Putting this below a cut, so you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to – this is me talking about, thinking about, and deciding to retell the narrative I have about my body. If you are uncomfortable about bodies, or are triggered by discussions of weight, restrictive eating, or other related topics, you may want to skip this post.
I have never been a small person.
Granted, I have never been a particularly large person either, but I come from a very small family (I’m pretty sure I’ve outweighed my dad since I was in high school, to give you some perspective). I got some recessive genes from somewhere, and I am broad shouldered, large chested, large hipped, round bottomed, and fairly muscular when I exercise.
I have the advantage of not knowing what I weighed in high school or most of college. My parents didn’t own a scale, so I never weighed myself except at the doctor, and I don’t know that my doctor even ever told me what my weight was, so I assume I was within the realm of “normal” (or I’d have gotten a lecture or three). In college, I was super active, training martial arts 6 days a week, walking all over campus, and eating… well, pretty much whatever I wanted. Of course, it was dining hall food, so I rarely overate (because it was good, in a “this is highly edible” way, but not in a finger-lickin’ good way). I was proud of the fact that I had visible muscles, and fairly noncommitted to things like my pants size. (I think I wore an 8-10 back then, but that’s a guess.)
In the middle of that, I dated a really unfortunate person. We’ll not get into the really unfortunateness of this person, because that’s too heavy for a Thursday morning, but one of the conversations I had with this young man sticks out in my mind. We were sitting on the green at Baylor, eating takeout tacos from the student life building, and I made a comment about some aspect of my body. His response, which is burned into my brain, was “Well, yeah, you look okay, but you could lose 20 lbs.”
I had my fair share of body insecurity in high school (what 15 year old girl doesn’t?) but it was, hands down, the first time anyone had ever told me that my body wasn’t good enough. One statement – from one person who arguably treated me like shit at least 50% of the time – and my entire mental perspective changed.
Something triggered in my brain, and the narrative that said I wasn’t good enough as a person (which already thoroughly existed) transferred to my body as well.
I stopped exercising because it was fun and good for me, and started exercising to be smaller. I joined a gym , where I learned yoga and attempted to decide I liked cardio, (and learned I really like yoga). I dieted, eating carrots and drinking diet soda that I hated and trying to stretch my 14 measured out crackers over my entire morning because they had to last, I wasn’t allowed more. My first attempt at the Walk to Rivendell was done in my Senior year at Baylor, because I needed to be smaller.
I don’t know what I weighed when I got married, but I know I spent my last semester of school on the “not enough money, too much stress, too much exercise” diet out of necessity, and I became fairly small for me. I ate coffee for breakfast, half a bag of salad for lunch, and either quiznos (no mayo) or half a box of prepared spaghetti for dinner most nights. I walked, on average, 5 miles a day for exercise, plus walking everywhere I went on campus. Knowing what I do now, I was extremely unhealthy, and I got nothing but praise for how my wedding dress fit, and the fact that it had to be taken in to accommodate my now appropriately smaller body, even if I had to stuff my bra because it didn’t fit anymore either. In my head I was still a fat bride (I wasn’t).
My weight since then has been a constant source of disappointment, larger pants, mental emergencies, medicines with metabolic side effects, and desk jobs. I now sit for probably 14 hours a day, either at a desk or in my car. I am turning 30, instead of 22. I have a chronic illness that wasn’t controlled until this year. I dieted back down to 145 a few years into my marriage, and then proceeded to yoyo right back up to 165 again. I bought a scale. I flirted with the plus-size department at the store (only to discover that an XL in straight sizes is significantly smaller than an 1X in plus sizes, and nothing in the store would fit me). I put on 25 lbs, and then lost 30, and then gained 10.
This past year I tried fitness again. I tried radical calorie restriction (12-1300 calories doesn’t sound radical, but it is – that’s starvation level of food intake). I tried paleo. I created lists of foods I was “allowed” to eat, and calculated whether I was eating too much fruit (and was therefore sugar addicted). I tried walking and intervals and weight lifting. I exercised for an hour a day, six days a week, on 1300 calories, wondered why I felt awful all the time, and eventually started eating more.
Deep down, though, I’ve been fighting a battle with and for my body. I’m fighting a battle to be good enough, to make the voice in my head that says “yeah, you look okay, but you could lose 20 lbs” shut up. Last night I hit a milestone on my deadlift, upping my last set to 5 reps at 90 lbs. I can now deadlift just over half my bodyweight. I was proud and happy, until I walked by the mirror and was reminded that I am too soft-looking, not fit enough, not strong enough. Today I’m wearing a new shirt, in a color that compliments my complexion, with pretty lace detailing on the front, and all I see in the bathroom when I walk by is that my bra is cutting into the fat on my back, and it’s obvious in this shirt.
And it’s all in my head.
My BMI is 27.5 at my current weight, well into the “overweight” category, but not “obese”. My bodyfat is between 30 and 32%. Only one doctor has ever shamed me for my weight (I went in because I was having chronic joint pain, including in my hands and shoulders, and she told me to lose weight. At the time I weighed 160, and I am 5’6” tall). My family has never been anything but supportive, even if all I see when I look at family pictures now is that I’m “the fat one”. My friends think I’m awesome, even when all I see is the list of bridesmaid dress sizes: 4, 4, 6, 14. I joke about being the fat bridesmaid, about being part of the “obesity epidemic”.
It’s a story. It’s the story I’ve now decided is my story, the story about my body that repeats in my head every time I lace up my shoes, or buy new pants, or pick up a dumbbell, or walk by a mirror, or decide I didn’t exercise enough to deserve dinner.
I’m trying to rewrite the story now. It’s hard, but I’m trying.
I’m trying to give myself permission to take up space. To just eat food, and not give it moral value. To eat broccoli because it’s delicious, and make my own ice cream, and to cook when I want to and have time. To pick up heavy things and put them down again, because it’s fun, and challenging, and makes me feel good. To walk, or do yoga, or rest.
To be awesome.
I have all kinds of goals I could set for 2014. But I think my goal is simply to be better at being awesome. To do things because I want to do them, or not do things I don’t want to do (within reason, I mean, there’s a good reason to scoop the cat box, even if I don’t ever really WANT to do it). To get stronger, to wear clothes that fit me right now, to not hide in black cardigans and oversized sweaters, but to go to the grocery store in my workout clothes if I need to. To take up space, eat good food, lift heavy things, and learn to love that, instead of assigning myself a moral value based on my dress size.
And to find that in and of *myself*, instead of relying on the world to tell me it’s okay to exist.
2014. Year of awesome.