I am twelve years old. My weight probably hovers around 120 lbs. I’m traipsing through a giant department store with my mom and sister in tow, feeling overwhelmed and confused. The clothes my younger sister has tried on and tossed into the shopping cart are funky, colorful, and fit her carefree ten-year-old personality. I try squeezing myself into a couple of tops and pairs of pants from the kids’ section, but they’re too small. I want to look more grown up, so I head to the juniors’ department. But those clothes are too big. And in the words of Sam from Sixteen Candles, I don’t have a tenth of the bod to fill the damn bust out.
I’m in tenth grade. My weight is somewhere around 170 lbs. I march miles around the football field five days a week thanks to band, so I can’t quite figure out why I’m still one of the “bigger girls.” But I have good friends, enjoyable hobbies, and decent grades, so I’m relatively happy. There’s even a kid on my algebra class I kind of have a crush on. Until one day, while our teacher is out in the hall, the kid hops up on the cold-air return vent, causing his over-sized t-shirt to billow up around his lanky frame. “Whoa!” He cries, an amused grin spreading across his face. He nods in my direction, and just as I think he’s going to say something flirty, he utters the words, “Look, I’m you!”
I’m a senior now. I’ve managed to get my weight down to 140 lbs. with some simple changes in what I eat and how active I am. I’m completely geeked that I wear a size 7. Single digits! I even sort of have a boyfriend. Sometimes I catch guys – even popular ones – looking at me. But when it comes time to wear a bathing suit, I still can’t bring myself to put on a bikini. I don’t have a six-pack like those girls on the drill team or the cheer leading squad. I know I’m not fat anymore but I’m still not quite good enough to bare my midriff.
I’m twenty-one years old. I probably weigh around 130 lbs – the thinnest I’ve ever been. I’m in the front passenger seat while someone I know very well cruises her car along the crowded highway. “You look really good,” she says, then pauses. She reaches over and pats my thigh, which has always been the fleshiest part of my body. “Course you still have to work on this here.”
I am thirty years old. Since getting married two years ago, my weight has ballooned. I went from wearing a size twelve wedding dress to struggling to fit into size sixteen jeans in less than a year. After spending months dieting and exercising like a fiend, nothing has worked. I sit on the exam table in my PCP’s office, terrified of the possibilities coursing through my brain – PCOS, diabetes, thyroid disorder, high blood pressure. Which will it be? How will they cure it? What do I need to do to lose weight? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get thin again? Something has to be wrong with me if I’m not thin, right?
Vial after vial of blood is drawn and I am sent home to await. And starve. And kill my knees as I try to take up running.
Weeks later, the test results come in an email that sets my heart pounding in my ears. My hand is shaking over the mouse as I scroll through the black and white findings. Normal, normal, normal, normal, normal.
Normal? How is that possible? I don’t have high blood pressure or cholesterol. I don’t have PCOS or diabetes. My thyroid is functioning as it should.
I should be relieved but instead I’m even more upset. How can I solve this problem if I don’t know what caused it?
Frustrated, I call my doctor. She assures me that nothing in my test results is any cause for alarm. If I’d like, she can set me up for a phone interview with a nutritionist.
Sure, I agree. Anything.
I speak to the nutritionist once a week for several months. She sends me a thick workbook where I track what I eat and take quizzes that remind me of first grade. Of course I know apples are better for you than donuts. I’m not even really a big fan of donuts! I can’t believe they have paragraph after paragraph in this book about how the key to losing weight is shedding more calories than you eat. Duh! That’s what I’m trying to do! I’m fat; not stupid.
At the end of my time with the nutritionist, she declares that I’ve done everything right and that I have a good understanding of how to live a healthy lifestyle. But I’ve lost zero pounds. Zero.
I am thirty-one years old. I’ve decided to take up swimming again because I just plain miss it. I purchase a tankini on Amazon and am thrilled when it fits and I actually love the way it looks on me.
Except my thighs. My damn thighs. I’m staring in the mirror, focusing on the jiggly tops of my legs, fighting the urge to count every speck of cellulite I see.
I sigh and think about those days when I wore sizes in the single digits and how I still thought I was fat back then. I chuckle and shake my head and think that if I could go back in time, I’d find my younger self and deliver the pep talk I needed to hear. I’d tell the younger me to be confident, to flaunt my body, to flirt, to dance, to buy that bikini.
As I reminisce about those days, I suddenly have an epiphany. If I didn’t even like my body when it was a size 7, when am I going to like it?
I stand up a little straighter and gaze at my full reflection in the mirror. The answer is now. Now is the time to be happy with my body. Not the body I used to have or the one I may or may not have in the future. The body I have today.
Yes, I have cellulite. I’m not even close to having the coveted thigh gap. But these legs are mine. They take my dog on walks. They walked me through the streets of London and along the shores of beaches. They walked me down the aisle when I married my husband. The kick strongly when I swim.
Yes, I have flabby arms. But they can still hold things. They can still hug. They support my hands, which allow me to type and write and work towards being a published author.
I think about the decision I made to stop lifting hand weights and doing DVD aerobics that I hated just to try and shed a pound or two. Instead I decided to spend that time writing – working towards a goal I actually want to achieve. Not one my parents, friends, co-workers, or strangers want me to achieve.
On the day I had that epiphany, it was like I could almost see the light bulb flicking on over my head. This was my life. My body. And it was about damn time I started doing what I wanted to do with my life and being happy with what I’d been given.
So I traded in my weights and exercise DVDs for my laptop and writers’ newsletters. I swim because I enjoy it, not to try to lose weight. I walk my dog and kayak because it’s fun and relaxing, not because I sometimes eat ice cream.
It’s been three years since I decided to love and embrace my bigger body and work towards the life goals I’ve had since I was a little girl.
My daily routines and my long-term goals are based on what I want, and I’ve never been happier. Even though I’m not a size 7.
My anxiety and depression is more under control now than it’s ever been because I spend time in therapy and doing things that relax me. Even though I have flabby arms.
I am good at my job and am happy where I spend nine hours a day. Even though I don’t have a thigh gap.
I spent a year volunteering with Planned Parenthood, which taught me a lot and made me feel really good. Even though I’m a bigger girl.
I self-published two books, had several articles published, and maintain a blog. Even though I have a belly.
I traveled to London to fulfill a lifelong dream. Even though I have a big ass.
I say these things because I know that if someone were to see me in person or in photos for the first time in a long time, they’d be shocked and maybe disappointed at how much weight I’ve gained.
But then I think about all those times when people complimented how thin I was and how good I looked, and I realize that while that may have been true, those people also didn’t realize that I was having serious battles with my mental health or that I’d lost yet another job, or that my mom was dangerously ill in the hospital or that I’d lost my grandfather.
Sure, there are times that I cringe at an unflattering photo. There are days when I’m sad that I’ll probably never fit in my wedding dress again. But to be completely honest, I have never been happier or more content overall with my life.
I stay as active as possible with swimming, light hikes, walking my dog, and kayaking. I try to eat as many fruits and veggies as I can even though I loathe cooking. I refuse to eat artificial sweeteners or meat laced with hormones. I see my doctor regularly, and at my last visit she declared my blood pressure as “perfect.”
Let me be clear – I don’t condone unhealthy lifestyles, whether it be dangerous cleanses or gorging fast food. But much like a woman’s reproductive health, her general health stats like blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol should be between an individual and her doctor, no one else.
I’m finally starting to realize that there is no magic number for health. There is no one weight or one size that marks us as healthy or not. This is not a black and white issue, and it’s time we stopped treating it like one.
Here’s a good example – recently one of my Facebook friends posted about being envious of those girls who have a thigh gap. The post was made in the midst of a scorching heat wave, and this friend, who is about as far away from being fat as the earth is from Pluto, was complaining about her thighs chaffing.
One woman commented, “Just stay healthy.”
It took every ounce of my self-control not to reply to her ignorant comment. One physical feature does not define health! I didn’t even have a thigh gap when I was a size 7 and I’m pretty sure Miss Serena Williams doesn’t have one either. Go ahead – tell that force of female power she’s not healthy.
There are so many different types of bodies in this world and we need to start respecting all of them.
above photos courtesy of Google Images (ANTM Whitney Port, ANTM Khrystyana Kazakova, singer Miley Cyrus, tennis player Serena Williams, & model Ashley Graham)
I’m going to close with a quick story that I hope highlights the importance of appreciating and accepting our own bodies and the bodies of others. When I went to see the musical Peter Pan a few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in the very first row where I got an up close and personal view of the tiny little details in the set, the costumes, and yes, the actors’ physiques. The woman portraying Peter Pan was tiny – probably barely five feet tall, great bone structure and thin limbs that helped her nail the acrobatic moves she made while being hoisted over the stage on wires. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I admired her lithe arms and legs and seemingly effortless moves. How great would it be to have a career where you got paid to be fit and tiny?
Then the actress playing Tiger Lily took the stage and began to dance. As she stomped and twirled and flipped, I found myself admiring her body too – even though it was nothing like Peter Pan’s. She was shorter and curvier with larger breasts and a generous backside and thighs that looked like tree trunks. But every move she made was impressive and I could actually see the sheer muscle propelling her body as she leapt and spun.
At one point in the show, Peter Pan and Tiger Lily stood on opposite sides of a drum, dancing and beating a rhythm and playing off of each other’s movements. I watched in awe as these two women with completely different body types worked in harmony to create an impressive dance sequence. One wasn’t a better dancer than the other and one wasn’t more attractive than the other – they were simply different.