There are slides behind my eyes. A filter snaps over the mirror, showing me my body in many different ways.
On the default setting, I see the maple-walnut cookies I ate last night, stretching across my ribs in a layer of fat which then pools in the pouch of my lower abdomen, collecting in the hips that swell over the band of the underwear that I bought during a time when I was thinner. The fatty weight trickles down between my thighs, making them swell together, the skin of my legs stippling as it strains to contain the sugary food I have filled it with.
A cumbersome family heirloom, my love of food was handed down to me, each generation of women wearing it a little differently, giving it a new shape before handing it to their daughters so that they too can be strangled by it.
This first filter made me reach into my mouth and drag my insides out by the spine. I will clean them, I thought, polishing the bones. With yellow nails, I will scrape off every bit of fat before winding gleaming muscles around them like Christmas ribbons. Then, I will swallow my skeleton again and stand in the mirror, splendid.
Then, I thought, shivering, when I see my grandmother she will wrap her arms around me and say “My, look at you! You’ve finally lost all that baby fat!”
When she puts a full plate of maple-walnut cookies, still warm, on a plate in front of me I will eat only one, like she does, slowly between sips of tea. The others will go cold and hard on the plate, but my hand will not reach for a second, certainly not a third, under the sharp blade of her gaze. My finger will not, of its own accord, reach to scoop up the last crumb of white chocolate left stuck to blue china.
Later, she will not walk into the kitchen to find me lifting the tupperware lid off the box. I will not shrink to shameful nothingness before her eyes, feeling as though she’s caught me masterbating.
The cookies are melt-in-your-mouth glorious. Sugar-gold crunch of nuts, a burst of sweet chocolate as teeth sink into the buttery-soft centre of the cookie. Just a hint of salt blending and balancing out the sweetness of caramel. And when I’ve swallowed the last bite, those remaining stare at me, particularly that cookie there on the edge, the one with extra chocolate chips. That one in particular is begging to be eaten.
Outside my head, the conversation has turned to my lovelife, “Any boys in the picture these days?”
A coy smile over teacup rim from grandmother as I say no, so she asks instead about my plans for the future.
I don’t know. The only time frame that exists is the one between now and the disappearance of those cookies in front of me.
Unfocusing my eyes and remembering therapy, “kind words and kind thoughts,” with some effort I can change the filter. Standing now in the mirror, I see a whole person, a girl of average size and height.
As though she were a stranger on the street.
Maybe if I looked at her long enough and am feeling generous, I may notice the lovely shape of her eyes and the beautiful tattoo brushed over her collarbone.
Her body is just a body. Neither fat nor thin. A bum that fills a chair, an elbow on an armrest, a person taking up space that she has every right to.
She will not draw the eyes of every boy whose path she crosses, they will not fall at her feet in love, but why would anyone actually want that?
If I were to see this girl drinking tea and eating cookies with her grandmother, I would say to myself, what a lovely, cozy thing. What a very sweet thing, that girl and her grandmother spending time together. Look at how freely she eats those cookies.
I am trying to stretch it out, this garment I have been given, so that I have space, not just to breathe but to grow. My grandmother wears it as though breathing is for the weak and the food she so loves to make is for others. Daily, I watched my mother suffocate under the weight of her devotion to salty snacks and elaborate dishes and as I began to grow and spread, felt it choking me, too.
There is another filter I am trying to install. I saw myself through it, briefly, the other day as I helped a little girl lift her bike onto the bus. I felt the pull of muscles in my arms – I have turned the ribbons to ropes that no longer shake with the slightest effort. I felt my leg muscles, with their strong split down the sides of my thighs, push against the earth to lift.
She was beautiful, this I that I am, this body that is me. In that moment when she lifted the bike into the bus and caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the glass doors as they closed. A body that runs on sugar, spice, and everything nice, as well as on dressed spinach and maple-walnut white chocolate-chip cookies.