It’s not one of those days. I’m not bloated, or stuffed from a big meal. I didn’t put on an extra five pounds over the holidays. When I say I feel fat I mean I feel it with the intensity of a fourteen-year-old chubby girl who has to get naked in the locker room for the first time in front of the cheerleading squad. I feel every emotional scar that resulted with every “chunky girl” comment, every time someone said “you could stand to lose a few pounds” like they are fresh gaping wounds. I’m not morbidly obese, I’m a size 14, average for an American woman. And I’m not a teenager, I’m damn near thirty. So why the hang up on my body image? Why the self hatred?
I suppose the benefit to being almost thirty is that I’m old enough to have come into my own and respect myself more than I did as a chubby teenager. And the benefit to being in that “in-between” place (somewhere between chunky and obese by medical standards) is that I have days when I feel beautiful, sexy even. But it doesn’t change the fact that when I read an article about the morbidly obese homebound 800 pound women, the teenaged girls who cut themselves because of being bullied about their weight, the medical journal articles about the effects of obesity on health, every “sex position for fat girls” blog and “plus sized women we all think are sexy” (no you don’t) ads on Facebook… I feel it. Let me say here that this is not about the way I look anymore, it’s about the way I feel every time my bra strap cuts into my skin uncomfortably, or when my favorite skinny jeans (yes, I still rock skinny jeans) get holes in the thighs and I have to buy a new pair. It’s about not being able to wear the clothes I like because I have to “shop for my body type” or risk looking like a total slut because of my curves. It’s about the way I feel when I wear those jeans that make my ass look amazing but can’t bend over to slip my heels on without holding my breath first. Fat is not about the way I look. I feel fat.
I can remember the first time I thought about my weight in terms of beauty. I remember it as vividly as I remember my first kiss, my first sip of beer, or the first time I heard my daughter cry. I was six years old, and I wasn’t called fat exactly but it hurt all the same even if I was too young to understand that what I was feeling was pain. It wasn’t my classmates teasing, it was my Dad. Let me make it clear that I love my parents with an intensity few grown children would ever openly admit to loving their parents. As the baby of the family, I guess that’s sort of normal and I am every bit a Daddy’s girl. That being said, childhood is oftentimes survived more than experienced and every parent leaves their own brand of scars on their offspring, the trick is to minimize the damage.
Daddy was picking me up from school. I had worn one of his t-shirts from a recent 5k he’d participated in and a pair of white cutoff shorts. I was six years old. I asked dad if he liked my outfit and he said, “Yeah sis, it makes you look slimmer.” So I wore it again the following Friday when dad picked me up in the fear that anything else would make me look whatever the opposite of slim was. But slim was good, that much was certain, and I was not slim unless I dressed to be slim, that much was also certain.
The years went by and I was never “slim”. In fact, I was larger than most of my classmates. Not fat exactly, just “pudgy” and with broad shoulders. And I was often reminded of this by the people who were entrusted with building my self-confidence. I can recall spending hours alone in the bathroom looking at myself in different positions and making mental notes like, “OK, remember not pull your jacket so tight around you in the bleachers because it shows your fat roll.” In the sixth grade I rocketed to 165 pounds. Some time in the seventh grade I got to 128 pounds, and was already at my full adult height of 5’3. Wow, did I feel hot! Still there were days. Boy, were there days! At one point, after I had lost my “baby fat” my mother says to me, “You know Meggie, if you went on one of those starvation diets like the models do you’d have a great body.” Leave it to Southern mothers to tear you down even after you’ve lost over thirty pounds. My fellow 12 and and 13 year old classmates were significantly smaller than 130 pounds. In a world of size 1 middle schoolers, I was a size 9. Older guys mistook me for a 17 or 18 year old girl, and they called me pretty, something I hadn’t heard often. Bad combination. But that’s another blog.
I eventually enlisted in the Army, just barely squeezing through the height/weight requirement for female soldiers. I had played rugby in college giving me a whole new love for my broad shoulders and thick ankles. And, compared to some of the other women rugby players I was quite small. I excelled at everything physically challenging for a few years, learning to love my body not just for how it looked at 150 pounds of pure American badassery, but for what it could do! So what happened?
I came home from Iraq in 2009 a size 6 and 130 pounds- smaller than I had ever been. I met and married my husband, my daughter came to live with me again (she had been under my sister’s care during my deployment) and we settled in for a long Alaskan winter. Within a month or two of returning home and rediscovering old favorites like beer and ale, Maker’s Mark whiskey, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Papa John’s pizza, I was back to 165 pounds. The darkness of the far north winter and the depression had also set in. I continued on that downward spiral for a few years, gaining fat and losing muscle tone as I went. Even after moving back home to Kentucky I continued to gain. So ashamed of what I had let myself become I was too embarrassed to hit the gym, or go for a run. I started to see how a woman could easily get to 800 pounds and homebound. Food is such a comfort. Eventually my husband said he was no longer attracted to me. Ouch. Needless to say, he is no longer my husband. But you can see how the hits just keep coming with this weight thing and why I might be a little sensitive, right?
I eventually snapped out of it, got my shit together and lost forty pounds. Now while I’m significantly smaller than I was, I’m still about forty pounds overweight, still teetering between “chunky” and “obese”. I’m back in that uncomfortable, bra-pinching, pants-too-tight place I’ve spent most of my life. My daughter is now 13, and 108 pounds and wears a size 1. My own daughter is one of the girls I was so very, very intimidated by in school. But now I know that, despite my best efforts to tell her how beautiful she is every day and avoid passing on the scars that were left on me, she has her own body-image hang ups. What do I tell her? That it gets better? That she’ll outgrow it and be totally happy with her body some day? I can’t lie to her like that. I have no answers. The best advice that I can offer is that she will have days where the sight of her own body will bring her to tears and she’ll have days where she too feels beautiful and sexy and comfortable in her own skin. One thing I can assure her is that she will never feel fat the way I do, and the way I did even at 130 pounds. Once fat, always fat. The pain never fully goes away, and for that at least, she can be thankful.