We’re friends now, right? I mean, you already know from my last three blogs that I’m a mom wracked with guilt who drinks too much because she feels imperfect. You know what gives me heart palpitations, but I guess I haven’t discussed the most pressing form of anxiety that weighs upon this heavy mind. This subject has, after all, been the elephant in the room I’ve been avoiding for some time now, pun intended. I may as well hit the hard stuff if we’re going to continue this journey together. So here it goes.
My physical body feels like an anchor weighing me down to the past. It’s hard to run from your own body, ya know? So it’s kind of a constant reminder of the big fat elephant in the room. I’m just being real with this one. No sugar coating. I mean, I know what all that sugar coating did for me as a kid. It wasn’t pretty.
As part of an exercise in Sunday school this week, I asked the class to recount their earliest memory of their childhood. I smiled watching their eyes flicker with reminiscent dreams of yesteryears. Because I was facilitating, I thought I could easily bypass my own memory, but just when I thought I was in the clear, I heard, “Now what about you, Chelsea? What was your earliest memory?”
Immediately, I went to my memory box and pulled out a happy, acceptable answer. “I remember riding in the car with my parents while we discussed my upcoming fifth birthday.” Sounds simple enough. Nothing to be judged there. Of course it would have been a short stroll down memory lane to bring up that second memory that conveniently stopped short of my vocal cords.
I was 8 years old when I stood on my bathroom scales, my mom standing behind me, peering down. “Almost in the triple digits,” she said with a slight worry in her voice.
That same year for my ninth birthday, along with the typical Goosebump collection, gear for my baseball obsession, and Space Jam memorabilia (don’t judge), I received something else: The Richard Simmons Tone & Sweat and Disco Sweat VHS combo. “We’ll do it together,” my parents told me, reassuringly.
This was when a healthy lifestyle meant imagining that pre-packaged cardboard with bold “low-fat” lettering was the answer to acceptance. It was waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays to attend those 10-mile races to cheer on my dad, pass out Gatorade to sprinters fainting at the finish line, and seeing the hope in my dad’s eyes that one day all this “excitement” might rub off on me. It never did. Especially when that lady hurled her breakfast near my feet at the San Diego marathon. One plus for me, though, since I remained at the finish line without venturing off, I was first to the champions’ tent to scout out the Dominos pizza before anyone else.
“You did the munchies, now we’ll do the crunchies!” Richard Simmons would yell at me the next day. His blue sequined jumpsuit and disco ball hair blinded my eyes as he Cha-Cha slid his way into my living room each afternoon following one of my dad’s big races. Breaks between sets included devouring cups of melted cheese from the microwave. (Just call it an early introduction into my low-carb craze later in life).
As I entered high school, Richard Simmons lost his appeal, although I did find his soothing rendition of “I Will Survive” a bit promising. Another burpee won’t kill me. I will survive. As long as I know how to sneak Little Debbies, I know I’ll stay alive.
But it was obvious to anyone with eyes, Richard Simmons had failed me. I was F-A-T as ever and I started calling bullshit on those Lean Cuisines. By the time I graduated high school, I was 270 pounds. Despite being too large to ignore, the world did it all the same.
Sure, I had friends. I had plenty of them. And I was the life of the party if I say so myself. I could make them laugh with jokes about being a cheerleader at the top of the pyramid during pep rallies. Imagine, me hoisted to the top of a triangle of bleached blondes who twirled their hair incessantly. What a gas!
I credit Oprah Winfrey for my “aha” moment. Not the time when she rolled out 100 pounds of fat on a Radio Flyer wagon. It was when she admitted that her first weight loss journey was a fad and realized that eating healthy was a lifestyle choice. It was that statement that stuck in my head during my freshman year of college. Also, the fact that I had a 3-hour gap in my schedule to devote to the gym since I couldn’t justify using all 180 minutes to gorge on General Tso’s Chicken.
I made a choice at age 19 to lose weight for myself and no one else, and girl, my addictive personality kicked in big time. If going to the gym was what I would do, I would live there. One hour wasn’t enough. Two, either. I’d spend half the day at the gym sweating away all the insecurities I had about my body to make myself presentable to the world.
Within a year, I had shed 100 pounds. Did I give myself a check mark? For awhile, I did. But I’ve learned after bearing a child and putting on that Chamber twenty (this is a real condition where you put on 20 pounds working at a chamber of commerce) that this journey is one I can never call complete.
Growing up, I thought if only . . . if only could I reach a specific number on those bathroom scales, then everything else would fall into place. I would frolic in fields of green like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Today, I’ve kept the weight off my body, but my mind is still heavy. The pressure of not going back to where I was sometimes feels all consuming. It’s the monkey on my back. It’s the stretchmarks across my shoulders and mid-section.
I struggle with analyzing motives from strangers. They hold the door for me or give me a slight nod when I cross them on the street and I wonder, “Would you have done the same for the fat girl?” When I was the big girl, I was invisible, but I shrink and now you see me. Why is that?
Why is it that I feel the recognition I’ve received in this small town will slip through my fingers if I eat that piece of birthday cake? Why is it that I want to grill the gentleman holding the door for me downtown? “Sir, just who all do you reserve an open door for? I want names.”
All of you women out there, how many times have you felt like your physical image is the only reason you were treated a certain way by a stranger? Or the only reason you got that discount that expired a week ago at the grocery store? Or why you get that extra nod walking downtown?
As women, we’ve grasped at that ladder and climbed with all we’re worth. We’ve cured incurable diseases. We’ve traveled to space. We’ve sailed the seven seas and we ALMOST won the U.S. Presidential race (argument for another day).
We’ve used our voices to negotiate treaties, to rally for peace, and to re-imagine the world as an egalitarian society for ALL people, boobs and vaginas included. Even then, even now, our physical bodies, not our abilities, can get us an extended half-off price at cocktail hour. Have we really come so far? Maybe we have and our minds have yet to catch up to the transition.
Am I the only one who feels like I have to kick it in high gear to maintain that image for fear of losing all acceptance in the world? I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one who feels like her mind and soul are not enough to make it in society. The intelligent, funny, big boned girl just isn’t enough, is it?
Ladies, what’s it going to take to feel worth it? To look in the mirror and see ourselves as ourselves and not the pre-judged version of someone else? When, after we’ve worked a full day’s pay like a boss, tucked the kids into bed, and used our “free” hour at home after they slumber to do housework, can we look at ourselves as champions? As survivors? As enough?
For too long, we’ve let other people tell our story. What’s yours? Will we let them define us by a little flab around our midsection from carrying the next generation of wild-eyed wanderers? Surely that’s not it.
Today, I still look at pants three sizes too large and wonder if they will fit me. I sit in a seat in coach and take a deep breath as I attempt to secure the buckle. I remind myself at pool parties that it was me who won the “biggest splash” award at Christian summer camp. I question myself on everything. Can you do this? Are you sure?
Yes, I can.
Yes, you can.
The world is full of shit that pulls you down. Don’t let your own doubts be one of those.
Florence + the Machine reminds us that it’s hard to dance with a devil on our backs, so shake it off.
Shake it off, ladies.
Sprint across the runway.
Robe yourselves with love.
The past can be heavy.
Shake it off.
Shake it off.