How Hannah Horvath Made Me Fat (And Happy)

character taught me a  body image lesson
Her body is a temple of her soul, not a shrine to it or reflection of it. It’s a vessel, and she’s merely living in it.
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Rolls of tatted white flesh bounce up and down, jiggling with every motion, every grope, every slap. She is unapologetic and free, changing angles and positions. Changing lovers. Changing hands.

It was only recently that I realized my parents’ divorce is what triggered my anorexia at eight years of age. Stick thin as always, a bottomless pit eating everything in sight but never gaining a pound. Suddenly, things were different. My world was askew. As I prepared to go onstage and dance, I looked down at my leotard and noticed a tiny dip between my lower and upper abs. It was not perfectly flat. Never had been. Just like all the stomachs of the women in my family. We were fertile creatures with uteruses full of miracle grow. Bell shaped pots, ripe with seeds. We gave hippie a new meaning. But from that moment on, everyone else was perfect and I, in my mind’s eye, was flawed. The switch had been flipped and it would remain that way for decades.

She wears granny panties and crop tops, pairs booty shorts with thunder thighs. She goes braless. She rocks a bush. Sometimes she shaves. Maybe even waxes. She owns her body: every dimple, fold, lump and pimple. She rarely wears makeup and prefers reading to the gym. Her body is a temple of her soul, not a shrine to it or reflection of it. It’s a vessel, and she’s merely living in it.

At thirteen, I became vegetarian out of my love for animals, largely inspired by Lisa Simpson’s episode with the lamb. It wasn’t long before it became a convenient excuse to not eat in midwestern households where “it’s not a meal without meat”. Tae-Bo and Jane Fonda workout sessions bookended my school days. I did sit-ups daily, hundreds. My hairline began to recede. My teeth began to yellow. Friends recommended bulimia. I tried it but preferred a controlled intake to vomiting my meals, taking pride in my willpower.

She has friends of varying shapes and sizes. They are the blind leading the blind, pawing their way through this world full of foreign objects and harsh realities, tripping over each other along the way. She is narcissistic with a big heart, fumbling hard.

In high school, my friends and I traded pill boxes. We often competed to see who could take the most diet pills in a day without feeling like they were going to have a heart attack. Eventually Metabolife went off the market for being too close to meth in its chemical makeup. I got caught stealing it before then, running down the street with bottles of pills emptied into my purse. This is when I realized I had a serious problem. But I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t curvy enough to be voluptuous or skinny enough to be waif, the only two body types in the media at the time. And like so many other things about me: not black enough, not white enough, not straight enough, not gay enough, not talented enough - I believed I wasn’t enough of anything.

Throughout college and nearly a decade after, my lack of self-worth showed up everywhere in my life. I changed jobs, cities, friends, and lovers. Traded diet pills for booze and caffeinated beverages. I was going out all the time and achieving. Doing everything I was supposed to on paper. But I was alone in my struggle. Ashamed. Writhing with inner turmoil, I had the self-awareness to know I only had myself to blame but I had no idea how to change what was happening inside. Then I saw GIRLS.

She makes love in the light of day without hesitation or posturing. She laughs. She cries. She feels, thinks, and questions. She bends. She does not break.  She cracks, but does not break. She falls and gets up, only to inevitably fall again.

This woman was real. So real, I felt I could reach through the screen and touch her. The show was compared to Sex and the City initially but unlike those polished and mature New Yorkers, the actresses in GIRLS didn’t look like actresses. They looked like my neighbor, my classmate, my friend. It didn’t feel like they were playing characters, it felt like real people revealing themselves to the world, flaws and all. And I never saw myself the same again.

Cooking became yet another way to express myself and eating became one of life’s great pleasures. I threw out my clothes year after year, buying a new wardrobe that actually fit this foreign figure I was morphing into day by day. It was strange, but I soon realized that freeing up my mind from all that self-hatred and constant critiquing created mental space for me to be even more productive, listen better, and fully relax without any vices. I became the curvy lady I am today, several sizes bigger with a balanced diet and a healthy workout regimen. And my hair has never been so long and healthy!

Was it, in part, the typical self-assuredness that comes with entering your thirties that led to this change? My back injury? My husband’s love? I think it’s safe to say yes to all of those things. But Hannah Horvath was a major catalyst in this journey of learning to love myself, inside and out. She helped me realize that while I am not my body, it is important that I nourish and respect my physical self because it is my vessel (at least for this cycle around the sun). And because my spirit is with me wherever I go, possibly in this life and beyond, I have worked hard to be kind to myself no matter what the packaging looks like and no matter what the contents are inside the package. Hannah helped me to finally be able to say, I’m worth it. No matter what the situation may be.

She smiles with charmingly crooked teeth, dancing around the room. She gives herself to the journey and comes out on the other side. She grows. She changes. She learns. She loves with abandon.

 

 

 

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