The Body, Revisited
by Kelli Hennessey
I have always been heavy. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t extremely aware of the limits of my body. I have always known exactly where my physical self begins and ends like the outlines of a drawing in a coloring book. In third or fourth grade, I remember being teased: an older girl, a sixth grader, started calling me Miss Piggy, “because your voice sounds like her, and you have blonde hair, too!” I remember wishing my parents had named me something else – anything that didn’t rhyme with belly, jelly.
We live in a world where you cannot forget your appearance, and people who are overweight are judged harshly for being lazy or messy. We are constantly reminded that we are not ideal when we are not represented in media except as clowns. The single neighbor that tells jokes about his loneliness, the fat friend of the pretty girl that is kept around to highlight the beauty of someone else: that is who we are.
Though I have never needed reminders about my body, I have been given them. Every member of my family has, with the best of intentions, reminded me that I am overweight, unhealthy, not as attractive as I could be. I have been told I have a pretty face more than I can count – it is said with surprise, or sometimes sadness, like a pretty face has been wasted on someone who doesn’t deserve it. I know they mean well, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. I have learned to tune it out.
When I was a young teenager, maybe thirteen or so, my grandfather came by my house and asked me if I would like to go to the garden store to help him purchase the spring flowers that we would plant at our lake cabin. I had always looked up to him, and was thrilled that he wanted my assistance in what I deemed to be an important task. Alone time with grandpa was something coveted, and I felt incredibly special that I had been selected for this trip.
We spent an hour or so picking out flowers and chatting. As we checked out, the bag boy offered to help carry our assorted goods out to my grandfather’s truck, but my grandfather said no, that we would be fine. He asked me to pick up a large bag of potting soil, one that weighed fifty or so pounds. I struggled a bit to maneuver the awkward packaging as I followed my grandfather out, but I made it and we got the purchases safely in the car.
As we were driving home, my grandfather looked over at me and said: “That bag is about the same amount of weight I think you need to lose.”
I have always understood my physical presence in the world, and sometimes, for fun, I like to calculate it.
1.36×10^14 nano grams
8.19×10^28 atomic mass units
On the moon, I would weigh 49.8lbs. On Jupiter, 709.2lbs.
If all of my parts were broken down and liquefied, I would be contained by:
or 0.85 oil barrels
I am slightly depressed that I am less than a barrel of oil, for some reason. That doesn’t seem enough to hold my volume, both physical and vocal.
Though I have never needed to compensate for small size, my immaterial self takes up more space than the average person. There is nothing about my physical body or my personality that is not overlarge. I have a loud, carrying voice that most can hear from far away. I am often asked to be quiet.
As a human, I am intrusive. I take both of the armrests on an airplane. My words make their way into your ears even when you are two rooms away; sometimes I pry into things that are not my business. My footfalls are heavy. I can’t sneak anywhere. I am a burden to pass in narrow hallways, stairwells.
It is hard to temper these things. I am practiced at walking sideways, presenting the least of myself. I try to be silent, always reminding myself to keep it down. I think about weight loss. My sister is always trying to talk me into signing up for one of those reality shows, but there is no way I could make myself so public. I have seen those people. While by most standards they are huge, they become dwarfed at the center of a massive stage. Those bright television lights illuminate all of the things they must hate most about themselves while people at home sit on the couch eating as they watch those contestants pushed past every limit they have. I don’t think that is for me.
I do think about my health, but, more than that, I worry. I can picture a new and sudden drive to become thin. For a moment, I become excited about the possibility of new clothes and the ability to see the structure of my bones under my flesh, but then fear grips me. I see, as the physical self melts away, the rest of me fading.
Booming voice to whisper, my inquiring mind dwindling to apathy. I lie in bed and imagine working out every day until I am as insubstantial as one of those white dandelion seed pods or that cotton that blows through town in the spring, and suddenly a new pair of jeans doesn’t seem as exciting. I am afraid, more than anything, of losing the person that fills this skin and takes up this space.
As a self-defined “well seasoned junior,” Kelli Hennessey comes to Whitworth with a wealth of mothering instincts, pop culture expertise, and diverting stories of her colorful youth. In addition to pursuing her degree in English with a minor in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Kelli can count among her good decisions adopting a son, taking Maggie Wolcott’s Essay Writing class, and having noted genius Ana Quiring write her contributor biography. She lives in Spokane with her family and a pair of dogs/horses.