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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.