Friday, July 22, 2011

Let's talk fat.

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while but haven't been able to put it to words. So here goes.

I've been overweight almost my entire life. I'm not really sure when it started or why, but I do believe that my thoughts played a big role in my weight. I've only come to this realization recently. I remember being 8 or 9 years-old and believing I was fat, but looking back on pictures of that age, and I see that I most certainly wasn't. I know it started with a joke my dad made about me being a "fat girl someday."

My parents really had no idea how much their words and views shaped my life growing up, so much so that I'm still realizing it. I believe they had good intentions and if they knew the mental anguish and body issues they were instilling in me at that time, they would have never said anything. I used to make excuses and say that my parents grew up in a different generation, one where having kids "cramped your style," to explain their lack of interest in us and more interest in their friends and careers. But I know that's not true, especially after having a child of my own. Nothing is more important to me than my child. I try to watch what I say on a daily basis around my son so that he will not contribute to the hate that our society can spew out, and that he will be a loving, accepting and nurturing individual but with enough strength to take care of himself. But that is another blog post entirely.

After hearing the comment my dad made, I remember going through a period of serious body confusion. I would look in the mirror and think about how fat I was, and how I was going to be a fat girl. I'd compare myself to my sister and my friends, and be devastated that I was a fat girl. And then I actually started to gain weight. I did love food, but I think that my belief that I was a "fat girl" led to me eating as if I was a "fat girl." I think that thin people have a weight to maintain so they can use some restriction when eating. My friends even at a young age were watching what they ate. Not me! I can have that extra donut, I'm a fat girl and this is what we do. And I gained more weight and then more. I still look back at pictures of my middle school and early high school years and only see a girl who was maybe 15-20 pounds overweight. But in my mind, I was HUGE. I was too huge for boys, or for school dances, or to speak my opinion, or to flirt, or to be the person I wanted to be deep down. I was fat. So I kept eating, because you know, that's what us fat girls do! I didn't have to watch my weight. Only thin people watch their weight, and fat people eat. This was my role.

You know when you have something that needs to be done but you put it off, and then another thing, and another thing, and another thing, next thing you know you have completely lost control and your work load has piled up around you? Adding one more thing to that list seems insignificant. Why try to take care of the next thing that comes in in a timely manner when I'm too far gone to begin with? Why not throw one more thing on my list? The same goes with money and debt. You're already so far in debt that you rationalize charging one more thing on your credit card. Well that's what happened with my weight. I felt I was already overweight so it felt useless to order a salad at a restaurant, or skip the french fries this one time. That one meal wasn't going to change anything and it's natural for us to make these kind of rationalizations.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to be thin. If you read my diary from those days, every other entry was about badly I wanted to be a thin person.

There was one point in my life, after high school that I was able to get down to a healthy weight for my body. I started running everyday and didn't have time to think about food. I wasn't consciously on a diet, my body ate when it was hungry and I was too busy with work and school to want more. Once I began to lose weight, it was easy to pass up the french fries, or order a salad. I was able to get down to a normal-ish weight for my height for the first time in my entire life. I finally felt like a regular person and it was earth shattering for me. But something wasn't right.

I didn't know how to be a thin person.

This was something they don't teach you in the diet books. For someone who is overweight their entire life, you wear a protective cloak around you. It's your comfort zone. I could go to the store completely unnoticed, I was invisible to boys, and I could sink into the background and hide whenever I wanted. I spent my entire life building my identity and my weight was a big part of who I was. I wasn't prepared for what would happen when I lost the weight nor did I think in a million years that I wouldn't know how to handle it.

My normal chubby self learned how to get attention in other areas because I was so used to being in the background. I would wear low-cut tops, was outgoing, funny, loud; I had to be. But as soon as I lost the weight, I started getting a lot more attention than I had expected. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and was not prepared for this. Men would whistle at me walking down the street, store clerks were friendlier to me, more people wanted to be my friend. A part of me was angry at the attention. I still felt like a fat girl in a thinner person's body, and all these people were only being nice to me because of my new "disguise," and it hurt. I was still the same person inside, and I didn't know how to get my insides to match my new outside.

The first job I got was strictly because my "manager" at the time had a crush on me, and I thought I could handle the flirtation, but after a while I started to feel a bit harassed. He was always asking me why I was wearing pants instead of skirts, and constantly asking me out. I remember going to a bar with him one night (bad idea), and after one too many drinks, he kissed me. I was very uncomfortable after this, and quit after a few weeks.

I'm normally a yes person. I hate to say no and am always trying to please people. I didn't grow up with men flocking to me so I never mastered the art of turning them down while batting my eyelashes and remaining charming. I was excited that I was getting the attention, but I didn't know what to do with it, and a part of me was resentful of it. I was used to going out with a friend and having a guy approach us, for my friend, never for me. I was literally floored the first time I found out that a guy was interested in me, not my friend. How could I turn down a date with that guy?! I had to give him my number, even if I wasn't interested in him because I had never been asked before. I didn't know how to say no to anyone. I would say yes, give my number and then painfully avoid any phone calls and messages from these people.

Thinner days, at my sister's graduation.

I started to feel very, very vulnerable and exposed. I hated it. I wanted to hide under my layers of fat and walk around invisible again. I used to say pre-weight loss that if I was thinner I would finally get to shop in the stores I'd always wanted. But that never happened. I started wearing a sweatshirt and pants every single day, rain or shine. I would put the hood up on my sweatshirt as I walked downtown to the restaurant I worked so I could go unnoticed. I went out to bars in my sweatshirt. My sweatshirt and I were best friends. I know at the time I didn't think anything of the way I was dressing. I thought that I was getting older and becoming more modest and not buying into society's love of material goods. But let's face it, that is so not me. I like material goods.

Looking back, I know I started to hide under my layers of clothing and then again my layers of fat because that is where I was comfortable. I didn't know how to be this new thin person and I still don't. I stopped running, and stopped watching what I ate. The more weight I put on the more comfortable I was. And that was that.

My San Francisco roommates and I at our then house, and my famed sweatshirt.

Today I still struggle with my weight but I'm learning to accept myself for who I am. It's so not worth to spend your life wishing you had something you don't. Today, I'm accepting of my body. If it changes, I will also be accepting of that body and more prepared on how to handle myself with that body. I want to be healthy, not skinny.

The other day I found myself admiring my half-naked body. I was admiring it. How does someone dislike their body when they admire it? I don't know why I've hated my body so much. I've treated it badly, hurt it, talked negatively about it, and haven't been so kind to it over the years. But you know what? I'm loving the person that I am. My body is unique, beautiful and mine. I don't need the perfect body to have the perfect life so I'm just going to stop waiting for that to happen. I am happy with my body as it is today, and I will happy with my body as it is tomorrow however it may be as long as I am healthy.
Our wedding day

I'm not just accepting myself and giving up on eating healthy and exercising. Definitely not. Instead of wanting to change my body because I am unhappy with it, I want to change my body because I love it so much. There will be no more internal battle. Instead of hating my body and wishing it were different, I'm going to LOVE it and nourish it, and move it. I need to stop putting off my plans for diet and exercise because I could be pregnant in the near future. I need to do this BECAUSE I could be pregnant in the near future. I need to stop punishing myself and my body. I'm going to be as happy, and as healthy as I can be, and move on. I am done wishing my circumstances were different and will take each day at a time.

Sigh. I'm trying to make better choices and plan on starting to incorporate exercise in my daily life. The pressure is off! I'll keep you all updated.


Amy said...

Sounds like you're figuring it all out! Good luck on this next step.

Brynn H. said...

Great post, Michelle! If you ever need a workout buddy, I try to drag myself to 24 Hour whenever I can :)

katherinebee said...

I just think this is an incredibly wonderful, brave post. I've struggled with body image issues for most of my life and I think it's great that you're working on being ok with "you".

Michelle said...

:) Thank you ladies. I really appreciate the comments. And Brynn, I will definitely keep that in mind.