getting cancer for me to finally, truly learn – bald head, pallid complexion, bulging mediport implant and all – that what you look like, that how people judge you, that how you judge yourself by some freakishly impossible set of standards, is so very trivial, so miniscule, and so utterly devoid of power compared to keeping your body, just as it is, healthy and disease free.