(Originally published on Suburban Misfit Mom)
She had gray hair, the fine lines of experience cut a road map across her face as her eyes lit up with the smile that graced her face when she looked at me. “Good for you, dear,” she patted my shoulder, and I couldn’t help smiling back at her. “When is your due date?”
My heart dropped to the bottom of my shoe and I felt a rush of shame. I can only imagine the expression on my face as I looked at her and responded, “sixteen years ago.”
Her smile fled as well, and she stammered to come up with something to say, anything that would fix her clearly egregious error. “I wasn’t saying you look fat,” she finally managed.
“Let’s just move on,” I told her as I rang up her groceries, trying to contain myself and still smile when I looked at her. Of course, I wanted to gouge her eyes out, but instead I faked that I didn’t care and slogged on with the encounter and the rest of my day.
I wish I could tell you I made up this story, but it actually happened to me about seven years and thirty pounds ago.
Such is the fate of a fat girl.
I didn’t used to be chubby, in fact, I was thin for a long time. Sure I had curves, but they were in all the right places. Even after I gained weight, I still appreciated my body for what it was.
Until the above encounter with a well-meaning old lady.
After that, it was impossible to ignore the fact that my weight had gotten a little out of control. I remember going home that day, taking my clothes off and staring at myself in a full-length mirror. I looked at my naked body from every angle, studying my thick thighs, my dimpled butt, my rounded belly.
And I cried.
How had I missed it? When had I become this mass of flesh, this blob of cellulite held together by skin?
How had I let myself get to this sorry state?
I’d never worried about what I ate when I was young, an unfortunate side effect to growing up skinny. Sure, I kept on a few pounds with each of my kids, but I was too thin before they were born so that was actually a good thing. I gained some weight in my late twenties, but I was still healthy and curvy. When I got married, my husband and I ate really, really well together, both of us putting on those happy marriage pounds (one of us more than the other, of course). I quit smoking and promptly broke my ankle a few months later, adding another twenty pounds, but that wasn’t so bad.
Or so I thought until the kindly old woman asked about the baby.
When I was finally done crying, I decided to do something about it and for the first time in my life, I went on a diet. I counted calories, carbs, and fats. I measured and poured and portioned.
And yes, I lost about thirty pounds. It came off fairly easily at first, slowing down as time went by, and I found some measure of satisfaction again when I looked in the mirror.
Yet, I was hungry.
All the time.
If you’ve ever subsisted on 1200 calories a day, you know what I mean. You also know it’s impossible to maintain.
Eventually, I hit a wall and quit losing the weight. A couple months later, I quit the diet as well.
Thus began my years-long yo-yo dieting, exercising, etc. that all fat girls are familiar with. You diet, lose, quit, gain…. Rinse, repeat, and start all over again.
Today, I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. It’s miserable being on either side of dieting, and for my part, I finally gave up on it a few years ago.
I’d like to tell you that I’ve been able to successfully climb on board the whole body-love train that’s been sweeping the nation these days, but it’s harder than it looks.
I’m still strong and vital. I’m not in danger of diabetes, my cholesterol is good, and the doctor gave me a thumbs up at my latest checkup. For all intents and purposes, I am in excellent health. I’m not gaining weight anymore, and I still work out. Not every day, but at least once or twice a week. I still have curves; my waist still dips in, rounding out to meet my hips.
But I am not a skinny girl. And I have resigned myself to never being one again.
Body acceptance is hard.
I realize now that I’ll never really be completely happy with my body, even if I lose all the weight. And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. We should all strive to improve ourselves everyday.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what I have.
Would I like to be thinner, sleeker, the svelte young thing of twenty years ago? Sure.
Is it realistic to think I can get there again?
Instead, I’ve decided to work on loving this body.
Last night I took my clothes off again, stood in front of a full-length mirror, and looked at my naked body from every angle, studying my thick thighs, my dimpled butt, my rounded belly.
I ran my hands over my flesh as I had so many times over the years, but this time I tried to look at myself with new eyes.
I let my hands move across my rounded belly and remembered how it had housed two baby boys, stretching and pulling my skin into the soft pillow that exists today. I cupped my breasts and remembered how they had nourished those same two boys. I let my hands drift down to my thighs and up to my buttocks, thinking about how these strong, muscled limbs had carried me so well through 42 years.
This body of mine is like an old road map; as the years have passed, it has become increasingly wrinkled and creased, stained and faded by the years and life, but always taking me where I need to go. It deserves a little TLC and appreciation.
And I’m going to attempt just that.
I’m going to go out and buy a swimming suit for the first time in nearly fifteen years. And wear it. In public.
I’m going to look at myself in the mirror and instead of seeing the size of my belly, I’m going to notice how soft and silky smooth my skin is.
I’m going to look at my face and instead of seeing the loose skin under my chin, I’m going to look at my big, beautiful eyes and the way my hair sweeps coquettishly across my cheek.
I’m going to look at my arms and instead of seeing how my upper arm is beginning to sag just a little, I’m going to notice how graceful and elegant my hands are.
I’m going to try to do all those things, and more. I’m going to try to remember that who I am is the most important part of me. That I am unique and special, in my heart and mind and soul.
Just like you.
I’ve decided that I am not a fat girl.
Who I am is so much bigger than that.