When I was 14, I went to boarding school in Michigan. There—at the school between two lakes—I got extremely fat.
The big secret at boarding school is that no one actually cares about you. No one notices if you get sick. No one notices if you stop waxing your mustache. No one notices if you fail math. And certainly no one notices if you've been sneaking donuts from the cafeteria into your room for the past 3 months. In spite of the incredibly close quarters, boarding school is a perfect place to keep a secret. Everyone turns a blind eye.
We didn't have any sports at this school, and in my previous life I had been an extremely active teenager. I had never had trouble keeping weight off; it just came off naturally. So it took me a while to make the connection between my third helping of pierogis and the buttons that started popping off my pants. I had gained 30 lbs during my freshman year. It was just so hard to resist all that cafeteria comfort food. Even now, as an adult, I hold a special love for that kind of food: cottage cheese and jello, white rice with butter and brown sugar piled high, no-bake cookies, pigs in a blanket, and instant mashed potatoes. I honestly don't believe that there was a single vegetable found in this midwestern art school. A dancer friend of mine told me the best way to keep your weight down at this school was to only eat the soup, and never, EVER, if it was a bisque. But I didn't just eat the soup.
Like so many classic weight gain stories, I hadn't even realized how big I had gotten until the week before prom, and my dress no longer fit. Ok, we didn't have “prom” at this school, we fancied ourselves too progressive. We had morp (which is prom backwards). Any grade could go and the normal traditions, like “dates” were seen as antiquated and eschewed. Our saying was go “stag, in drag, or with a fag.”
Months before I had ordered a red corset from Victoria's Secret to wear with a black puffy princess skirt. This is when you need the input of a sane adult woman, or anyone who could stop you from Victoria's Secret to wear as formal dress attire.
I tried on my corset. I could barely get it laced up, and I discovered my back cleavage was bigger than my front cleavage. In my vision for what I would look like, I saw a sleek clavicle extending toward a delicate small shoulder. The reality was sausage rolls of fat pouring over the boning. I decided that night that I would forsake everything for the next week and only do push-ups and sit-ups until I lost all 30 lbs. I also decided the best way to do this was naked, constantly monitoring any progress my body made in front of the mirror.
After a meagre two attempts I realized it was too late to do anything before morp, and instead I settled into a mild depression, drinking one Dr. Pepper after another and pretending to read Lord of the Flies for English class. Every now and then I would get up, take my clothes off and look in the mirror. I would mentally prod and pick and dissect my whole body, trying to envision what I would look like “if I could just lose this bit of fat,” as my hand cupped a sausage roll on my thigh.
A few days before morp I was walking to rehearsal at the theatre were I was cast as Tillie, (the dorky, sullen teenager) in the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man in the Moon Marigolds. The coolest guy in school, Christopher Merritt started walking towards me.
Let me explain a little about Christopher Merritt. Merritt, as he was called by everybody, was THE man on campus—a visual arts major and a senior. My memory tells me he had a giant tattoo of an eagle on his chest, but that seems unrealistic for a 17-year-old to have however so it may not be a true detail. But the fact that I remember his having one is testimony to how powerful the legend of Merritt was. An, though the tattoo may have been a fabrication, he definitely, for sure, owned a motorcycle. He ruled the school with the easy leadership of someone who doesn't give a fuck, or at least as a guy who just wants to smoke pot and paint. All I wanted was to get close to him and have the accompanying easy blessed life. So in that moment when I was waddling down to the Harvey theatre auditorium, and HE was moving toward me—ME, of all people—I thought I was going to throw up from excitement.
Holy fuck! He knows my name!
“Listen, can I tell you something personal? When you're doing your calisthenics or whatever, you should try to close your curtains better, cause we can all see you.”
He tried to stifle a chuckle and looked at me for a response.
I did not give him one.
Instead, I turned around and went back to my room and pulled out my suitcase from under my bed. I was going home. I started to pack and then it hit me that maybe others had seen me naked too, not just Merritt. Maybe the whole school had.
I started to cry and couldn't stop. I put on my biggest, most concealing school sweatshirt and ran to the infirmary. There I pretended I was sick, checked in and spent the next 3 days hiding out. I couldn't face the possibility that everyone had witnessed me naked, especially at a time when I hated my body so much.
Eventually the nurses made me leave. Luckily, there were only a few more weeks left of school, and I spent it ignoring everyone, failing ecology and living in the same sweatpants, which were now the only thing that fit me. I made up my mind that I would completely disassociate with anything that happened below my neck.
Then I went home for the summer, and thankfully my parents were shocked at what had become of me. My mom went on a self-esteem mission, and slowly the weight came off, and though I never thought I was attractive in high school, I started to live better in my body. Also Merritt graduated and I never had to see him again.
That is, until he came to my graduation 3 years later.
He showed up with a bunch of other alums completely wasted. It was freezing on graduation day. I was standing, shivering between my parents, when Merritt stumbled up to me. He was slurring.
“Lacy. Everyone's telling me about how upset your were when I saw you naked as a freshman. I just want to tell you that really grown into your body now. You have a beautiful bod now, man.”
He waited for me to respond and just like the last time, I only looked at him.
“Well that's all I wanted to tell you,” he said and sauntered off.
My dad turned to me, “What was all that about?”
This was the last thing I wanted to explain to my dad.
“That was Christopher Merritt, and when I was a freshman he accidentally saw me naked.”
“Dear God, you mean he saw you in your shower costume?”
I had no idea what a shower costume was, but it seemed more chaste than the truth. And it was a lie that I actually wanted to believe too, so I nodded yes to my dad.
“Well, I guess it doesn't matter too much, because he's gay right?”
Again it seemed easier for both my Dad, and also for my ego, to simply agree.
A few weeks ago, someone put up a bunch of pictures of me from high school on Facebook. As soon as I saw they were posted I braced myself for some major de-tagging and some major self-loathing. But, when I saw the pictures I was shocked. I was shocked to discover not only was I not ugly, but I was actually a little hottie. I couldn't believe that I hated myself so much when I looked that sexy. I had long black hair, pouty red lips, angst-filled teenage eyes, and baby fat cheeks—I was a living fantasy for immature, video game playing, unemployed 20 something men everywhere—and I didn't even know it.
I felt sad looking at the pictures. I had wasted so much time and energy not liking myself, when I could have been having a lot of amazing sex with my hot teenage body. I wish I could say that I've outgrown that type of self-hate, but I haven't, its simply a matter that my body image has become less of a priority. I'm less vain now, but not any more happy with the way I look.
However, those high school pictures have thrown everything through a loop for me. Is it ok to like they way I look? Would I be disobeying some righteous lady code if I actually started relishing my body? Is believing I'm attractive against everything we know as women? Cause here's the deal—I'm tired of feeling bad about myself. It's exhausting, and I don't want to waste the body I have now, not while my skin is still tight on the bone. I regret that I can't bring back teenage Lacy, but I can bring on the strip poker, the skinny dipping, and the nude modeling classes. Or at least, I can bask in the simple act of laying around naked without any covers on letting you look at me.
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface