Are You Dyslexic or Something? by Emma Strauss

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Art by Emma Strauss

I am a woman: pale skinned with dark brown, wavy, frizzy hair. I have sharp facial features. I wear glasses, they are sea-green aqua-marine turquoise colored right now. I am thin. Very thin.  I am almost five seven and I weigh 97 pounds.  I have been thin my whole life.  Once, as a college freshman, after eating an abundance of Hostess cupcakes, chicken fingers, and fries, I weighed 110 pounds; it was glorious.  But, I couldn’t keep up that healthy, balanced diet forever. My discipline waned and I began devouring salads (read: I wasn’t on a meal plan anymore and I had to cook for myself and I’m lazy).

I miss being 110 pounds.  For a few fleeting months, I wasn’t the subject of stares and comments. Now, and throughout my entire childhood, whenever I am eating or simply going about my day, I can feel people around me gearing up to say something about how thin I am and I try to head them off at the pass, I say, “I know most women would kill to be able to say they struggle to gain weight!” Usually the other woman would say jovially, “You can have some of my fat!” We’d have a good laugh and go on our merry ways.  

When I was younger, I think I almost liked it,  I stood out because I was thin, I received attention because I was thin.  And, who doesn’t like attention?  It took me a long time to realize that this was not the kind of attention I wanted.

My whole life I’ve heard comments like:

“Oh my god, you’re so skinny!  Do you even eat?”

“You’re eating! Good! You should eat more.”

“You should just eat burgers and fries for the rest of your life, then you’ll gain weight!”

“Is that your one sandwich for the week?”

So far, however, my favorite comment about my weight comes from middle school.

I had just walked into chorus class. I was looking forward to doing some quality off-key mumble-singing for the next hour, when my favorite bully sidled up next to me. Let’s call her my “slightly unkind acquaintance,” Colleen.

She had probably watched me walk in, maybe seen the top of my jeans pinned to fit better, and zeroed in on my small, sinewy arms as they contracted to put my giant binder and books under my chair.  As Colleen approached, she spat out the following,

“Oh my god, you’re so skinny, are you dyslexic?”

I paused.  I squinted.  I processed.

Dyslexic?, I thought to myself.  That’s not what they called it in health class. What was it called, bulimic? Anorexic?  I weighed my options, Do I call-out this girl who could possibly keep me on the outskirts of the popular girl group? If I don’t say anything will it finally get Colleen to stop looking at me like I am a slithering, gaunt creature who has just risen from the deepest part of the ocean and is there to ooze slime from my gills on her completely un-frizzy blonde hair (what product is she using!?)?   

Fuck it. I thought and I said,

“Do you mean anorexic?”

Caught.

Colleen, my now irritated and embarrassed acquaintance said, “What?”

“Anorexic. Not dyslexic. Dyslexic is, like, when you read backwards or something. But, no, I’m not. I’m just really skinny.  My parents and my brother are really skinny. I have a fast metabolism.”  

My answer was already well-rehearsed at age 11.  I had been saying it to doctors, friends, teachers, friend’s moms, everyone, anyone. But, repeating that answer didn’t seem to bother me, it was just a part of my status quo.  Having this “thing” that made me stand out just meant that Colleen, the slightly popular girl with the perfect blond hair, paid attention to my frizzy-haired self. Or, maybe it didn’t bother me because my mom always told me not to care about what other people think. Whatever it was, the negative effects took years to sink in and take hold.

I am 31 now and I am worn out, tired of spitting out that well-rehearsed response to those mildly unkind acquaintances. And they are starting to feel like real bullies. In response, I am turning into a bully (at least in my mind). I want to yell back,

“I am so skinny?  Oh yeah, well, your nose is weirdly shaped!”

“I should eat more? Thank you for your completely unsolicited advice about my eating habits, jerk-face!”

“I should eat burgers and fries for the rest of my life?  Really? You should become a dietician, you’d be fucking excellent!”

“Is this my one sandwich?? Don’t run away from me, you punk, I am going to put your head in a toilet!”

Sometimes I wonder why I care so much about what other people say – my mother tried so hard to get me not to care!  I wonder why – especially now, as an adult – these comments affect me so much. A few years ago, I finally started voicing my feelings when people would make comments about my weight. I wouldn’t bully, I wouldn’t antagonize, I would calmly and quietly explain how those comments are not very kind.  I started asking friends, “why do people think it’s okay to make comments about how skinny I am?” My friends would reply, “they are probably envious.”  

It never sounds envious to me.  It sounds disgusted. It sounds like someone is worried that I am unhealthy, not out of true concern, but almost as if my presence is an affront to them.  It’s hard to feel at ease or at peace in this world when your mere existence is offensive to someone.

These comments have steadily chipped away at my sense of self. But. I am working to come to terms with what makes up my surface. More than that, I am working to love my body.  To love my protruding collar bones, my ribs that I can count, my barely peach-sized breasts, and my angular hips. I am not bony, I am twiggy. I am not scrawny, I am slender.  I am not gaunt, I am willowy.

Emma Strauss goodlittlegirls
Emma Strauss is a Jewish American native of DMV.  She is a middle school theatre teacher who believes in the joy and power of collaboration to make beautiful art. 

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