Thursday, February 19, 2015

Age 15

I have always been a heavy girl. Always. I remember when I was in elementary school right up to about the start of seventh grade, I was the overweight, "fat" girl of all my classes. I felt like I was hideous and ugly and desperately tried to change myself since elementary. Can you believe it? A ten year old going on Google and typing "how to lose weight.” I never did it to please others as much as myself. Even the doctor said I had to lose weight and that's why I was trying to change myself - for my health - just like any person should.

But middle school changed everything. It was fifth grade and I was being bullied by a group of boys who called me a range of names. Anything from comparing me to the Star Wars character Chewbacca, to calling me an elephant, fat or ugly. It bothered me severely - I started eating more instead of less. I gained more weight going into sixth grade. I was obsessive. My mother put me in karate, but I never lost weight doing it.

Sixth grade was bully-free, but the impact of the bullying from the year before left me eating emotionally. I wore sweatpants and t-shirts most of the time to cover up what was underneath. 

Now it was time for seventh grade. This is where I began losing weight and not because I was being healthy, but because the bullying began once again. One boy was placed in the same class as me. He was one of my former bullies and, my God, gave me the hardest time of my life.

Everything was changing in the seventh grade for me. I was moving houses, my family was homeless for a month and he just piled on more crap. He was, and always will be, the boy who made me despise almost every aspect of my being. Everyday he called me names and got a few other boys to call me names too. One of them even told me to, "Go find a treadmill.” I would tell teachers and they would talk to him, but he wasn't one for change.

I started eating less. My mom took notice and sometimes even forced me to eat. She asked me, "Why?" I just said, "I wanna lose weight." We left it at that. She had no idea about the bullying. I was so uncomfortable with my body it was scary. Of course, I didn't get skinny, but I lost enough weight for people to take notice. But thankfully, seventh grade came to an end and I never saw that asshole again.

In tenth grade, which is now, my best friend used to jokingly call me ugly. I called her one day and started crying. I said, "I know I may look like an ogre, but you don't have to remind me. I know I'm ugly." She started crying and told me it was a joke and didn't mean it and thought I was beautiful, but I feel like subconsciously, somewhere in her head she thinks I'm ugly. I do too. I think about it and still cry. Words like fat and ugly stuck to me…especially coming from someone I love.

But I guess I'll be okay. My best friend stopped calling me fat and ugly. Two boys in my class once called me fat and ugly, but don't anymore. And once my friend called my fat and ugly, but I told him that he can't say things like that to me. After three years of self-harming and hating myself, I've finally began to repair my body image. I'm working on loving myself and my body. I hope one day I can come to terms with my body and accept how it is. I hope one day I can stop worrying about being skinny. Because skinny isn't beautiful, just like fat isn't ugly. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Age 56

I used to be bigger. Not fat bigger. Not taller bigger. I mean muscular bigger - as in I could heft grocery bags without breaking a sweat. As in my arms didn’t sag like a basset hound neck. As in I wore clothes three sizes larger than I now wear. I used to be a bigger, stronger, mightier woman. And I liked it.

I’m 56 and want my old body back. In the past decade, in spite of lifting weights and working out, my muscles seem determined to wither away. The diminishment in body is followed by a diminishment of spirit. I am losing weight and losing heart. Without my armor of muscles and yes, fat, I feel like I don’t take up enough space in this world.

Most woman want to be smaller, not bigger. Even with education about eating disorders, the weight (excuse the pun) of societal expectations of how women’s bodies should look has done little to change how woman feel about their bodies. Lithe may be the new skinny, but muscles are cool as long as you are still zero body fat. Just look at any CrossFit infomercial and you’ll see size zero women with six pack abs. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. The kind of body I miss is one with muscles and enough fat to cover them.

Back in the day I raced bicycles. My thighs were marble-like wonders that allowed me to sprint and push a big gear with minimal effort. It wasn’t just my legs that were super-sized. I was all over bigger - twenty pounds more than I now weigh. My butt was rounded, and my breasts, always larger in proportion to the rest of me, were a cup size bigger as well. I worked in a bicycle store and spent my days carrying steel bikes up and down a long flight of stairs and racing up and down hills on the weekends. I wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I was a strong, fit woman. I could kick ass and I felt good about it.

“There is something profoundly upsetting about a proud, confident, unrepentantly muscular women,” writes David Chapman, co-author of Venus With Biceps: A Pictoral History of Muscular Woman. “She risks being seen by her viewers as dangerous, alluring, odd, beautiful, or, at worst, a sort of rare show. She is, in fact, a smorgasbord of mixed messages.”

Women have always had, and will continue to have, a complicated relationship with their bodies, especially when it comes to depictions of strength. From mythical Amazons and Rosie the Riveter showing off her Popeye biceps, to a ripped post-menopausal Madonna in Versace ads, the ambivalence about women with muscles has always been a delicate negotiation for both genders.

I remember taking care of my grandmother. She was in her late eighties and suffering from dementia, I was in my early twenties and affected with the hubris of post-adolescence. One of my tasks was to bathe her which meant undressing my grandmother and seeing her stark naked as she stood in the shower. As embarrassed as my grandmother was to stand unclothed before her granddaughter, I was the one who was horrified. What had become of her once robust body? What I saw when she stood before me resembled a child’s body: skinny, hairless and in need of protection from the world. “My body will never look like that,” I vowed.

Three years ago I broke my left arm and wrist in a bad fall. The limb took close to a year to heal. When I began using my left arm I found I could barely lift a tea kettle much less resume my regime of push ups and power yoga postures. In spite of physical therapy, to this day, the arm remains weak, the muscles flabby and compromised. I’ve yet to accept it won’t bounce back to its pre-fracture form.

In my sixth decade, it’s unlikely that any amount of supplemental hormones and weight lifting will return me to my former physique. Biology is conspiring against me. Which leaves me with the choice of accepting my smaller, weaker body, or railing against the inevitable changes in muscle tone, fat and skin. It’s the weight of my mortality that I need to lift off my shoulders. And no amount of gym time can train me for that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Age 46

I really hate it when friends post pictures of me on Facebook. I rarely look good on film. Yes, sometimes I do post my own photos, but they are carefully selected by ME. They are ones I feel I look decent in. This is becoming a problem for me and I bet there are others out there that feel the same. What exactly do you say to someone? “Please don’t tag or post a photo of me online?” “Why?” “Because I look fat and ugly.” Then what do you say when they reply “No, I think you look good.” Yikes. Is it wrong for me to want to control my own image on the internet? By merely starting this conversation with friends, I open myself up to:

1. Being a bitch.

2. Admitting I have a terrible body image and hate the way I look.

3. Facing my own insecurities about my physical appearance.

None of the options are appealing to me. For now, I just change my settings to “give permission” for photos. But that doesn’t stop anyone from putting them up on their wall and just not tagging me. Mutual friends will see the snapshots and know it’s me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things in like about me. I am smart, I am a working professional, I have a lot of friends, I am funny. I just don’t like how I look.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Age 37

When I look in the mirror, sometimes I see beauty. Then I see a picture of myself and mirror lies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You're Not Fat

Age 21

I see a lie, a betrayal, a bad experience and a challenge. 

There are only two mirrors in my little apartment, and the one I actually look in only shows my body from the bust down - from this angle it is very easy to fool myself into believing that the worried glances my family gives me about my weight are overreactions. 

When I look in the full-length mirror, I am punched in the gut with the disgusting feeling of the body looking back at me that doesn't feel like the one I believe I have. That mirror betrays me every time by taking away my false sense of security which is why I rarely look in it for very long. 

I can trace my weight gain to high school - sixteen and at a new school where I ended up a very lonely girl no one talked to or bothered to learn my name. I became completely sedentary when the depression of being invisible hit. 

But luckily, life isn't over after one hard blow - I get to go back into the ring for another round. College is a beautiful place where everyone is respected and listened to and people remember your name. 

Taking on the challenge of going to college and working part-time gave me the courage to save up for the trip of a lifetime in Europe that I leave for in 9 months. Signing up for that trip gave me the courage to realize that I am not happy in this body - not because it doesn’t fit into society's standards or because I feel a need to fit into a certain size. I simply don't feel good in this body and I want to feel alive again and am slowly succeeding in that goal - losing 4 pounds in just one week of being active and drinking water! 

Doing it because I want to has made all the difference and I am slowly learning not only to understand and listen to my body, but to love it and the person who lives in it too.    

Friday, October 10, 2014

Age 45

I tend to stay away from looking in the mirror for fear I may not be happy with what I see. I'm overweight. Not obese…well, according to medical standards, borderline "obese." I curse that machine at the local grocer by the pharmacy. At 5'7", I weigh 190-ish pounds. I say "ish" because for the last couple of months, I have fluctuated all over the 190 to 200 pound range.

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for a body that still works. Nonetheless, I find myself feeling so completely fat and unattractive when looking at other women. It's hard, but I will sometimes like what I see and think, "Yeah, I have some attractive qualities." And then I'll be somewhere and see how younger and much thinner women get all the attention. They may even be not as attractive, they can have a not-so--pleasant personality even, but if they’re thin (it is my experience to see most male species do this), they will always get looked at first – both in social gatherings or on the job.

Recently, I had an epiphany though. I am so tired of being sick and tired and feeling ugly. I am going to push through my fear of failure. I am going to focus on what I do have – nice long hair, big brown eyes and a large chest – and work those qualities! I am going to try to implement healthier eating habits and get some physical activity in my life. Not going to go crazy, just take it…"one day at a time." Most importantly, I'll be doing this for me. Which, in turn, can be beneficial to my family. The way I see it, if I start with me, I can then take care of those I love – mainly my hubby and two boys – for years to come.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Age 15

Every time I look down at my legs, a feeling of disgust, satisfaction or extreme happiness overcomes me. At different times of the day, I feel completely different emotions regarding my body – one second I think that I'm too thin, the next I feel as though I'm too fat and other times I finally believe I'm perfect.

I'm a high school long-distance athlete, so my legs have lean muscle. However, just a few months ago during spring track my legs were literally half the length as they are now. Back then, when I had my small legs, people would comment on my body saying, "You're stick thin." "I wish I had your collarbones." "I wish I had your legs." "You look sick with legs that tiny." "How much do you even eat? You're so tiny." "Your legs are absolutely perfect." So many contradicting comments filled my head I couldn't decide which ones to believe. Over the summer, I gained weight and my thighs grew with the rest of me. I didn't know what to think of my legs…and to be honest, I still don't. I grew into my old jeans that used to be so saggy and loose that I couldn't wear them, even just around the house. My thighs touched for the first time in a year and a half.

I started eating more unhealthy foods this past summer and my relationship with food started to get distorted. As soon as I noticed this, I tried to eat healthier to mend my relationship with food before it got bad. I began a journey to a healthier lifestyle. From the time I began this journey to now, I can say I feel more confident with my body. I now know that since I feed my body healthy, plant-based, homemade food then I must be healthy too.

So forget thigh gaps, ribs, hip bones and collarbones, we never needed to see these things anyway. Bones are meant to be kept safe, not protruding like some walking skeleton. If you see an animal where their ribs protrude, you wouldn't say, “Oh, how beautiful.” So why say that to yourself?

Nobody needs a thigh gap. And you know what? Believe it or not, I actually like my body more now than I did before. Skinny doesn't bring confidence, healthy does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Age 42

I have a healthy relationship with food even though I measure my portions and count my calories - I have learned the hard way that I gain weight easily, and because of my small stature, a little becomes very noticeable very quickly and it is much easier to maintain a healthy weight than to lose it once I have become overweight. I like food and eating out and indulge when we eat at restaurants - not binge, enjoy - but most days I cook healthy meals for our family. I often wish I were still a picky little kid who spent hours sitting at the table because I wouldn't eat things I didn't like, though - it would be much easier to maintain if I still didn't know that cheese came in flavors other than orange, or that fried chicken prepared properly is one of the most delicious foods ever.

As that picky little kid got older and junk food became an easy substitute for the unappealing meals that my stepmom prepared with my dad's unrefined palate in mind, I gained weight for the first time in middle school. I was still very active outside the house - I had two PE classes (regular and something alternative, such as aerobics or swimming) and ran track - but after school I was mostly confined to the house and there was little to do but eat and watch TV.

When I finally moved from dad's to my mom's, I magically dropped 15 pounds without even trying, and probably maintained that weight for years after, although I don't really know how much I weighed anymore than I knew what I really should be eating or how much. What I did know was, regardless of weight, I hadn't been an attractive kid, and I didn't feel like an attractive teen, and marrying a guy who was always critical of my appearance (especially my big ass) didn't help. I also had no idea how to dress and wore baggy, oversized clothes most of the time - not that I could afford to properly attire myself anyway, as that same husband was a chronically un/underemployed spender, so we were constantly struggling even just to pay the rent.

As the years passed and the husband who had always made derogatory comments about my weight gained and gained himself, my eating habits got healthier. I stopped drinking regular soda (I still sometimes drink diet, despite how "bad" it is supposed to be for you) and eventually, less junk food (although I've never stopped entirely, because, again, it's good to indulge sometimes!) When I left him, I weighed 112 pounds.

From that point on, my weight went up (127!) and back down (107?) as I went through life changes and at one point got a gym membership. When I met my current husband, I probably only weighed about 107 (at 5'1") but I probably still felt "fat" because, the thing is, no matter how little I weigh, I always have fat on me.

Today, (after having gained a bunch of weight again, all the way up to 145, and then whittling myself back down to my current 120-ish), I would say that I have a VERY healthy body image. Not because I think my body is perfect, or even because I accept its flaws, but because I am realistic.

I look in the mirror and I see that most of my body is fine. Good even. In some places, even THIN. Because I work out, my arms have just a little definition to them - not so much that they look lumpy or manly, just enough - and in that chest area above my boobs, you can kind of see that upper rib definition that many people equate to "skinny". BUT. My waist isn't super small - it's fine, and on a good day, I can even see some ab definition without even flexing those muscles! But other days, my "muffin" flubs over the tops of my pants, or my belly protrudes like a kid in a third world country.

My legs aren't great, but in a pair of heels, my calves are shapely and pretty well defined, and my quads are also defined, but not too bulky. The problem comes in that area from my belly button to about halfway down my thighs - when I am facing the mirror, blobs of fat hang off my otherwise toned legs. Saddlebags. Squarebutt. Whatever you want to call it. When I turn to the side, I can clearly see my "second" butt, or underbutt. Like an extra cheek underneath each normal cheek.

I actually get a lot of compliments on my appearance, on my body - even on my blobby, fat butt - mostly because I have learned how to dress in a way that disguises my shape, that smooths the lumps and bumps and makes them just look like curves. With my clothes off, it is clear that those lumps and blobs of fat are alien, they don't belong.

Realistically, I know that they will probably be there forever, no matter how much exercise I do or how carefully I eat. That doesn't mean that I won't stop making the effort to melt them away, that I won't stop trying to be the best me I can, that I'll ever stop researching the best foods to eat or new ways to burn fat. I don't accept that imperfection in my body, even if I do realize that I probably can't change it, or that, overall, I'm doing really well. I'm healthy and fit, and in the big scheme of things, as attractive as anyone else, even if some of my features are awkward or unusual. I'll never leave the house in dumpy sweats, or without doing my hair or putting on makeup, but when I do step out, I don't feel bad about the way I look. Only when I stand in front of the mirror undressed.