92. Big As Mountain

92. Big As Mountain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Big As Mountain

Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.

~Judy Garland

It was my second year of university and I needed a good summer job to help with the tuition. A dear friend saw my predicament and invited me to go home with her to Calgary, where she said jobs were plentiful and paid well. I happily packed up my few belongings and flew off to Alberta, where my friend’s family greeted us.

They were warm and generous people and treated me as one of their own from the moment I walked in the door. The next day, I was on the hunt for a job, full of hope and home-cooked Indian food.

A few days later, while trudging from restaurant to restaurant with résumés in hand, I was approached by a talent scout from a local modeling agency.

It had happened before — I am close to six feet tall and due to a recent struggle with anorexia, was fairly slim at that time. While I had recovered and since achieved a healthy BMI, I was still occasionally “spotted” and invited to attend agency screenings. I was skeptical, suspecting that the agency would be running the same scam that I had heard three times before — an offer to get me into the industry if I paid a one-thousand-dollar “training” fee. Waving away my suspicions and reassuring me with a laugh that everything was above board, the scout insisted that I should come by.

With no other jobs in sight, I thought of the money I might be able to make doing local runway shows or commercials. Cautiously, I agreed to the meeting.

That night, over dinner, my new family was not happy. My friend’s dad kept saying, in his heavily accented English, “Those beauty ideas are no good! Better you should not go. Don’t be sick again!”

Sadly, I agreed with him. But my thoughts were filled with dollar bills and the hope that I could pay for one more year of school.

True to their kind nature, my friend and her dad drove me to the agency the next afternoon and waited outside, supporting my decision while reminding me, “You can leave if you don’t like! Remember!”

With my stomach in knots, I took an elevator up to a well-appointed office, complete with expensive works of art and high-end furniture. Intimidated, I waited in silence until I was greeted by a woman who was so thin that she made my heart ache. She introduced herself as an aide to the head of the agency, and asked me to follow her. The beautiful jewelry and silk dress she wore could not hide her jutting collarbones and haggard face. She was my height, but about 30 pounds lighter. Her knees were the thickest part of her legs and her forearms were only as wide as her wrists.

“I am not overweight,” I suddenly announced, surprising even myself. “This is nonsense.”

I was taken to an inner office where a generously proportioned man sat with an expectant look on his face. He barely greeted me before he placed his hands on his desk and said, “Well, you’re a little bit overweight, aren’t you?”

It was true. For a model, I was slightly too heavy, and I was certainly curvier than the woman who had escorted me into the office. My struggle against my eating disorder suddenly seemed silly, and perhaps even self-indulgent. Embarrassed, I blushed and said nothing.

What followed was one of the most humiliating thirty minutes I have ever endured. I was measured over my clothes, told that I was “out of shape” and informed that something needed to be done with my nose. At one point the man sat forward, his large belly pressing against the desk, his lip slightly curled as if in disgust.

“I will take you on,” he said, as though conceding a point to me, “but there is a condition. I must be the one to control your diet and exercise program. You’re just too large.”

He then shook his head and launched into a lecture about size and appearance. As the minutes crawled by, I became more and more ashamed of myself, nodding quietly as he ticked off my body flaws on his fingers.

And then his aide walked back in the room, carrying a snack for her boss.

I looked at her, the late afternoon sun washing over her painfully thin face and wasted body, and something in my heart sparked into life.

This woman, I knew, was just as sick as I had been only a year before, and there, accepting his coffee and biscuits without even a nod in her direction, was a man who outweighed the both of us put together. The spark in my heart became a fire.

“I am not overweight,” I suddenly announced, surprising even myself. “This is nonsense.”

Silence fell over the room. I stood, hoisted my purse to my shoulder and added “And there is absolutely nothing wrong with my nose.”

Shaking, I marched out of the office, leaving the man with an astonished expression on his face and a cookie halfway to his mouth.

Down in the car I cried. With humiliated sobs, I recounted the whole fiasco. My friend put her arm around my shoulder as her father listened quietly.

With a hiccup, I added, “And what’s worse, I think I was rude.”

My friend’s father shook his head and looked at me in the rearview mirror.

“No,” he said firmly. “No! You should not be ashamed! You should feel big as mountain for putting that man in his place!”

I began to laugh, tears still running down my cheeks. My friend nodded.

“He’s right, love,” she said, hugging me close. “That was awful, and totally not right for you. Seriously, there are lots of better jobs you can get, okay? And none of them will make you sick again.”

Eventually, I did find a job. I waited tables at a little restaurant, and returned to school the following semester — and the one after that too. Paying for school was a struggle, but I found a way through, one waitressing gig at a time. As to my weight — well, deep inside every recovered anorexic there is a nasty little voice that jeers and taunts, that shames and humiliates. Sometimes it sounds like your own voice, sometimes it sounds like someone else, but it’s always hurtful and mean. It whispers that food is poison, that weight is weakness, and that curves are ugly.

But since my summer in Calgary so long ago, whenever that hateful murmur echoes through my heart, it is always met by a firm and distinctly accented voice, saying: “Big as mountain! You should feel big as mountain for not letting them win!”

~Alexes Lilly

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