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Tales Of The Shrinking Belly: Prologue

By: , November 24th, 2015. Posted in: Happiness, Health

A personal history of my struggle with body image and unhealthy eating habits.

This photo was taken in February 2004. I was on a catamaran somewhere off the coast of Cancun. I'm not sure what my weight was when this photo was taken, but my guess is somewhere around 185. This is one of the rare photos I have of myself from the years 2002 - 2008, because I hated having my picture taken. When I originally saw this one, I remember being disgusted with myself for how I looked. Now I look at it and feel empathy for how unhappy I was back then and pride for how very far I've come.

I wish I had known then what I know now.  We all have a story, and I’ve met very few women in my adult life who have always had a healthy self image.  Most of us have had to work on it, learn from our mistakes, and grow through the pain.

1986 Middle School

This is me (far right) with my brother and three cousins, taken in the summer of either 1985 or 1986. I’m not sure what my weight was here (probably between 100 and 110 pounds), but I already had a very critical self image.

Like many American girls, I became obsessed with my weight before my twelfth birthday. In addition to societal pressures for women to look like supermodels, I also had forces at work in my own home.  My mother was overweight, and my father was very vocal about his distaste for the way she looked.  Every. Day.

I learned that being overweight was the worst thing I could be.  I learned that overweight people were teased, ridiculed, and humiliated.   Even though I loved my mom, and hated the way my father spoke to her, I developed a distaste for how overweight bodies looked, and a deeply seeded fear of becoming overweight myself.

As early as sixth grade, I worried too much about the size of my thighs, hips, and tush.  I worried that others would think I looked fat, and that boys would never want to date me.  My entire sense of self was wrapped up in my external appearance.  I stepped on the scale at home more often than a twelve year old should.  I would drink diet soda, choose salad for lunch, or just simply not eat when I was at school.  I worried others would see me eating something and think “Ooohhh, that doughnut is going straight to your ass“, or worse “You’re going to be fat, just like your mom.”

1992

This photo of me with my dad and brother was taken on my high school graduation day in 1992. At the time, I was dating someone who was concerned I would become overweight (and that seemed perfectly normal to me).

Throughout high school, I continued down this path of self destructive thoughts and unhealthy eating habits.  I binged when I was by myself (or with a few trusted friends), and ate modestly when others were within view.  I gravitated toward boys (and eventually men) who reflected my unhealthy self image, and more than one of them repeatedly expressed his concerns that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and become obese.  More than one of them admitted to relying on their fathers’ advice to “take a look at the girl’s mother if you want to see what the girl will look like when she’s older”.  I always swore to myself (and to them) that it would never happen to me.  I was never going to be overweight.  Being overweight was the worst thing ever.

Things didn’t get any easier in my twenties.  Fat shaming is pervasive.  My weight during this time fluctuated from 130 to 145 pounds, a completely healthy range for me (at that age).  Still, I encountered several adult men who would say things about me like “she would be really pretty if her ass wasn’t so huge”.  I remember getting an ice cream cone during a date, and eating it in the car as we drove away from the ice cream shop.  My “date” teased me about whether I should be eating the cone, and I threw the damn thing out the window.  A perfectly good ice cream cone.

2001 With Family

A picture from wedding number one in January 2001, Runaway Bay, Jamaica. That’s me with my brother, my parents, my aunt, and my uncle. I probably weighed about 140 pounds here.

I continued to nurture horrible eating habits, and binged whenever my emotions told me to.  I was constantly dieting (I swear I’ve tried every fad diet there is at least once).  If my weight started to creep up, I resorted to excessive exercise and/or starvation to bring it down.  At the age of twenty-seven, I got married to someone very similar to previous boyfriends.

 

2004-2

This photo was taken while in Cancun. Notice that I’m sitting with my body turned to the side, my back perfectly straight, and my stomach sucked in. I was probably holding my breath, too. I weighed about 185 pounds when this picture was taken.

By the time I was thirty, my weight had crept up to 185 pounds.  How I looked on the outside was a huge issue in that marriage, and even more so as the pounds piled on.  My self-esteem dwindled, along with the possibility of reviving the relationship.  I stuck it out for a few more years, through the loss of my brother and through my diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  I had become a hollow shell.  I was so empty.  I had no choice but to reinvent myself.  As I started getting stronger and loving myself, it became clearer the relationship must end.  We were divorced when I was thirty-four years old and just over 200 pounds.

You may be reading this thinking “Why is the relationship stuff relevant to this story?”  Well, I’ll tell you why.

From my earliest dating experiences on, I can say with 100% certainty that I never would have made the same partner choices if I had a strong self worth.  And while I definitely don’t blame any of my former beaus for my weight gain (that’s all on me), my relationship choices fueled the flames of self loathing.  It’s also worth mentioning that, by the time I left my first marriage, I was becoming the sort of person who would never allow myself to be disregarded, disrespected, or humiliated in that way.  The healing that took place during the process of leaving that relationship made me a stronger, self-loving person.  And thank goodness, because I was able to connect with Jason, who would never treat me that way (nor would he be interested in the old me).

So what has changed for me?  First of all, I used to hate my body (regardless of my weight).  My body-hate translated to a poor self image.  Now I see that I’m so much more than what’s on the outside.  I’m a mother, a daughter, and a friend.  I’m smart, funny, and I have integrity.  I am no longer surrounded by people who judge me unfairly.  I am surrounded by loving, wonderful people.  And I love myself, inside and out (most of the time…it’s a work in progress).

I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, a tiny woman.  And that’s okay.  My bone structure and musculature is much more substantial than that of a stick figure model.  I used to work tirelessly to reach that ideal, and now I accept that the societal ideal isn’t ideal for me.  People come in all shapes and sizes, and no one (other than me) gets to decide what shape and size I’ll be.

Me with my two beautiful babies. The bandana on my head means I didn't have time for a shower that day. Don't judge me.

Me with my two beautiful babies. The bandana on my head means I didn’t have time for a shower that day. Don’t judge me.

I mentioned early in this post that I was always worried about my thighs, hips, and tush.  And now, I appreciate my strong and sturdy legs.   I used to hide my middle with baggy shirts, fold my arms in front of my stomach, or sit where I could be shielded by a table or other object.  Now I see my wobbly, stretch-marked belly and see where my babies lived for nine months each.  I used to hate being photographed, and now I welcome photos of me without makeup, while wearing a bandana.

What else has changed?  I no longer think that being overweight is the worst thing ever.  I realize now, with a clarity I could never have imagined, that fat shaming is so very, very wrong.  My love for my mother has grown, and aside from wanting her to be healthy, and around for a long time, I no longer view her as an overweight person.  She’s mom, and she’s wonderful, inside and out.

20150921_161601810

This is me, a few days before joining Weight Watchers. I weighed 224 pounds. Only 64 to goal!

I love myself.  I’m happy.  And I’m viewing weight loss much differently.  I still struggle with emotional/stress eating triggers.  So when LB has a particularly two-ish day, and my emotional bucket gets dangerously low, all I want to do is bury myself in a bag of chips or bucket of ice cream.  This is the most difficult habit to change, since it’s so completely ingrained in my psyche.

I would like to feel better, and that’s where Weight Watchers comes in.  Jason and I (along with my mom) joined at the beginning of October when I was about six months postpartum.  I was successful on the program once before in 2005, after my brother passed away.  Because that was such a positive experience, I had no hesitation to join again.  This time I started out at 224 pounds (not my absolute highest, but close), and while I’m not completely focused on the number on the scale, a goal is important.  Mine is 160 pounds, which I feel will be a comfortable, maintainable weight.  I’m already off to a great start, and will fill you in on my progress soon.

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4 responses to “Tales Of The Shrinking Belly: Prologue”

  1. Shari Johnson says:

    Oh Chris! Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like we have a very parallel upbringing! I knew this, though…because our moms battled together. I wish they still had each other to lean on. I am so proud of you for the journey you have banked and the attitude and life you are creating for yourself and your beautiful family! What a journey this is. If someone had told our 14 year old selves that this is what our lives would be, we would have declined it. However, now, with all that we have lived (and have so much in front of us) we would not trade it for the world. That picture of you on the diving board really brought back memories of when we first met! Keep up the great work, Chris! Thank you for being you and for putting the journey into words.

  2. Linda says:

    So well written. Very thoughtful and intelligent blog.

    I have trained myself to never say “I am fat.” Being defined as a gelatinous goo is not only unkind but inaccurate. Instead I will say “I have fat.” I am a mother, I am an educator, I am a friend, I have extra fat 🙂

    Thank you for another excellent and thought provoking piece!

    • Chris Stephens says:

      Thanks, Linda! I have also changed the way I refer to my larger form. It’s clearer than ever that I need to choose my words carefully when I talk about myself. Not only does it fuel self hatred to use those nasty words, but now my children are listening.

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