Like many American women, I grew up loving Julia Roberts. She seemed real, more so than many women depicted in Hollywood. Her laughter explodes forth with such exuberance, one might expect its power to shock the woman herself. What’s more, she gravitates towards scripts that allow her to play robust characters. While she’s a beautiful woman, that’s rarely the only thing you notice about her as an actress.
In 2006, when I heard Julia was to be on Broadway in Three Days Rain with Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, I simply had to go. As a budget conscious New Yorker, I picked up $25 standing-room-only tickets and happily took my stance in the back of the theater. As I waited, a kind woman in a wheelchair beside me struck up a conversation saying, “honey your feet are going to kill you if you stand this entire show in those shoes.” Looking down at my three inch heels I shrugged, smiled and replied “to see Julia… I can make it.”
The woman in the wheelchair chuckled and nodded in agreement, then she graced me with a gift of a stranger I will never forget. She told me the show was in preview and that she had procured a large number of tickets for friends in glaad. She noted two of her boys called last minute to say they were not going to make it and pointed to the seats in the third row, middle of the stage. “Go sit down and enjoy the show” she said “save those feet.”
As I settled into my seat of fortune, I turned around and waved back mouthing “thank you!” In return a gracious nod and a smile, almost to herself, as if knowing she had done a kind thing and made someone else’s memory of the evening very sweet.
Aside from the generosity of one NYer to another, what I remember from that evening, more than anything else was how Julia struck me as a real woman. From my vantage point, merely feet away, I realized Julia Roberts looked like and emoted a great deal like my older Sister. Both tall and lean with heads full of hair and expressive faces. Could that mean, I too might look like… nah! Just because I laugh with abandon and thanks to my Mother and Father stand nearly 5’9″… come on, a girl can dream can’t she!
Years later, I’ve watching everything Julia has been in since. My Husband teases me now, noting of the three movies downloaded to my computer for long work trips, two have Julia Roberts August: Osage County, the other Eat Pray Love.
It is from Eat Pray Love that I began to understand a concept that I wish more women in America, particularly New York women, were familiar with. Magra-Falsa or as it’s explained so devilishly appealingly by Javier Bardem’s Brazilian character in Eat Pray Love as “fake thin.” Fake thin? A good thing? Oh yes, when it’s described in both the movie and book as from a distance a woman looks slender, but close up you see she’s actually round and fleshy. As it turns out, men really do love their Magra-Falsa women, something I learned personally first hand not long ago.
One day, as my Husband was tickling me, I squeaked out of nowhere “don’t grab my squidgy bits.” I have no idea where that phrase came from; but, my Husband delighted in the foolishness of it and promptly chased me around the house saying “squidgy bits, it’s time to play with the squidgy bits!” Before too long we were rolling around in laughter yelling squidgy bits!
Later, as I reflected back on that moment with a smile on my face, I had a thought… did my Husband just reassign what I thought of as a negative, my squidgy bits… into a positive? Is love so powerful that it can alter your self image, your internal monolog and eliminate self loathing? This self-image thing runs very deep for women yet, if I take you back through my journey with weight, I think you too might agree that yes, it can change.
Being Too Skinny
At the impressionable age of 16, I had a pretty dramatic surgery, resulting in two collapsed lungs and a full summer of recovery. During that time, I was in a good deal of pain daily and food held little interest for me. I ended up dropping weight from an already skinny teenager and spent nearly an entire year with 106 pounds clinging to my nearly 5’9″ frame. Returning to school the next year, I felt different and strange and lacking in friends who understood. Very few kids knew–or wanted to hear–about scars that cross your torso, random chest pains that would double you over tossing uncontrollable cries of “Ouch!” like turrets.
However, like many other kids throughout history and into present day, my weight made me a target and bullies pounced. I started to self-identify as the painfully skinny girl. The popular girls were cruel and let me know of my non-cool status regularly. The football players equally so, telling me to “go home and grow some boobs.” Whatever your weakness, in school other kids with less compassion would exploit. In short, high school was as wretched for me, as it was for many other kids.
Thankfully by my Junior year I had also found a boyfriend outside the walls of Grove City High School to escape into. Over the next few years and into college, I continued to date my high school boyfriend. Between his predilection for Long John Silver’s and my changing eating habits, the Freshman 15 became more like the Freshman 30. This was right about the time when Cindy Crawford was being replaced by Kate Moss and feeling guilty for being bigger than a size 4 was replacing feeling left out if you were not wearing neon bangles, scrunched down layers of socks and huge hair with double layer bangs.
Culturally for my generation, as we left high school, graduated college and started working, American food habits could not have been worse. Packed lunches with Cheetos and processed cheese turned to fast food fueled lunch breaks of burgers, tacos, subs and pizza. I spent the better part of my 20’s fighting to stay in a size 8, size 10 just felt too damn big. I never broke the 150 mark on my weight, I had come to think of this scary number as my point of no return. In my mind, I thought if I ever hit 150 that was it, I was fat and I knew once you got fat, it was hard to get back to thin.
Right about the time I started to hover dangerously close to that scary number, I left my boyfriend, chopped off all my hair, started dating a local musician/bad boy and eventually decided to move to New York City.
My life changed dramatically, immediately. I moved into a fifth floor walk-up, joined a gym and basically did nothing but work and work out. Also about this time, New York mandated fast food restaurants to print calories on menu items and my eating habits were never the same again. Over the years, as I would return home to Ohio, friends would remark how different I looked, how I had clearly lost weight. It was true, I had. Yet that inside voice was still telling me, “you could get fat again.”
Regardless of what others saw, I saw the tiny belly I had to tuck back into those low-rise jeans when I sat down. I didn’t see the fact that I was well into my 30’s wearing low rise jeans. I never blamed the cut of the jeans, I blamed my body. All of the sudden, I was the thin woman complaining about being fat, which is pretty insane and annoying to the outside world. After all, the people I now knew in New York, did not know the stories in my head, my history with weight both under and over healthy markers.
Through a self propelled launch up the corporate ladder, I worked a series of jobs and eventually landed at Food Network where I truly learned a great deal about food and how to cook. Food became my passion thankfully in a healthy way. Right about this time, I met my now Husband, I had become a damn fine cook. As we grew closer in our relationship, over the first year, like most couples do, we started staying in at night and I cooked more and more.
Now a few years of dating and a happy marriage later, my weight has normalized. My Husband and I eat what I make at home. A lot of good (fresh vegetables and fruits) a little bad (cheese, charcuterie, bread and wine) and a little exercise. We splurge from time to time, but in general it’s about balance.
Last week in my annual physical exam, the nurse remarked, “wow you weigh the exact same thing you did last year.” An even better affirmation came this week with the results of my blood work, I’m completely healthy on all respects, cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure with normal liver enzymes (cheers to that right!)
Not bad for a woman staring 40 in the face.
Magra-Falsa Scene in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
I might not be a size 4 or rival any model walking the streets around me, but I enjoy my life. I eat, I drink, I exercise, I’m healthy and my weight remains steady. While, I thought my struggles with weight and my troubled self-image were unique and intensified, in reality, my struggles are the same as many, many other women. Weight can be hard to control and without a healthy balance your internal dialog can get pretty cruel and entirely too loud. My surgery and subsequent weight loss were simply my personal hook into a storyline I used to torture myself over not being as thin as what pop culture is now pushing.
The idea I would rather push, goes back to the Magra-Falsa from Eat Pray Love and my acceptance of my squidgy bits. While thinking about writing this blog post and boldly putting numbers in a public space, I asked my Husband what he thought of Magra-Falsa. He looked at me quizzically and said “you mean Falsa Magra?” Turns out Italians have the same saying as Brazilians.
As I tried to take the conversation further, asking him what he thought of it, if it meant the same thing, he clearly became bored as men do, talking about weight and instead decided it was “time to play with the squidgy bits!” After falling into complete and utter giggles of happiness with my Husband again over my squidgy bits, it became clear.
My Husband would rather tickle the woman he loves (squidgy bits and all) and as he said in his wedding vows “drink life to the lees” with me than spend one more minute talking about weight. After all, this is how he sees me, a blur of happiness running across a beach in front of his lens. Who am I to argue with the man?