Warning: Eating disorder triggers and incredibly harsh monster opinions about fat people. I would like it on record that I strongly disagree with my monster’s opinions on this subject.
I’ve recently been dealing with a monster who refused to let me force myself to do anything. Now meet the monster who believed passionately in nothing but forcing.
This started as a conversation about maybe losing weight in a non-forcing, physically and mentally healthy way for the first time in my life. It ended up being about much more than weight, and one of the most challenging monster talks I’ve had. Every time we thought we’d almost got it resolved, something else would come up. Both Big Sister and Mr. H were flummoxed several times and kept tag-teaming in and out. We got there in the end.
(This monster is a beautiful skeleton made of dazzling swords, hovering on razor-feathered wings. Eyes like points of pale blue fire. A heart of cogs turning silently somewhere in the ribcage. Feet that never touch the ground.
I need Mr. H here so much I can’t even.)
Mr. H: Wow. Hey there, Terminator. (Silence) Okay, sorry. You’re not a Terminator. Who are you?
Skeleton: (a voice like steel singing) I am perfection. Absolute purity. Absolute strength.
Mr. H: Well, hi. So you’ve got some problems with Eve losing weight without forcing?
Skeleton: Pure strength of will. Everything she yearns for. To become herself her sword.
Mr. H: For you, forcing is beautiful, isn’t it?
Skeleton: Beautiful because pure. Perfection is what remains when everything else has been cut away. Beautiful because strong. Pure power. Absolute control. The beauty of a black sky full of stars. Pure blackness. Dazzling light.
Mr. H: And what do you mean by becoming herself her sword?
Skeleton: Somewhere in her body is a steel blade. By unearthing it from the flesh, she becomes worthy to wield it.
Mr. H: Man, I love the way you talk! Still not sure I get what it means, though. You’re saying that – losing weight for her is a fairytale quest? To prove her worthiness and find her sword? And when she’s thin, her body will be a weapon? Something that gives her power?
Mr. H: I don’t see her as that kinda girl.
Skeleton: Ssssss! Not that kind of power! Not feminine, not fleshly! And not only power, but worth.
Mr. H: Someone who’s worthy to wield a sword is a warrior.
Skeleton: You understand.
Mr. H: Yes. So what you want is for her to be a warrior.
Skeleton: (distressed) She needs her sword. She needs her sword.
Mr. H: Uh – are you gonna smack me down if I mention Freud here?
Skeleton: Not of the flesh! Of the will!
Mr. H: You believe she has a strong will that she needs to find, and you desperately need to know she’ll find it.
Mr. H: Because you’re worried that she doesn’t have enough power and self-worth and – nobility right now.
Skeleton. Strength and nobility. Yes.
Mr. H: Oh. This is an Utena thing. Swords, of course. Little one who -
Skeleton: Little one who bears up alone under such deep sorrow, never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. But she lost it. She lost it under flesh. And I need her to find it again.
Mr. H: You think she lost her strength and nobility when she grew up. And you think that because she lost it ‘under flesh’, because she lost it when she grew, in order to find it she needs to get rid of the flesh.
Skeleton: Yes. And the quest will make her worthy. The journey will make her worthy of what awaits her at the end. This is an old, old story.
Mr. H: Oh, I know. You believe that deep down she’s a hero. That’s wonderful. She needs that. I’m just not sure about this question of ‘worthy’. What is it that makes you think she’s unworthy now?
Skeleton: You know that. A hero is not a hero at the beginning. You know that. A hero becomes a hero. Because of the journey.
Mr. H: You’re making so much sense as long as I forget you’re talking about dieting!
Skeleton: (eyes flare) This… is not… a diet. This is holy. This is everything. This is purification.
Mr. H: The Road of Trials. You want her to be purified by suffering. All the things she doesn’t need stripped away. Wait, but stripping away things she doesn’t need is good! That’s healthy. She could really use a sword to cut away the crap.
Skeleton: I am not for cutting crap.
Mr H: You – are her sword?
Skeleton: Yes! Why do you think I look like this? I am the sword that lives inside her!
Mr. H: Wow. Okay, so for you, the quality of will – or the qualities of strength and nobility - are associated with her skeleton. Wait, her skeleton actually does give her strength! Like, literally! And it doesn’t matter how much flesh is on top of it, it still does that! And it gives her nobility, because it allows her to stand up straight. To have backbone. To hold her head up high. And all those things have nothing to do with how much flesh she has either! It doesn’t need finding. It’s supposed to be inside her. It’s already doing its job right where it is!
Skeleton: I… am already doing my job? She doesn’t have to strip away her flesh to find me?
Mr. H: No, she doesn’t! What made you think that she’d lost you?
Skeleton: One day she realised she was weak and cowardly. She had always casually assumed that she was strong and brave, but looking back at her behaviour, she saw so much grovelling and fear. So much hiding and cringing and pleasing and avoiding. All since she started to grow up.
Mr. H: Strong and weak, brave and cowardly are static generalisations. Sure, the qualities of strength and nobility exist, but nobody embodies them all the time. And everyone gets to draw on them sometimes. What Eve noticed was that she’d been acting out of fear a lot. Which is understandable because she had a lot of fear!!
Skeleton: I WILL NOT BE REDUCED TO YOUR PETTY PSYCHOBABBLE! I AM A SWORD!
Mr. H: Sounds like you’re angry and you need to know that your identity isn’t threatened.
Skeleton: …I’m confused. I don’t know what to think.
Mr. H: Is there something that you’re scared of thinking?
Skeleton: That it’s easy. I want her to work for me. She needs a quest!
Mr. H: Oh, you need to know that she has a quest? Oh my goodness, she has so got a quest. Have you looked at her lately?
Skeleton: A noble cause. One that calls for strength.
Mr. H: She has one.
Skeleton: I suppose being thin – does call for strength, but it isn’t really – noble.
Mr. H: Wow.
Skeleton: But then I can’t imagine a fat person being noble.
Mr. H: (briefly gobsmacked) How about Kevin Smith sticking by Jason Mewes through years of drug addiction? Or Fiddler’s Green in Sandman offering his life for Rose Walker?
Skeleton: Any noble fat women?
Mr. H: The Ride of the Valkyries! Warrior angels of the Viking gods!
Skeleton: (head tilt) Don’t let me fall apart! (collapses in bits)
Mr. H: Hey. Hey. None of that. Get up. You’re needed.
Skeleton: (puts self back together, staggers to feet – standing on the ground now) I am?
Mr. H: You’re her sword. And you don’t need to await her at the end of the journey. Think about it. A sword isn’t something to be arrived at when the journey’s over. It’s something to help you on the way.
Skeleton: Unless it’s the Sword in the Stone.
Mr. H: Even if it is. Especially if it is. C’mon, that was the beginning of an epic story!
Skeleton: I still have a strong sense of being stuck in something that I need to get out of. That she needs to undo what was done while she was growing up.
Mr. H: Of course! Stuck! She needs to undo her stuckness! And it’s true that once she’s done that, she’ll be able to experience you much more freely. And it’s true that a lot of her stuckness is around her body, so it’s understandable that you thought it was her body.
Skeleton: Yes! I want her to overcome this so that we can be reunited!
Mr. H: You’re already as much part of her as her bones. Strength. Nobility. Power. In her bones.
Mr. H: And if you keep telling her she has to work to achieve those things, she will never notice that she already has them.
Skeleton: I’ve been… keeping her from me?
Mr. H: No. You’ve just been keeping her from noticing that you’re already there.
Skeleton: What can I do? Do I have to change my shape?
Mr. H: No. You’re perfect as you are.
Mr. H: You’re a perfect image of the truth. That she has power in her bones. Backbone of steel. That her power is always in her. Just remind her of that. Teach her to feel the steel in her bones. Strength and nobility and all those fairytale qualities she’s been longing for. Right there. Not to be earned, just noticed. And the more she practices noticing them, the better she’ll get at it.
Skeleton: She doesn’t have to qualify? She doesn’t have to have worth?
Mr. H: Her worry that she wasn’t worth anything was a lot of what stopped her noticing you in the first place.
Skeleton: Oh, no. My fault. But – somehow things don’t seem so good if they don’t have to be earned and chased. The best thing is always just out of reach. By definition. That’s fairytale yearning. Always in thrall most to anything almost. I don’t want her to stop dreaming the impossible dream. I don’t want her to settle for the possible. I want her to shoot for the moon.
Mr. H: I get that. I really do. Does it have to be all or nothing? I mean, while she’s chasing the impossible, can she still enjoy the possible?
Skeleton: I hadn’t thought of that. For me, chasing the impossible means cutting everything else away. Scorning everything else. Being haggard and wild like Don Quixote because you spurn the earth in your impossible quest for the moon. Infinity is so damn sweet, your mortal earth cannot compete. Starving for the other shore, I will not EAT! (Pause) It isn’t really about not eating, is it? It’s about refusing everything but what you can’t have. So the thing you can’t have can stand out all the more starkly in its impossible brilliance. So your dream will be more beautiful than everyone else’s. You strip yourself to rags and your dreams become diamonds. It’s impossible, but at least I’m striving for it! At least I’m closer than you! Go ahead and grovel like pigs in the things you can have. I eat the air, promise-crammed!
Mr. H: You’re right. That’s clearly what it’s about. And I have no idea what to say to that. Backup! Backup!
Skeleton: The nature of a sword is to be always seeking the next battle.
Mr. H: Yeah, but not to scorn all the less good battles because you’re saving yourself for the one impossible best one!
Big Sister: Okay, okay. The impossible dream. It sounds to me like you want to be the impossible dream for her. Which makes sense, because you’re a beautiful, powerful skeleton. That’s the anorexic impossible dream right there. You want her to give up everything that’s not you so she’ll become you. A being of pure power, without flaws or vulnerability.
Big Sister: And yet you also acknowledge that that’s impossible.
Big Sister: I’m confused. You obviously love her very much, and you want her to give up everything to spend her whole life striving for the impossible.
Skeleton: …It’s just that she’s so beautiful when she’s striving! So noble! If I had tears, I would weep! Never tell me to be unmoved by this. Never tell me to accept less for her. I am her Will!
Big Sister: I understand. And the striving needs to be only for the impossible?
Skeleton: She’s so much herself when she’s striving for the impossible. So absurd it’s noble, so noble it’s absurd. Quixotic. I want her always to be quixotic.
Big Sister: (smiles) Okay. I see that. And does that depend on her striving only for the impossible?
Skeleton: If she gets too distracted by possible things, she might become – satisfied. Sssss! Satisfied!
Big Sister: Sounds like you’re really scared of that possibility. What might happen if she became satisfied?
Skeleton: She would stop striving and become a fat boring grown-up. More than that, it’s intrinsically disgusting. Satisfied! I need her to be always hungry!
Big Sister: You need to know that her needs won’t be met?
Skeleton: … Yes. All the little needs are too petty, too distracting. And the one great need that obliterates all else must be impossible. To become a beautiful skeleton. To become a being of pure willpower.
Big Sister: A being capable of forcing herself to do absolutely anything?
Big Sister: Is there some kind of meta-need that you’re trying to meet for her, by having all her other needs not be met?
Mr. H: Meta-need! If you never met a need, then you might meet her meta-need! (chuckles)
Big Sister: (suppressed giggle) If you can’t say anything useful…
(Skeleton quietly starts hovering in the air again.)
Big Sister: Are you trying to meet her need for hope and challenge?
Skeleton: For extreme, transcendent, all-consuming… oh.
Big Sister: Are you short of a noun?
Big Sister: You’re trying to meet her need for extreme, transcendent, all-consuming something but you don’t really know or care what?
Skeleton: You make it sound as if it’s not important. It is ALL-important. She needs to transcend and to be consumed. To the absolute extreme.
Big Sister: You’re trying to meet her need for spiritual experience? Loss of ego? To lose herself in something greater?
Skeleton: Oh. Yes, I guess the impossible dream is a… partial recognition of the truth that infinity is out there. That there’s always more. That you can always go further into it. So the impossible dream is really about.. infinite possibility?
Big Sister: Yes. And I think the word you’re missing there is ‘love’.
Skeleton: Extreme, transcendent, all-consuming – love?
Big Sister: Would that describe what you want? For Eve?
Skeleton: (long pause) I’m not sure. Passion, certainly. And desire. Unquenchable desire. I need her to be always striving! That’s why I’m terrified about this business of ‘not forcing herself any more’!
Big Sister: Because forcing and striving are the same?
Skeleton: Forcing is a part without which striving is incomplete. Striving can be done with wholehearted enthusiasm, or it can be done with gritted teeth and fists clenched in pain. Or any point in between. In fact, striving that comes from pure enthusiasm with no forcing is the smallest part. To strive only when you feel like it would be like having a dog and only ever touching its tail.
Big Sister: That would be a sad, lonely, frustrated and confused dog.
Big Sister: Are you feeling sad, lonely, frustrated and confused?
Big Sister: Because you need appreciation for all aspects of you, not just one small part?
Big Sister: And for her to appreciate all aspects of you – she would have to power through every situation on pure willpower, regardless of her other needs, and then she would achieve total oneness with you?
Big Sister: Because – wait, isn’t that the definition of pure willpower? ‘Screw all my other needs, I am going to meet this one need no matter what!’ That’s you!
Skeleton: Yes, yes, yes!
Big Sister: …Whew. Now I need backup.
Mr. H: So how’s that working out for you?
Mr. H: Insisting that she ignore most of her own needs. Wait, is that how you define strength and nobility? The power to ignore your own needs?
Skeleton: YES, HOW IS THAT NOT OBVIOUS?
Mr H: Wow.
Skeleton: To ignore your base, petty needs in favour of a greater need. Come on, this is textbook. I can’t believe I need to explain to you about heroes.
Mr. H: Okay. Yeah. Okay. Backup.
Big Sister: Okay! Other ways to approach the same thing! We have this crazy theory that if there’s a greater need that you really want to meet, you can meet it better, faster, stronger by meeting all the little needs you meet along the way! And that’s fairytale too! When you run into the ugly old woman who begs you for a loaf of bread, and if you help her she gives you magical guidance? When you save the little fish who rewards you with wishes? All the little needs along the way!
Skeleton: But those are – others. Needs of others. Not internal.
Big Sister: A true hero is a hero to everyone, right? No creature too insignificant, too ugly, or too small.
Big Sister: Then a true hero must also be a hero to herself. To stop on the road for this creature that seems the most hideous of all, the most worthless. It takes true nobility! True strength. The power in her bones!
(The skeleton can’t cry, but I am.)
Big Sister: She needs you every moment. She needs her sword.
Skeleton: Yes… But won’t she become satisfied? If her needs are met, won’t she stop striving and become just a disgusting lump of flesh?
Big Sister: Let’s see if I can get this straight. As far as I can see, you’re trying to keep her striving by using self-disgust.
Big Sister: The thing is, self-disgust is one of the most stuckifying substances known to science.
Mr. H: Like I said – how’s it working out for you? Are you getting a lot of results? Is she striving a lot?
Skeleton: No. Not now. But it has worked in the past. She – she got really – thin. (Pause) Why can’t it work like that now?
Mr. H: It might have worked in the short term, but not in the long term. Especially not now she’s growing and learning so much. She wants to chase her dreams. She’s really into the infinite possibilities. She doesn’t need the self-disgust. It’s just slowing her down.
Skeleton: Slowing her down? But I’m putting so much force into motivating her!
Mr. H: Self-disgust doesn’t motivate her. I’m sorry.
Skeleton: (eyes flare, lightning crackles) AAAARGH!
Big Sister: I’m going to ask you to do something very counterintuitive. Stop trying so hard. She doesn’t need you to put force into motivating her. She just needs to know you’re there. Her sword. In her bones. That’s enough.
Skeleton: That’s enough?
Big Sister: That’s everything. Try it for a while, see if it works. Are you willing?
Skeleton: Let her come to me.
Big Sister: Eve? Are you okay to come out here?
Me: (slightly nervous) Yes.
(I step out in front of the beautiful skeleton hovering on its razor wings. I look up into those eyes. I’m awed and afraid.)
Skeleton: Do not be afraid. I am your skeleton. I am your sword.
Me: I’m ready.
Skeleton: I am your power. I am your strength and nobility. Embrace me.
(I hesitate. It is, after all, made of swords. Sharp blades.)
Skeleton: The power to revolutionise the world.
(That does it. Slowly, I step forward, touch the bladed ribs, put my arms around the skeleton, unharmed. And the skeleton embraces me. For a second I think it’s sinking to the ground, then I realise I’m rising into the air. Weightless. Its wings beating around me. I’m crying.)
Me: I love you. My sword. My sword.
(The skeleton lets me go and I’m turning in the air, the skeleton behind me. I close my eyes and I know to lift my arms up, outstretched, I know the skeleton is doing the same, and we merge. My wings of sparkling steel are beating in the air. I let myself sink slowly to the ground, let the wings fold into me and open my eyes. I start to grin because I know my eyes are burning with blue fire. My sword is in my bones.)