i’m sure i’m not the only almost 40-something out there noticing they not only got infected with, but might have also gained the covid-19 in the last three years, and have been trying to work it off. as hong kong keeps working to throw off the vestiges of three strict years of pandemic rules (we still live our lives masked; all my lip gloss has gone sad and stale), i have been working to throw off this weight gain that has slowly crept on almost unnoticed as i’ve lived strictly in athleisure and maxi dresses from behind a screen for a majority of the last 36 months. with no occasion to zip into jeans or spanx for a formal moment, there have been no reality checks on size change for a while.

I’ll admit it’s been minimal effort at times to get in shape – i said “no” exactly zero times for the six weeks i was home this summer, had three weeks of debauchery in SE Asia for Christmas hols, and did a week of Egyptian goodness. but i’ve been going to bootcamps, getting back into running, and signed up for meal deliveries. i make 10k+ steps a day, hydrate the heck out of myself, and play volleyball and hike every week, too. 

after weeks of this, and waiting until my period was over, i stepped on the scale this morning, confident i would see a substantial weightloss and maybe like, firework emojis or an alert from my tinder app that I was hot again. or something.

instead, a number that indicated a kilo GAIN flashed up at me. this was (unfortunately, or fortunately?) followed by a “low battery” warning, and then the scale refused to work again.

but i’d seen the number. 


I had seen it. It had been seen. And i had immediately decided i hated myself and nothing i ever did ever worked and it was pointless to try and make healthier choices. maybe God just wanted me to weigh this much and maybe even more and i was just fat and always going to be and simply wasting money on bootcamps and nutritious food, and cheetos and oreos and wine are cheaper than entering that upcoming 10k, and no one will ever love me because i weigh this much. so i should just give up, order a size up, ring for a pizza, cuddle up under my duvet, and call it a life.

i’d decided all that in the span of like, oh, twenty seconds. because that’s how well-trained most women are to hate themselves based on a number that literally no one but ourselves will ever see. my brain is super-efficient at destroying all my confidence and sense of self with just one weigh-in or one awkward angle in a window as i walk by. it’s incredible, really. if only i could channel the power into something useful for mankind.

nevermind that i’d actually been feeling healthy, stronger, fitting nicely into my clothes, hiking mountains, or getting decent sleep. one green flashing number on a small machine was going to determine how i felt about myself for the next few days, despite any and all physical, mental, emotional, professional, relational accomplishments i might make. 

At least, that’s what was going to happen. That’s what’s normally happened when i’d jumped on a scale and seen anything higher than the last time i was there, expected or no. but this morning, when i did see that number, despite it’s unexpectedness and uninvitedness, when i started to feel those feelings and thoughts creep in so swiftly and threaten my peace of mind, i stepped off quite decisively said, out loud, “nope. NOPe. not today, satan.” 

Because when i saw that number, despite the self-hating war that years of terrible patterns and socialization had created against me, i was in a place where i could realize that: 

  • No one knows this number but me.
  • It’s just a number, a NUMBER, and so it:
    • measures nothing important about me at all.
    • can change every minute, every day, every hour, for the rest of my life. And that’s nothing to build a belief about myself on.
    • doesn’t tell you how fit i am. The miles i can run, the mountains i can climb.
    • does not describe my killer hair, my spirit, my jokes, my eyebrows, my earring collection, my ability to make a meaningful playlist, or the other things i truly like about myself.
  • This number might be someone else’s goal weight, dream weight, what they’re fighting for.
  • If someone told me that this was their number, it would literally change nothing about the way i feel about them.
  • In all honesty, although it’s not what the “ideal healthy weight” is according to charts likely made decades ago with mountains less knowledge than we have today, it’s not at all a true reflection of my overall health or prediction of my lifespan.
  • I know more jokes than this number.
  • I have more friends than this number.

And so I said nope and i stepped away, dressed cute, and went about my day. 

the moment came back to me at bootcamp that night, with two women and our trainer. Our trainer is (obviously) super fit, and the others include one really tall and thin and blonde Saffa, and then another tall brunette Brit. and i’m somewhere in the middle of them in shape-sense and size-sense. We were chatting about how humid it was and our trainer said we could work out in just sports bras. the thin blond quickly and seriously said “oh i couldn’t possibly, i’d never have the confidence to do that.” 

people’s opinions about their own bodies are hard to comment on, but she is objectively smaller than myself and the other woman, who had not yet commented. it struck me as insensitive for a moment, but i decided to read it as a lack of self-confidence. i had recently found some of my own again, so i chimed in with this:

“Yeah, i get that. But then i remember all the times i’d be at the gym looking at other people, sizing them up, wondering if they’d be my crush, wondering what they thought of me, comparing my body to theirs. And the moment i left the gym after a workout, i could not have told you a single thing about them, could not have picked them out in a lineup. Because no one is ever thinking about us as much as we are think about ourselves. And we are our own worst critics. So wear the crop top if you’re hot.”

There was no response to my truth bomb. Because our trainer made us do burpees and bear crawls until we were ready to cry. But. i think the sentiment was understood and heard.

Lately, I’ve noticed Facebook and my shutterfly app often pop up with a notification to check out memories from years ago. I’ve been on facebook since it’s infancy – back when you had to have a college email address to join, so the memories run the gamut of welcome and cringe.

i often look at these pictures, moments of magic captured in time, and i can still feel the hot seat of my bike cruiser as i pedaled to class at ucsb, and i can taste natty lite at a DP party, and remember the trips to mexico, dc, europe, different places around the states through my twenties, then backpacking through central and south america, then starting my teaching career. way too often for my liking, i look at these pictures and find myself saying things like “i was so hot back then.” and i don’t even have the time to lament friendships i’ve let fall to the wayside, too busy lusting for that body again. 

But then i remember sharply, with a pain somewhere under my ribs, that even when i was living in that body that i’m currently willing to sell my soul for, i hated myself the whole time i was in it. I didn’t enjoy it, flaunt it, capture it in as many pictures as I wish I had now. Instead, I compared myself to everyone I knew, did crazy diets, pills, starved myself, tried insane workouts, and in darker moments engaged in self-harm. 

Milk ads, music videos, Neutrogena commercials, low-rise jeans, friends, family, belly piercings, volleyball uniforms, PE requirements, early puberty, genetic bone structure, family habits, personal likes and dislikes, created this world where i was never the right body, the right look, the right size. I was the chubby sidekick whose homework you could copy or who could translate for you on trips abroad or talk to the hot guy and let him know you thought he was cute. I was always sidelined for my size. 

But i look back and i’m like “rachel, you were a freaking babe. At all ages.” 

i never got to know that, or own that in the moment. And my guess is that all the gals i thought were objectively ‘babes’ back then, and was sometimes insanely jealous of, probably also hated themselves. I’d venture a guess that none of us ever felt good enough. 

now, at almost 40, reaching new levels of confidence/don’t-care-what-others-thinkidence almost daily, feeling freer and happier daily, i still jokingly wish for the body i didn’t know was so great when i had it. 

but more than that, i want to hug the girl i was then and whisper in her ear “you’re effing gorgeous. But better than that? You’re kind. You’re clever. You work hard and you’re a good friend. So eat dessert first, wear what you want, charge ahead to make your own way. Take all the pictures. Live it all. You’re stuck with all of all of you forever, so learn to love you, because you’re pretty great, actually. You’re actually pretty great.”

I wish that for you. For you and for me and everyone we know with a body. That we can consistently experience the peace of knowing that our worth is so much more than a few numbers flashing on a machine. 

You’re loved.