How to look waif-like in 10 rather complicated steps.

1. Be born to at least one parent who carries the ectomorph gene.

2. Spend your high school and college years pretending not to be bulimic.

3. Get pregnant. Eat like a ravaged teenage boy. Ravage a teenage boy. Balloon like a baleen. Go ahead! Spend your last trimester eating a pint of Haagen-Dazs a day. (Any flavor.)

4. Give birth. Immediately lose thirty pounds. Where did it go? "It was just fluids," says your midwife. Fluids? Uch. (No relation to Uch.)

5. Breastfeed. Spend every minute for the next nine months tending to the unpredictable needs of a nursing infant.

6. Spend those same nine months forgetting to feed yourself. This is key. So that when your husband comes home, looks into your woozy eyes, and asks you what you've had to eat today, you can in all honesty tell him, "Some toast, I think," before you pass out. When you come to, stagger to the doctor for a checkup. Congratulations! You've lost all your babyweight, plus an additional ten pounds.

But wait! There's more!

7. Get a botched haircut, then grow to embrace the fact that you look like a child whose parents are worried about lice. The haircut magically makes your ginormous head look smaller, making hats seem bigger. Waifs always wear big hats.

8. Get a sinus infection, or something head-cold related that muffles your senses of taste and smell for at least two weeks. Watch as food, though plentiful and well-prepared, becomes an unenjoyable nuisance. Because your system is so full of antibiotics that you're sick to your stomach most of the time anyway. Say, "Is it just me, or is the room tilting sideways?" When your husband looks into your pinwheeling eyes and asks what you've had to eat today, say, "Some toast, I think." Get your husband to remark, "The phrase 'low blood-sugar' suggests itself," and hand you a wildly overpriced fruit juice before you pass out. Have him then revive you by slapping your face repeatedly with a wet paper towel.

9. Drag your sorry ass to the bathroom scale. Look! You've lost another ten pounds! That you didn't really want to lose! You are indeed skeletal! And you can't complain about it because everyone thinks you look just great! Spend the next week eating only yogurt for lunch, wondering whether you should go ahead and get weird about food so as to defend these new proportions, or return to not caring how many calories are in a triple-fudge frosted brownie from Jeannine's.

10. Just a couple more things to complete the sought-after Dickensian poor-and-underfed look: ill-fitting Levi's, a t-shirt that hangs on you like seaweed and that's older than half the clerks at Abercrombie & Fitch (and it's been to college, too), and some flip-flops, and congratulations! You have finally achieved your lifelong goal of looking like a middle-aged, over-sharing Grim Reaper.