Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sweet Irony, Continued

Part II

When I started college, I had given up dance, moving on I told myself, on to the next thing, another step into adulthood, leaving childish things behind me. I planned a schedule of classes, intermediate French, anthropology and logic, European Civilization. I lived a blissful month of freedom, wandering from class to class, kissing boys in dimly-lit dorm rooms, pale boys with skinny bodies, our mingled breath stale from late nights and Camel cigarettes, their long-fingered hands creeping along my legs in awe. One boy liked to sit in fetishistic wonder, my calves cupped in his sweaty palms. Even other girls remarked upon my legs, not with jealousy, but a placid envy. I tried to explain my time as a dancer, but the revelation of such serious pain was indelicate, out of place in the playhouse of college life.

I auditioned for the college dance company out of curiosity, the way a reformed alcoholic might have a drink six months into recovery, just to see if they have shaken the craving. I pulled a gray leotard from the back of a drawer, a lone pair of black tights with the feet cut out, a secret stash for just such a case, an undefended fall into addiction. Passing through the agitated herd of girls in the hallway, more self-possessed than I knew, I settled onto a cold patch of tile and assumed the position, flat on my back, legs opening out against the wall, wide and wider.

I am not without presence. Maybe it is my posture, staked out from years of dance classes, or maybe the way my cheekbones cut out sharp under my eyes courtesy of a Cherokee great-grandmother. My husband says it is the confidence conveyed by someone who knows she is always the best looking woman in a room. But this is not true. A photograph will show you that I am a sallow-skinned person of indeterminate ancestry who ought to have had a nose job ages ago. But presence, like talent, is impossible to account for. At eighteen, I may have had no real talent for ballet but I was pretty and extremely thin and my whole body hung from Granny Suni’s cheekbones like a beautiful dress you think will last a lifetime.

When the audition moved to center work I finished the adagio with my feet tucked into a tight and nearly perfect fifth, my stomach flat, shoulders relaxed, all at attention. My arms hung down in an illustrative curvature of limbs and my chin was turned just that fraction from the front required in the Russian method. The woman in charge of the repertory company came up close to me and ran her fingertips around the line of my hips, inspecting, fingers trickling up the trunk of my body, then skipped past my breasts and floated up to my face.

“Gorgeous,” she said, and stood back.

“This,” she announced to the class at large, now eyeing me with envious nonchalance, “this is the ideal of what a dancer should be, the perfect dancer’s body.”

Ah, I thought; a-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

And so I was briefly a star. It lasted only a moment, till the woman asked if I danced on pointe. I was happy to say no and even to watch myself disappear from her view, my gray-clad body evaporating like smoke in her clear blue eyes. Still there had been time enough in the spotlight for two boys at the audition to conceive ill-advised passions for me and for the guest choreographer to take note and choose me for her group. Later she would tell me I had reminded her of a Twyla Tharp dancer, a comment designed to flatter and entrance, and really referring only to my long curly hair, and not my ability. I joined Ren’s small army of modern dance, an elect group devoted to covert operations, and gave up cigarettes and all my free time for long hours in florescent-lit studios, trading in my vintage tuxedo jacket and ripped jeans for sweatpants, tights and jazz shoes.

I was an enthusiastic recruit. I would practice difficult moves in the dormitory hallways, one in particular causing me the most trouble. You had to walk backward and fall to the ground, rolling till you flipped over one shoulder and flowed down along your cheststomachpelvisthighsshins, smooth against the floor. I inevitably flopped like a fish, knocking the breath from my body, but would go on and on, little bruises coming out along my ribs like tiny blue ribbons. I jumped off pianos into the outstretched arms of fellow dancers, turned cartwheels, was carried shoulder-high and flipped head over heels like a dim instrument of fate.

I took at least two dance classes a day and there were rehearsals every evening, but there were also my regular classes to attend. One was a french class with an ex-military linguist who was testing a new way of teaching foreign languages and called us all, a room of big-haired southern girls, by our last names, except for me, whom he referred to as “Princess.” Western Civ was led by a man who was rumored to have been a member of Hitler’s Youth when he was a child in Germany. Boys called me cold out of the freshmen year facebook, wanting dates. I stayed out late walking, while the weather turned, the trees lost their leaves and the clear evening sky shone through bare branches like a painting by Rousseau come to life. And I ate every day, pancakes for breakfast, chicken salad sandwiches with extra mayonnaise, chocolate-covered pretzels, baked potatoes with cheese and sour cream, and not an ounce accumulated on my well-exercised frame.

Bliss like that can never last.

A roommate became difficult and one of the girls I danced with, who lived just off campus, invited me to stay with her until housing could find another place for me. I welcomed the extra freedom, the view from Angie’s apartment out over the old college quad, even the long walk in the mornings to class. We were deep into rehearsal for the winter program and Ren had given me a special part in our dance, a sort of lead. All three sections of the piece were danced to Rolling Stones songs from Some Girls, the dances themselves full of jazzy modern movements, mixed with group lifts, handstands and the bone- jarring fish-flip. I was the Girl with the Faraway Eyes.

Ren had decided early on, perhaps because of my age, that I was to be treated as the adorable dumb baby of the group. She called me Scruffy, a pet’s name, and petted and popped me like any young mutt. She gave me a button to wear that said “Shut up and dance.” But she did think I could dance and for that I was willing to forgive almost anything. As the Girl with the Faraway Eyes, I moved in and out of step with the other dancers, half-time, double-time, rushing ahead, rushing to keep up. At the end of the dance I was lifted up and carted about like a pig on a platter, complete with apple stuffed in my mouth, and then left alone center stage, Eve taking a bite from the bitter fruit of knowledge and tossing it to the first male I could find in the front row.

All this time I was also writing. I wrote poems with anthemic endings and awkward plain prose dismissive of artifice and I think I may have been the only freshman on campus who knew where to find the fiction shelves in the library. A story I read then has stayed with me for all this time, probably because I felt rather a kinship with the unspeaking part of the young boxer in the tale, a young boxer who had been bred with his brains in his ass in order to withstand maximum impact with minimal damage. My brains might as well have been in my ass for all anyone around me cared what I might think. Not for the first time in my life, I felt constrained by my body, held back, but not for the usual reasons, not the poor turnout, not the stiff hips. I was powerful only in silence, unheeded unless in motion, trapped by a pleasing appearance. I might as well have been a blonde.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sweet Irony

A Faux Memoir

Part One

The woman may have once been attractive but she had gone to seed like some bit of autumn thistle, her hair dried out like Spanish moss, her face blotched with too much sun, her long limbs droopy with flesh. Even so you could see the original clean lines of the legs when she pointed her feet to demonstrate the exercises at the barre; her arch was so high her feet looked like hands crippled by arthritis, bent in on themselves. She taught us ballet, the modern dance students, those of us who had given up on the ideal, who only still wanted to dance. She had been handpicked by Balanchine when she was young, one of the baby ballerinas, all eyes and extension, burned out now to a frazzled woman with a bad perm and a belly like a permanent pregnancy.

It was the summer of 1986. Everyone had now heard of AIDS and no one knew what to do about it, the gay disease, easily denounced by slick-haired men as righteous judgment upon the wicked Sodomites. I was seventeen, the only dancer in the hallway between classes reading a book, toting my paperback copy of Catch-22, that war-world of insanity identified and named, and all around me girls in positions of pornographic lissomeness remarked upon my oddity. I lay on my back, ass against the wall, legs V-splayed, hoping gravity would help my tight hips give way, the paperback held out before me, my arms lovely in suspended port-de-bras, Young Girl Reclining with Book.

Breakdowns come to everyone; even my husband’s Depression-era raised parents, stoics with canned good pantries, once had a breakdown apiece on a family vacation tour of the large geometric states of the American West. Sobbing was involved, my husband tells me. Tears are the handmaidens of breakdowns, the first thing reached for, used up, swept away. When the aged baby had her breakdown, she rolled in the floor weeping. We watched, teenage dancers on the edge of competency, as this woman crumbled before us, this woman by God who had danced for Balanchine, who had probably sucked him off, one of his tissue-thin girls, always another one waiting in the wings. We were without sympathy. My own breakdown took place in the shower, an atheist in a wet foxhole, praying.

I knew I would never have arches like the fallen madwoman. My body took issue with ballet. There were the tight hips, to start with -- I’d been born with pigeon toes. As an infant I had to sleep with my feet tied into special shoes and the shoes attached to a board to twist those hips out out out. My mother says I cried as if I was being tortured, which if you think about it, I was. Perfect turnout, the rotation of hips and thighs and feet out into a board-straight line, would always elude me. And without it, I was nothing, invisible -- a pale-pink-legged ghost in the world of ballet.

A dancer can’t help but obsess over their figure and lines, limbs and arches, the tensile shape of themselves upon the air. They build their instrument out of raw flesh and bone, hollowed-out abdomens and hunger; high-strung and strung out on over-the-counter diet pills, their ability to make conversation is about equal to that of racehorses. I read between classes because I had always read when I was bored; I continued to dance because I had always danced, in the womb my mother said and then swaying to radio music in my high chair. I starved myself because it was necessary, and I was good at it. It was something I would always be able to do well.

I met Sally in the registration line that summer. She was thin, as thin as I was and bore a striking resemblance to Olive Oyl. Her sleek black hair was slicked back in a New Wave duck flip at the nape of her neck, her eyes covered by sunglasses with wings like the tail fins of a 1950’s rocket car. She was wearing fishnet pants with green and black plaid boxers evident beneath, and her Cramps concert tee was ripped and pinned to great effect. I fell instantly under the weight of an asymptomatic crush.

Sally said, “I saw you at lunch.”

I thought of the cafeteria where I had eaten with my parents, filling myself with a vegetable plate, knowing that in a matter of hours there would be a summer’s worth of meals to avoid with the assiduousness of an Indian saint.

“I didn’t see you,” I finally answered.

“I noticed you,” she said, and a great wing of light fell around me, enclosing me in the protective embrace of the Cool Girl.

In a matter of minutes I knew she lived in Colorado, where she had seen U2 play Red Rocks, that she was Armenian, that she was in the modern dance track too. She had back trouble. Ballet had done its number on her already. She was eighteen, a year older than me. She had a boyfriend. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to wonder what she saw in me, I was so lovely then, and didn’t know it, still infused with a Lolita-like charm, a skittish natural thing not yet able to scent danger.

Classes began Monday morning. I lay on the floor, a spindled swastika of arms and legs. The instructor, a curly-headed boy of about fifty, pressed down on my hips with both his hands.

“Inflexible,” he said, rising from my side. “Graham developed her technique around a loose pelvis, her own loose pelvis. You must dance from your ovaries,” he said, opening his hands out in front of his groin expansively.

He led us through the floor exercises and then an hour-long series of enchainements, connected moves and steps, ending with a lesson in falling.

“Tuck in,” he told us. “Gently. Don’t throw yourself on the floor. Roll. Roll.”

I thought of a potato bug prodded with a stick, protecting its soft parts.

“That’s it,” he said, nodding.

I rolled, falling but suspended, my ribcage collapsed, knees sinking weak to the floor, a defensive faint. We added the fall to the end of a series of stag leaps, all of us shot out of the air on the count of seven.

Two or three classes a day and an abundance of missed meals and I skimmed the ground, buoyantly light, gravity at bay. I saw Sally in class and we discovered in each other an unwillingness to submit to the inanities. We rolled our eyes and exercised our eyebrows, our bodies absorbing the steps effortlessly and our proud heads rising above it all, soft smiles playing on our lips, elegant with disdain. We did this in every class but one, improvisation. The instructor was a hard-lathed woman with a buzzcut and she drilled us in spontaneity. I feared the woman and the class; I didn’t respond well to her sort of encouragement.

“Hey, Flashdance,” she said, coming over to rearrange my arms for the millionth time. “Save it for Marcus.”

Marcus was our Broadway-style jazz teacher, a white man who, like Steve Martin in The Jerk, seemed to think he had been born a poor black child. His class was very popular and practical really, considering that there are very few ways to make a living as a dancer. Hoofing it is what most everyone around me was going to end up doing, that or running some Dolly Dingle dance school in their hometowns. Jazz was really the only idiom that could be made to pay.

In addition to ballet and jazz and several modern classes, we had character dance where we learned polkas, tangos, and waltzes. It was a dream, led by a small man with a mustache. All the girls had to wear knee-length, flounced skirts and character shoes with a little heel. I was never completely clear on the purpose of the class, as none of us was likely to find ourselves among the rabble of peasantry in a ballet like Giselle. But it was easy and fun, the girls with their hair down for a change, skipping like innocents.

One of the few boys in the program, a tall gay blond, could never get over the difference in my appearance when my hair swung loose past my shoulders.

“You should wear your hair down more,” he said.

Sally agreed. “It suits you.”

We bounced in a line, chatting over the music, the teacher leading us forward heel-toe, heel-toe, in a sort of German jig. I sighed to see my stubborn young breasts jiggle under my chest-hugging leotard. No matter the weight I lost, they clung to me roundly, foreign objects on the smooth landscape of my body.

* * *

Sally’s lips were thinly drawn but soft and her breath was sweet with cinnamon. I drew away from her after our kiss, first and last kiss, uncertain of the intent. We were standing on a stairway, an old wood stairway with a large window on the landing letting in a wash of sunshine like a spotlight. The kiss, unanticipated, unsought, was not unwelcome. Sally and I had stopped on the stairs during conversation, Sally pausing to emphasis her point, a point having to do with why anyone would do this to themselves; that is, why would any one want to be a dancer.

“But when you dance, sometimes,” she said, “when you’re relaxed, you move – you move like water.” Then she leaned forward and kissed me.

I didn’t see all that much of Sally outside of class. Being a year older, she was allowed to stay in the college dormitories and had no curfew. She had also fallen in with a group of theater students whose wardrobes all more closely resembled her own. But she paid me attention enough and we shared our circle of privileged sarcasm during classes. She wasn’t much of a reader but she respected my own literary tendencies. She had at least heard of the books I read even if she hadn’t actually read them herself.

The truth of the thing, discovered later, was that I was Sally’s shameful little secret, one she kept from her other, cooler friends, the fact that she really was more attracted to a normal sort of a girl, with long curls and a scrubbed-clean face. But when she stooped to kiss me on the stairs, I didn’t know these things; I thought only that I had been graced with something special, unnamed -- a thing simpler than what a boy might want from me. I followed her up the stairs to class, a happy scrambling skinny puppy, hungry for attention.

After the kiss, there weren’t only the usual whispered subversions during class, but little touches not so unusual in such a place, a place where our bodies weren’t our own. An instructor was always grabbing some part of you, grasping your leg in an uncaring hand and lifting it past its point of control, holding it in the air above your ears, and then saying somewhere behind you, “Look what you could do if you only tried.” Sally and I made small caresses out of tiny gestures, fingers on the small of backs and trailing down between shoulder blades, dainty prompts filled with hesitancy. And then the letter came.

The letter was from Sally’s boyfriend, who had led by the age of twenty a life like a character in a novel by Nin. Sally knew about her boyfriend’s male lovers; she had told me as well, proud of him, his lack of inhibition, his sensitivity. I imagined him as looking quite like Sally, bisexual Bobbsey twins draped in tattered Christian Death t-shirts.

Sally and I made our usual pas de deux in ballet class the afternoon the letter arrived, mimicking the overblown instructor, pulling our bodies up tight, our waists carved out and corseted by air.

“Lovely,” the teacher said, her left hand resting on my hipbone, her right hand flat against my lower back, before her gaze drifted away over our heads.

Most of the students were flying well under the radar of the faculty, myself included. Students were only noticed for one of their many faults, sickled feet and drooping elbows, imperfections never quite connected into a whole person. The woman found me beautiful just as I was beginning to disappear. In the mirror I could see that my abdomen was a shallow vessel, my ribs articulated like the thin bars of some exotic birdcage. I was flat, a beaten metal sculpture.

After class, Sally sat in the hall to read her letter and I sat close to her, stretching, pushing my knees down in a butterfly, soles of my feet together. I tucked my chin and rolled down my spine until my head touched my feet, and then unrolled one vertebrae at a time, up level by level, stacking them like blocks until my head tilted up to see Sally crying.

“What?” I said. I put one hand on her neck and scooted close, dipping my head down to see the paper in her hand but I couldn’t read the handwriting.

“He has AIDS.”

The words set off a chain reaction in my torso, opening a whirlpool in my gut. I fell into it and away from Sally, my hand lifting away from her without thought, an instinct for retreat pulling me to my feet. I stood over her, thinking of sweat and breath, all the naked bleeding toes in class, all of us with our soles cracking from neglect and misuse. I staggered there a moment and then walked away, walking fast but not running, leaving Sally alone in the hallway to pick up the pieces of herself as she could.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Size Matters, or The Female Form Divine

"This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction ..." ~ Walt Whitman, "I Sing The Body Electric"

I'm not perfect. I pass judgment on people on a daily basis, often over quite trivial matters. I know I'm doing this and that I'm fucking up my karma every time I do, but it's a hard habit to break. Do you know the George Carlin quote about driving speed? Let me share.

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

This is sort of how I feel when I look at the bodies of other women -- everybody smaller than me is an idiot, and everyone larger -- well, it depends on the mood I'm in. I was not raised to be tolerant of my own body's failings so it is little wonder that I haven't much patience for the (perceived) failings of others. Most of my life I've been slender, an accident of birth and genetics as much as of pathology. Does this mean that at 41 I'm pleased with my form and figure? Lord, no. But why aren't I? My husband still likes my body. Why don't I?

As I said before in Call and Response, I think it is partly simple human nature. I also blame low-riding bikini bottoms. It's summer, I've been trying on bathing suits in department store dressing rooms and I find that I have a gut. It isn't much of a gut but there it is, hanging out over the edge of all these low-riding bikini bottoms. Why do I blame my body? I should blame the suit. It isn't my fault that bathing suits seem to come in two styles only --"child" and "granny." These are my options? Letting it all hang flabbily out, or binding it all up in a corset-style costume I would be afraid to get wet?

I decide to err on the side of letting it all hang out and take home two suits that my husband says look "great" on me. And when I take these suits out for a spin on our beach vacation I feel remarkably comfortable showing myself in them, but only, sickly I admit, because of where I fall along the spectrum of the female form divine.

When I was young I read in Seventeen magazine of all places, the following descriptions of the three basic body types:

  • Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; receding chin, usually referred to as slim.
  • Mesomorphic: characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular.
  • Endomorphic: characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat.
This type of definition is wildly out of date now (the man who came up with it apparently crazy as all get out), but I think the point of this information was to try and get across to teen readers that sometimes you have to work with what nature gave you. I am mostly mesomorphic with some ectomorphic traits as well, with shoulders like bloody coat hangers and an enormous waist in proportion to my practically non-existent hips. I buy pants that fit my butt but ALWAYS have to let the button out on the waist so I can breathe. In short, I am built more or less like a stick with something of a spare tire round my middle bits. Nice, yes?

I saw all types at the beach: rubber-band-like young girls, too thin but fit mom-types, the classic pears and apples (as if women are fruit to be devoured -- and of course sometimes we are) and many women who were quite simply very overweight. One woman in particular my eye went back to over and over. I will admit at first I was appalled by her size. But then I thought of other images, stripped her in my mind's eye of her ill-fitting pink suit (honestly most of the women's suits were ill-fitting -- I mean who designs these bloody things?!) and saw more or less this:

The woman on the beach even had this soft coloring, cloudy strawberry-blonde hair and something of this posture, but in all honesty the woman I saw on the beach probably weighed more than the woman in this picture. But the woman on the beach didn't seem uncomfortable with her physical form. Strikingly, most of the women on the beach seemed relatively comfortable in their mostly naked skins. But were they? How did they really see themselves? How did they see me? Did they judge me the way that I judged them? Do they judge themselves?


Does it help at all that I saw beauty, as well as potential ill-health? And what would be my beauty, the gift of image I would give myself? And what would be yours? What is your female form divine?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday's Call and Response

... where I muse on the musings of others ...

"Here's my complication: I've actually lost a little weight lately, which is a good thing, given blood pressure issues, etc. What's funny is that I think it's made me focus more on my physical self, and I have immediately found things to be dissatisfied with that I hadn't been worried about before."

Isn't that just the way? Has anyone ever, in the history of the world, gotten on a scale or looked in the mirror and felt satisfied? I don't think so. It's a sad and natural and, I'm beginning to think, an inevitable result of physical self-contemplation. The mind is a tricky critter. We see the scale has a healthier number as regards our physical well-being and instead of saying "Yes!," we think "Now what?" Self-improvement is a slippery slope for nearly all of us. I know it's best for me to simply not know how much I weigh. I know the best thing I can do for my mind-body connection is yoga. And despite knowing this, I skip the yoga and get on the scale, with the usual result of dissatisfaction. I think the best we can do is be aware that we ARE going to feel this way when we put extra attention on our appearance for whatever reasons. The only real help is to balance those feelings with reminders of what has been accomplished -- like a lower blood pressure reading -- and knowing that wanting to do more is only human, and then to try, really really hard, to let those new worries go.

Can I get an amen, sister?

Sister, amen!

Today's Mantra: No guilt. No Guilt! NO GUILT!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tell Me What You Eat

"I believe you cooked those green beans too long."
~ One Thing You Will Never Hear A Southerner Say ~

Do you know what a "crowder pea" is? Is "grits" plural or singular? What do the words "Moon Pie" mean to you? Have you ever eaten any of these things? If you have, I can probably make the safe guess that you were born in, raised in, or at least have visited, the Southeastern region of the United States.

I live in a small town in South Carolina, not the town in which I grew up but one not too far away, and my favorite restaurants in town are Gerhard's, an Austrian biergarten, and Wade's, a purveyor of the Southern classic, the "meat and three." I myself favor the vegetable plate and at Wade's what is considered a vegetable is of course anything that isn't a meat; macaroni and cheese, for example. I always get the macaroni and cheese, and usually the beans, and my favorites are the black-eyed, crowder and field peas, which I associate with my grandmother.

My Grandmama had perhaps the freest hand with food I've ever known. That's the right of grandmothers, to fill their grandchildren up without regard for proper diet or nutrition. They allow open access to the candy jar and cookie cupboard and will always fix you something special if you ask. At my grandmother's house I ate biscuits and peas and home-canned green beans, chicken and rice and peach cobbler and lots and lots of Nilla Wafers. Even during the worst of some of my food issues, I could usually still eat something at my Grandmother's. So naturally that sort of Southern cooking is what I consider "comfort" food, and one reason why Wade's is such a favorite.

Being the type of eater that I am, one who eats to live rather than one who lives to eat, it's good for me to have comfort food, something I can turn to when I would rather do just about anything than feed myself. Even so I know that for me, there is no real comfort to be found in food, merely echoes of earlier comforts. That's all that can be found, those echoes. But what is for me a useful tool, I know for some people can become a weapon they turn upon themselves; it's merely the opposite extremes of a simple truth about ourselves and our relationship to food. Whatever we may know, it doesn't change the way we feel.

"Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are" is such a famous quote I didn't even know I knew it until I started to brainstorm ideas for future posts here. My fondness for sweet tea, Chik-fil-A sandwiches, and a preference for fully cooked green beans don't make me a Southerner, but they are part of what make me think of myself as one. We are all defined by what we eat, those food choices we make several times each day. And it at least partially explains why I will choose to eat those over-cooked green beans from Wade's, with their slight vinegar tang, just like Grandmama used to make.

Not My Grandmother's Roasted Green Beans
Take several handfuls of of green beans, snap the ends off, rinse and lay them out in a jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them in a 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Shake the pan every few minutes to keep the beans from sticking and also to get a really satisfying amount of sizzle and smoke. Serve hot.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's Complicated

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet." Fran Lebowitz

A few weeks ago I turned 41. I'm lucky enough to have had the same best friend since second grade and this year I asked her and her younger sister if they would throw me a birthday party, which they happily agreed to do. It was a lovely party, the theme was Tiny Bubbles, so there was Hawaiian music and plastic leis and Pink Bikinis and champagne to drink and lots and lots of bubbles. After most of the guests had gone home Amy and Heather and their mother, Amy's husband, my husband and myself were the only people left sitting around drinking the last of the champagne. Heather's two girls were still awake but getting sleepy and she went in several times to try and settle them for the night. At one point she came out and stood on the top of the stairs leading out to the patio.

"Shoot me now," she said, looking out past the tiki torches into the dark of the yard. "Just shoot me now. Spencer just told me she wasn't going to wear her new navy dress anymore because it makes her look fat."

Spencer is five.

I have had an eating disorder, in one form or another, since I was thirteen years old.

Heather looked at me and said, "We need to write that book now. What am I going to do when they're older? We've got to figure this out."

Having known Heather and Amy for so long, we've seen each other grow and change, grow up and grow older. We all have our different issues with body image and weight and food. We've talked at times about a book that would share our stories, and I think maybe this blog will be a good place to start that dialogue, to share those stories, to look at our past and see if we can't change the future for Heather's girls. For all girls. For ourselves.

Food is so basic. We must eat to live. But why do we eat what we eat? Why do we care what we eat? Who do we eat with and why? Why do people turn to food for comfort? Why do people restrict what they eat, whether it's for health or culture or out of pathology? How did something so basic become so complex for so many people?

Look at the covers of magazines in the grocery store. Notice how many promise to help you lose weight. Notice how many contain a cooking section. Notice how many are about fitness or food. Think of the television shows promoting weight loss and those that promote eating. Does it feel balanced to you?

I can't help but think of Scarlett O'Hara. You heard me. Women of her time weren't supposed to eat a lot in public. Women of our time -- who knows? We can't eat too little or we're anorexic. We can't eat too much or -- oh, pick something. And what do we think?

That's what I'd like to know.

So share please. And I will share in turn. But keep in mind this is not a site for diet suggestions or weight loss tips or to attack one another whatever size or shape we may be. Vicious commentary will be deleted. Future posts will try and explore the questions raised through personal anecdotes and observations.

You may, or may not, have noticed that I didn't mention any food at the party. That's because food isn't my thing. That's one way to put it. Another way to put it is that I have severe food phobias and aversions. Or maybe I'm just really picky. I told you it was complicated.

Pink Bikinis
Mix one 1.75 liter bottle of raspberry lemonade with 1 3/4 cups coconut rum and 1 cup amaretto liqueur in a pitcher, mix well and serve over ice.