Lucy had been fat at school. She wasn’t the Fat Girl, not that fat. She was about forty per cent larger than most girls in her class, she was “tubby.” Lucy thought she was fat, like Fat Girl fat. Most teenage girls, over seventy per cent, think they’re about forty per cent larger than they are (billboards, magazine covers, Miranda Kerr etc.) so Lucy thought she was forty per cent plus forty per cent larger—Fat.
At least four nights a week Lucy stood in front of the mirror in her underwear holding her mid-drift between her thumbs and forefingers, squeezing the fat through her hands and watching her belly button shrink down to a slit. She’d place her hands flat on either side of her naval and push the fat inward; it looked like a bum crack on her stomach. You’ve got a whole extra ass on your gut she’d say to herself in the voice of Carson from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Although, that wasn’t most of the time. Most of the time Lucy was happy.
She had nice friends. On weekends the girls had fun together—Nintendo/pranks/loud farts/silly impressions etc. At school they were subdued and well behaved. They weren’t bullied and they weren’t known for bullying others, not even spreading rumours. They didn’t do extra-curricular activities, no jokes in front of the class, not even hands up. They were competent academically and socially and they were good at sport, but they were never dedicated or obsessed enough with any one pursuit to be considered a nerd, a popular girl or a jock. The group might’ve been totally lost in the mass of blue chequered dresses if it weren’t for Lucy.
Lucy acted the same at school as she did on the weekends. She’d say in class, “Yeah Mr. Brown because Cottard said the Plague was fully sick.” She danced on tables making circles with her hip and plump bum cheek, “I’m table top dancing!” She yelled at boys across the oval, “Hey Zac,” and when they turned around, “Never Mind!” Lucy giggled loudly. Most people thought she was hilarious, several people thought she was annoying and everyone thought she was weird. Most students who were weird or chubby were bullied, but Lucy’s socially accepted friends assuaged her oddness and she was treated kindly, at least to her face.
At the end of her final day of school, Lucy packed away her blue chequered dress without bothering to wash it. She considered it hanging in her closet and reflected that she really had been happy at school.
The uniform had been sac-like and made of linen. The dress didn’t cling, it was flattering on a tubby girl. And, Lucy never thought any girl looked attractive wearing it and therefore never felt comparatively unattractive. But getting dressed for university every day turned out to wear Lucy down, very quickly.
She looked huge in both long sleeve tops and jumpers. Singlets displayed the flesh that bulged around her bra straps. T-shirts clung to her chest and made her breasts look like a small mound. Large skirts billowed out to make her look massive. Tight skirts showed cellulite. Jeans: muffin top. Stretchy jogging pants: only people too fat for jeans wear those.
At least once a day, seven days a week, Lucy stared at herself in her mirror, her clothes in a pile on the floor behind her. Eventually she concluded it had to be easier to lose weight than to find an outfit she was comfortable in.
Lucy was already a member of her gym, but instead of walking and doing water aerobics she signed up for a boot camp and a personal trainer. She left her job at a café for a position at a chemist and picked up an extra two shifts. This covered the cost of the personal trainer and also meant she was distracted from food, she didn’t feel hungry when she was busy with customers. (At the café she used to purposefully drop rum balls on the floor, meaning they were unable to be served, meaning she could eat them.) Lucy read nutritional blogs, #thinspiration, #cleaneating, #instafit #instaabs. She swapped cereal and toast for breakfast-juices made with fruits, vegetable and coconut water. Sandwiches and pasta dishes became tuna salad, and snacks were carrots or celery with hummus. For dinner she ate deli meats with mustard. On weekends she drank vodka sodas and each fortnight Lucy treated herself to one Tim Tam. She took the biscuit out of the packet while at the supermarket and threw the rest of the biscuits straight in the bin in the car park. Chocolate biscuits had been a favourite in her school lunch box; she wouldn’t let herself be tempted.
It was suddenly that the “spare arse” fell away and her bra size went down. It was gradually that her waist and cheeks deflated. The fat on her thighs persisted for a long time, but after ten weeks her friends’ mums commented on how healthy she looked, her friends said she was “so skinny.” Lucy smiled when people complimented her, and at night before bed she wrote down the quotes. She carried the book of praise with her and when she craved melted cheese on toast, Hawaiian pizza or a magnum ice cream, she would read the book and then be nearly, fully happy not to indulge. On the front page of the book she’d copied a Kate Moss quote—Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
As she lost more weight the cravings became less frequent, but harder to ignore when they did hit—I mean you’re not even that fat anymore so you can have just a bit. When she got home from work with sore feet and tired from dealing with rude customers she’d think the only way she could possible study for even an hour would be with a glass of lemonade or some popcorn beside her (she had once enjoyed filling her mouth with kernels until her cheeks were bulging, then taking a small sip of lemonade, which would prickle in her mouth for a moment, before the popcorn turned into a singular soggy mass, which she would swallow whole.)
Sometimes these cravings surpassed mouth watering and became a burning below her skin, an itch that made her claw her fingers at nothing. Lucy would get in her car, blast Taylor Swift and sing as loudly as she could, running red lights all the way to the gym. At the worst of those times, when maybe she couldn’t even make the car ride, she’d drop then and there—twenty push ups, twenty sit ups, twenty squats, and repeat. When she collapsed the cravings were gone, there was only physical pain.
Five months later Lucy was hot like hot chicks on magazines, like #thinspiration, like Miranda Kerr.
Getting dressed was easy, a delight even. Once she was fit enough to do the Body Attack classes at the gym, she dumped her personal trainer and spent her paychecks on clothes. Her favourites were her new denim short-shorts, coloured singlet tops, and small patterned dresses with sparse necklines—she liked her new collarbones. When she posed for photos Lucy would lean her shoulder forward slightly, making the bones protrude. When the photos were posted on Instagram her friends would comment hottie or sexy mamma accompanied by small cartoons of fire. At pre club drinks her friends would be like, babe, you look hot.
These are mostly the same friends from high school plus a few more they’d met at uni and minus a few from the original school group. Some of the school group had moved overseas to work in cafes and go to art galleries. Others had moved to the city to work in cafes and go to art galleries. Lucy and her remaining friends stayed in their leafy hometown, which had a local university where you could study nursing, teaching or engineering (Lucy did primary teaching).
Of her friends that moved to the city Lucy thought that they didn’t truly enjoy rolled cigarettes or contemporary art, but that they were purposefully avoiding convention, imitating the beatniks from indie movies. The city-friends thought of Lucy and her friends that they didn’t truly enjoy teaching or nursing or going to the gym, but were too unimaginative or afraid to think for themselves. They especially thought this was the case with Lucy, because along with the extra heft, Lucy had also lost her quirkiness.
At uni Lucy didn’t feel comfortable in her boldness like she had at school. University lacked distinct social groups, people didn’t move around campus in clumps of 4–12 people with similar hair, like schools of fish manoeuvring around the ocean. There was no place to be making jokes in tutorials and it was considered obnoxious to speak a lot, even if it was about the course work. She went to class, did her assignments, she got good grades and as her kookiness diminished her personhood was replenished with a growing femininity.
Along with her new more feminine wardrobe, Lucy behaved remarkably more girly too. She started paying for manicures and haircuts with her extra money. She inflected her words as though her statements were questions. If Lucy saw a spider she would hold her hands up and shake them like a children’s dance and scream “eeeeee” very high pitched. She posted photos on Instagram in dresses and heels (she loved how defined her calves and quads looked in heels) one hand casually resting on her hip #gals #wedges #thinspiration. Maybe Lucy felt a pressure to act differently to reflect her new appearance and out came femininity, maybe. Certainly, as more friends and Instagram followers commented that she was a #hottie, and as she noticed men noticing her in clubs, Lucy’s confidence grew.
Lucy no longer danced like she had in high school—jumping up and down, hands punching the air, like quirky dancing—she danced like a hot girl in the club. She held her arms above her head, elbows loosely bent, she bumped her slim hips. She shook her hair side-to-side, slowly, and caught glimpses of her admirers, before turning back to her gal pals and singing Cos I’m missing more than just your body!
Lucy started to have a lot of sex. Maybe because of her transformed body or maybe because university was just like that. It wasn’t sex like she’d had with the quiet and cute boy at school that was like Are you ok? Are you having fun? I’m not hurting you am I? It was sex like Fuck me. Aaah. There! Aaah! (higher pitched). Sex like hot girls have.
Sex became another way for Lucy to control the cravings that still reared, infrequently, yet potently. Although she could rarely have sex as soon as a craving hit, she remembered the details for later. When she was peckish she might do just twenty push-up and sit-ups, then she’d touch herself thinking of a man’s forceful gaze when he smacked her arse. Orgasms satisfied her like hot chocolate once had. Sometimes when she was having sex Lucy would think about Tim Tams, trying to will on a craving that she could simultaneously slam out.
Some of the sex was great and some of it was average and overall it was positive. The hungry stares of men made her feel desired and sexy and confident. The only negative was that she didn’t share her sexual liberation with her friends.
Lucy told her friends about the men from the clubs, but she told stories of kissing goodnight at her door. She knew what her friends would think—that it was slutty, that she was a slut. Not the empowered you can do who you want kind, but the bad backwards meaning, tawdry, inappropriate, tainted.
Lucy’s femininity was becoming more and more traditional, like feminine in the bad ways. She never disagreed with men and she let them speak for her. She wondered aloud with her friends why women wouldn’t take their husband’s names. Lucy knew that even if beers and burgers were calorie free, she wouldn’t eat the unattractive, masculine food.
The faux-beatnik, city-living friends from high school said about Lucy It’s like she read an old manual on How to be a Girl and is following it, un-ironically. Her actual friends noticed Lucy’s growing femininity—they’d say, you were pretty immature in high school—but didn’t notice it’s dark turn. Maybe because it happened gradually. Maybe because they were all feminine with varying degrees of backwardness. Although Lucy kept secrets from them, she had a lot in common with her friends and they got along. But for all that they were alike, Lucy differed in one regard that was noticed by her and her friends—Lucy was single.
All of her friends were in serious relationships at least. By the time they finished their nursing and teaching degrees two of them were engaged, and one already married. By that stage Lucy had been so hot for over two years, and also single the whole time.
She tried. She used apps, her profile pictures showing her collar bones. She gave out her number in clubs. When Lucy spent time with her friends and their fiancés, she made sure she looked beautiful and tried to act charming (laugh frequently, but not too loudly), hoping the fiancé’s would recommend her to their friends, which they did. Lucy went on dates with friends of fiancés and friends of colleagues. She went on dates her Mum set her up on (she thought that was quaint). Lucy went on heaps of first dates, not many second dates, and never any thirds. She had no idea why. She asked her friends for advice and they said they didn’t know either. They said, Someone will come along. You look great, you’re so fit.
Sometimes before bed at night Lucy would stare in her mirror like she had in high school. Surveying her body as a whole Lucy knew she looked great. But if she stepped closer, an inch from the mirror, when she stared into her eyes, focussing on her frown lines, Lucy saw her old fat self. She would allow the melancholy to last a minute, maybe a few, then she would shake her head quickly, like she was washing away a bad taste. She’d run her hands over her stomach, running her fingers in the crevices of her partly-defined abs (too defined = masculine). Before she went to bed she would scan through her Facebook photos checking, again, that she’d deleted any photos from her old 1.4 (which she perceived as 1.8) self.
Lucy wondered if it was her promiscuity that was ruining her chances. Some weeks she would go out to dance, do the rounds at the club and then end it with a pash and a number drop. After those nights, despite being a few wines drunk, she would lay in bed feeling it—burning under the skin, cravings, antsy. She would jump out of bed and down three shots of vodka to knock herself out. Other times she would open the app, drunkenly rearrange the order of the photos on her profile, then “like” every single man that came on her screen. She would text the ones she thought were unattractive You up? (saving the attractive ones as potential future dates). Once, a man spent twenty minutes knocking on her door. Lucy was unconscious on her bed having had vodka shots while waiting for him to arrive.
She made sure not to act bitter. She liked friends posts on Facebook—Engaged!, At our resort in Thailand!, Breaky date with ma man!—which always made her a bit sad, even though she knew their happiness was only one part of a larger, less happy picture. She had shared many lattes hearing the details of many fights. But even the stories of the harder times made her jealous. She wanted someone to complain about, someone to snap at irrationally, and someone to take their shit out on her.
When she got particularly down about being single Lucy would think back to when she was losing weight, when every morning her body would look the same as it had the day before. You thought that weight would never fall off and now look at your abs. She would smile at herself in the mirror before leaving for school. But in the back of her mind that comfort was also the problem—You’re skinny now and you still don’t have a boyfriend. But like when she was in high school the sadness didn’t envelope her. It was only one part of a larger, happier picture.
Starting work as a primary school teacher gave a boost of confidence and energy. It was a wholesome, caring job (wife material) and Lucy genuinely enjoyed the work. She liked the strange questions children asked about the world. With the amount of regular exercise she still did, Lucy had a lot of endorphins. Life was great, she just wanted a boyfriend. Life was ok.
But then there was a time, another engagement party, where Lucy got legitimately down, like tears, like I’m shit and that’s why I’ll die alone. At the party the couple had displays of photos from their youth, which was weird because it wasn’t a twenty-first. There were photos of the girls at high school where they looked younger but mostly the same, happy and smiley, Lucy being the only one who looked noticeably different. Photos like these had surfaced at twenty-firsts and although they’d made Lucy uncomfortable, the anxiety was assuaged when people told her how great she looked now. At the engagement party there was one photo that Lucy hadn’t seen before. It was one of the girls at a school sports carnival, not in their sac-like dresses, but in the gym uniform. In the photo you could see the outline of Lucy’s undies under her bike shorts, and the rolls of fat that bulged on either side of the elastic waist. Lucy felt a twinge of embarrassment, then she smiled purposefully and went back to the party (on the other side of the room to the photo boards). Lucy was a bit uncomfortable, but she was mostly enjoying herself. She spent the evening laughing a lot, (never too loudly).
Later in the night when the guests were considerably drunker, one of the fiancés came up behind Lucy, leaned in very close to her ear and snorted, oink oink. Very quietly, so that only she could hear it. If it had been louder someone would’ve whacked the fiancé and reiterated how great Lucy looks now. Lucy wanted the reassurance, she wanted to tell one of her friends what the fiancé had done. But she didn’t want to make a scene. A scene was drama, bad vibes, hard work. She stuck the party out for one more hour before going home and texting a guy she’d fucked before, which was rare for her, mostly she had one night stands. She lay awake for hours with the man next to her snoring loudly. He sounded like a pig.
Lucy went to three extra gym classes that week. Not because she thought she was fat, oink oink, but because she felt it—the urge, the tingling, the burn. When she reached her standard six kilometres on the treadmill and she would slow down she heard it, oink oink, and she would run lifting her legs higher. When her legs were starting to burn and she thought maybe she would collapse she heard it, oink oink, and she ran 1.4 times faster.
She knew the guy was an arsehole. She’d heard stories from his girlfriend of his cruelty. She knew she wasn’t fat. And she knew she was alone. He wasn’t worth listening to. She looked great. She wanted a boyfriend more than ever. She ran faster.
The next weekend Lucy was meant to be going to a couples dinner. The dinners with her friends and the fiancés usually made her feel lonely, but she went because she wanted the fiancés to give her good recommendations and because she liked her friends. Lucy never turned down dinner invitations. In fact until now Lucy had never turned down an invitation to go anywhere unless she already had other plans or was genuinely sick. For the first time in her life she decided she was not going out, and for no reason.
She often skipped the gym on Friday nights because she would be going out, and even though she wasn’t on this night she skipped it anyway. She stopped at the supermarket on her way home and, for the first time in years, she didn’t know what to buy. She usually went out for dinner on Friday nights, which was calorie laden, but ok because Sunday – Thursday was always deli meats and half a cup of brown rice. For Lucy, extra calorie meals only came from restaurants. She didn’t know what to buy, not even what isle to go down. She collected a catalogue from a stand next to the shopping baskets and chose a simple pasta dish that didn’t require much skill to make. She collected the pasta and cheese from the isles that were foreign to her, and she bought her usual brown rice and vegetables and, for the first time in a long time, Lucy bought a packet of Tim Tams. And for the first time since high school, she took the whole packet home.
At home she downloaded Netflix. She hadn’t watched much TV since high school. Since high school her life had been work plus gym plus socialising. Her friends watched more TV than her, they watched it with their boyfriends.
It took her a whole episode of Orange is the New Black, almost an hour, to make her way through the bowl of pasta that was large for her. She was savouring bites maybe because she didn’t want to eat too quickly or maybe because the texture of pasta was new or maybe because she was depressed. She waited twenty minutes after her meal to open the packet of Tim Tams.
It had been a while since Lucy tasted chocolate that wasn’t made from coconut oil and dates and cocoa. Chocolate that tasted like processed milk and sugar. She chewed slowly. She was enjoying the different textures crumbling in her mouth when she heard it, oink oink, and she swallowed the biscuit in one.
It had been her first Tim Tam in a long while, and she’d wished she’d savoured it. She licked around her mouth collecting the residue from her mollars, trying to enjoy the flavour. Trying to remember what it was that she’d loved about Tim Tam’s at school. She thought about her friends at their dinner, how they’d be eating rich desserts by now that she would have indulged in had she attended.
Before she settled in to watch another episode, as the opening credits were playing, Lucy collected the packet of biscuits that was not in the garbage at the supermarket but in her cupboard. She placed it on the coffee table in front of her, ready, in case she decided she wanted more.