“Data” by Gretchen Gales

In response to r/samplesize infographic “Body Perception in Men and Women”, published on the subreddit r/dataisbeautiful.

“How old were you when you perceived your body (or parts of your body) as “ugly” for the first time?”

Maybe my grandparents shouldn’t have given a 1st grader hot dogs and chips as an after school snack. Because my mother saw the cruel girls and boys who pelted dodgeballs at her during gym, I squeezed my cheeks in hopes I could pick off the fat like pieces of the Play-Doh I cut with cookie cutters into perfect shapes. 

It was too late, because I never got underneath 10 minutes for the mile, even when my only problem was refractive errors, the way they whispered Get contacts! and snickered made me wonder what could happen if eyeballs could be removed and pushed into Carpool, rainbow soap trickling across my world windows. In Runescape and Gaia Online, I excel in the beautiful, thin avatars of my creation. 

“How much emotional distress was caused by this awareness in the situation at the time?”

Spandex sticks to every part of my body, McNugget crumbs cling to black fabric and sink

into the holes in my tights. Each year that flickers by, I practice sucking in my rounded stomach so it would look like a ballerina’s should. Though I look forward to my weekly Happy Meal, I also tell myself that I need to do at least 20 sit-ups later to fully enjoy it. 

Instead, I retreat to the desktop, log on to AIM, grasp the too flabby pieces of my thighs and stomach in one hand while the other types. Tonight, my best friend and I will discuss The Water Diet

It’s easy, she says, All you have to do is just drink water. 

I like water. I want to lose weight. So easy, even a 12 year-old can do it. 

I last five minutes before I run to the kitchen for my coveted snack: string cheese. I type my confession before darting to open the refrigerator door. Even over the internet where I could just lie, I was coerced by my own disgust. 

noooooo don’t do it! I read as I strip the cheese and slurp it like spaghetti noodles. 40 sit-ups will have to undo this sin, but my shame is still visible in the pockets of my abdomen in my high school graduation gown. 

My second boyfriend tells me he’d like me better if I dropped some weight, so I drop him at the local park. I cry when I hop on the scale and learn that I picked up 15 pounds of luggage into my junior year of college. 

My senior year, Boyfriend the Third Time’s the Charm, a self-declared stick, takes me back home to Mama in front of a few one-bite brownies. I’m chastised for taking five. 

You’re gonna pack on the pounds she warns me, as if they will stack inside of my gut and expand accordingly the way internal storage works on a computer. I should have deleted the files. 

I remember an old recipe from a natural remedy book my grandmother had on her bookshelf. To get rid of pests like ants, you concoct a mixture of sugar water, honey, and a touch of Borax. They will take some back to the nest, killing the colony and all of the Queen’s offspring. Women are both ants and assassins. 

The difference was statistically significant. 

On Instagram, my colony of female followers slowly embrace and unwrap the damage of a childhood with Britney Spears bodies as their only option, body positivity spreading with hashtags and just the right algorithm to keep resurfacing in juxtaposition to proud girls’ ribs.

What surfaces for the first time is my boyfriend’s weight gain. Only in his mid-twenties does he squish pouches of skin in his fingers, pouting the way aunts do after indulging in a slice of pie at Thanksgiving. I shot him the James Franco meme with a First time? 

Both parents make fun of him for the weight. People with practical interests, such as studying on the computer instead of playing Duke Nukem on the computer, do not have these problems. Just like girls who don’t think about food instead of eating it don’t have these problems. 

I’m praised for not thinking of food when I drop a little over 20 pounds in a few short months. Suddenly I’m a hit at family gatherings. They beg to know how I did it. It comes down to two things: caring about the welfare of other people enough to eclipse your own body’s needs and what people think. This time, it’s the former, all from falling asleep the moment I get home from teaching and being too sickened by what I could not change for my students. Good teachers get apples which rot from the inside for the sake of being displayed on the desk for as long as possible. 

During a post-observation meeting, my administrator shares some numbers with me that he collected in regards to student responses in the classroom. Before he begins, he mentions, I was a chemistry teacher before being an administrator, he says. What did I learn? The data never lies. 


Gretchen is a writer, visual artist, secondary English teacher and the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine. She has been interviewed by Dear English Major and has had bylines in Ms., Bustle, HuffPost, and more. See more of her work at writinggales.wordpress.com.

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