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My chronic iIllness revealed society’s sick weight standards

I lost 15 pounds in two months. I should be excited. At 5 feet 3 inches tall, I now tip the scales at 93 pounds. I should be horrified. The truth is, since my diagnosis of celiac disease (an autoimmune condition in which ingesting gluten causes inflammation and damage to the intestines), I’ve transformed from, as my mother put it, a 106-pound “muscular Barbie” at the peak of soccer season to a skinny Minnie — and I don’t know how I feel about it.

The largest part of myself hates my new, bony body. For most of my life, I devoured everything I could fit inside my mouth and never gained a pound. The surprised gawk of the restaurant staff when they picked up the empty plate that used to house a pound of hamburger and fries was as delicious as the food itself. When I finally passed 100 pounds my junior year, though, it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I loved it.

Casey before
Image: Casey Cromwell

Many people associate thinness with happiness, but from a lifetime of experience with it, I knew differently. I still cringe at the memory of fifth-grade girls discussing my “chicken ankles” in the corner of the class. Not to mention that, with the weight I had gained, I could finally fill out a pair of jeans. People didn’t (constantly, anyway) confuse me for a freshman. I even trained to bump up my weight for soccer season when I transitioned from the under 16 to the under 18 playing bracket.

Because of celiac’s lovely hand, in only a few months, all the muscles I worked so hard to tone have disappeared. Goodbye Marilyn Monroe, and hello pant-sagging prepubescent Justin Bieber wannabe! Yet, at rare times, a small part of me looks at my slim body in the mirror and thinks, “Yep, that’s how, according to everything I see, a teenage girl’s body is supposed to look.”

Casey after
Image: Casey Cromwell/Getty Images

The fact is, we live in a society that glorifies thinness. The magazines perched on grocery store shelves boast phrases like, “Lose 15 Pounds in 30 Days!” or “How I Lost Half My Body Weight!” And the odds of seeing a Victoria’s Secret model that mimics an oak tree instead of a twig? About as likely as me, the celiac, gorging on a gluten-filled buffet.

If anything, my weight loss has shown me that the majority of teenage girls are victims of this media storm. As I’ve lost weight, the comments about it have steadily increased. I’ve noticed, though, that all those who have commented negatively are older, usually my friends’ mothers. Despite this, the people who know me best — my friends — haven’t said a thing.
I could excuse it as politeness or a lack of attention to detail, but we’ve talked about weight in the past. When they lamented over going from size 0 to size 1, I ranted about the awesomeness of hips and curves. Apparently I’m the only cheerleader for gaining weight close by. Case in point: What happens if I mention my desire to gain weight? It’s an instant battlefield with lots of points at their own “fatty areas” and “You’re so lucky!” cries.

The bottom line? It’s hard wanting to gain weight in a society obsessed with losing it. It’s hard dealing with the conflict between my own healthy image and society’s thin ideal. But I’m determined to fight against the current so I can be not only healthy but also strong. And with the support of other celiacs who are also chugging down the protein drinks, I know I can do it.

A society that causes its people to value an ill, skinny teenage girl over her slightly larger but healthy alter ego? It’s the sick one, not us.

This post first appeared at Casey the College Celiac, a blog about a college celiac’s gluten-free life and featuring recipes written by Casey Cromwell.

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