by Ilana Gunson
Whenever I move, there’s an echo. One version of me following another, until the sound of her is completely gone. That’s what it feels to live in my body, since losing almost seventy pounds in the past year and a half.
I, like many teenagers in America, am on Snapchat once an hour. It’s become habit, the way I open the app, tapping mindlessly through the stories of best friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I enjoy scrolling through Snap memories and seeing where I was in my life, on this day, however many years ago. Selfies from early 2022 seem off, and those from early 2021 make my chest tighten. Her eyes are mine, sure. But I don’t recognize the rest of her. Puffy cheeks, eye bags, a jawline so soft it would melt if asked to slice butter. I see her, and I don’t think that I ever looked like that. I can’t physically bring myself to imagine that at one point, at each glance in a mirror, she would look back at me. I find, though, that when you lose a large amount of weight over time, you seem to be so used to your face that you don’t see a difference.
My mind walks up to every mirror she sees and tries to stitch together myself with my echo. My mind tells me that I still live in her body, and she still lives in my head. I see her face when I first wake up, as I pass a car window, and when I take my makeup off at the end of the day. While girls should be confident at any weight, I was certainly not one of those girls. I still try on clothes in a size or two too big because I don’t even know what I look like anymore. I have this ritual before I go anywhere. I spend hours thinking about what to wear. I decide last minute that whatever I had picked out is too long, too short, too tight, too loose, and I change three or four times before I leave my dorm. I remember being like this even when I was young too, my echo whispering I’ll never look good in anything. So, when I put on a new dress and twirl around in the mirror, it takes me aback at how happy I feel with myself. In the past few months, I lose days comparing old pictures of myself to my new ones. I study how the grooves of my body have changed, how when I smile, you can see the dimples that had gone into hiding for my hardest years. Otherwise, I would never believe I’d lost any weight at all.
My body image ties in largely with my confidence, and at nineteen I’ve never been in a relationship. My echo tells me that I don’t deserve it, that things like that don’t happen to people like us. Nights pass me by. I fall asleep by imagining myself in fifteen years, married and talking about the weather. To be alone once, my echo tells me, is to be alone for the rest of your life. In a club, I don’t make eye contact, afraid that my first kiss might be stolen under neon lights and on top of sticky floors. When meeting new people, my echo says that a friend is all I can be, while my mind runs reckless with thoughts of a world where they could love me. And when you don’t feel happy in person, where should you turn but online?
One swipe, two swipes, three swipes, match! I find dating apps to be nothing more than a fun little game. And with that match comes a fuzzy pink glow of confidence. A conversation will be fine, and we’ll follow each other on a social, and then we will never talk again. The glow seems to fizzle out like an old glass of champagne. If asked on a date, I always say no, fearing the face they’d make when seeing me in real life. I’d rather save myself that humiliation.
My echo tells me the body I see in the mirror is the one everyone else sees too. So, when I recently thought that someone I knew and had known for a long while was developing feelings for me, as I was for them, I decided to put any reservations on hold. There it was again. I basked in the pink glow of being wanted. I let that warmth coat me, and each time I left the house, I put on my headphones and blocked out my echo’s voice. I had never really wanted to tie my self-worth to a boy, because that’s not very modern-feminist-author of me, but I have to admit, that feeling of being seen in a way I never see myself was refreshing. This went on for a long while. A month or two. It felt like six. I thought maybe it was different this time; I was a different person this time. That my lack of experiences in the past didn’t mean that I couldn’t have those experiences in the future. I’m a girl raised on romantic comedies and books about love.
Eventually, I find out that he had actually had feelings for one of my friends. I wallowed in it, but only for a short time. What truly hurt me was that I had felt as though that echo was being muted. That after losing all the weight, I could be the romantic lead, rather than the funny sidekick. But no. I was put right back in my place. I was made to return the headphones that once blocked her out. I had let myself get a little too invested in the belief that I could be someone different. I hate being in the mindset of my echo. I hate that she has worked against me, instead of with me.
Right after all of this happened, I spoke to one of my best friends about everything, and she told me that she would never guess that I wasn’t as confident as I presented myself. That the weight I had lost wasn’t clinging onto each limb, desperate to drag me into the ground. She looked me in the eyes, and I felt a revelation as she told me “I never knew you before. To me, you are this beautiful, confident, full-cookie woman.” She let me feel truly that I wasn’t my echo. I was just me. The beauty of an echo is that it’s separate from your voice. And perhaps I didn’t believe this until a separate voice explained it to me. I realized this on the sofa in her apartment, and I’ve worn it like a bracelet since. I am not the person I once was. I’m stronger. I’m more confident. When they look at me, they don’t see who I used to be. That person was beautiful, too. She just never saw it. These experiences will come, if I let myself be open to them. I hope that one day I will glow for myself. I hope that one day, when I feel my echo, I will take her hand and shout back.