in for a penny, in for a pound

This post is longer than most of what I write here.
Parts of it may be hard to read for some. But it ends well.

For all of my adult life, I have known exactly how much I weigh.

In my 20s and 30s, that number didn’t fluctuate much, but I still knew what it was. I’m sure I could not tell you now what my address was then, or my boss’s name, or my favourite movie from a particular time.

But I know what I weighed when I moved to Toronto, when I met Kristina’s father, when I was pregnant, how quickly I returned to my pre-baby weight; I know what I weighed when Ed and I took our first trip to Kauai and had our first helicopter ride; what I weighed the only time I was hospitalized; and how the numbers have climbed since my diagnosis with celiac.

All along I have known. I’ve never bought a scale, and I don’t remember growing up with one in the house (perhaps Mum had one under her bed?), but nearly everyone I have ever lived with had one, and there’s always one at the gym.

It’s not hard to track your weight.

My view of an ideal weight – and shape – had been oddly distorted. When I was very young, my father had centerfolds pinned up around the rec room – the same rec room where we watched the Wonderful World of Disney on TV trays every Sunday night. As I grew, I was a long, lanky bean pole. Nothing like those curvy, airbrushed models on the rec room wall.

As the years passed, I was fortunate to be surrounded by appreciative male friends and lovers – men who gave me positive feedback and reinforcement for the body I had, not some other ideal, but the body I was blessed with, the body I had a hard time being grateful for.

The unfortunate – and sad – part is that I didn’t hold that opinion of and for myself. I couldn’t rely on my own sense of my body. I couldn’t relax and enjoy my body, feel like it was good and good enough, on my own.

When I married Kristina’s father, my home life became one that was outright hostile to my body.

One example: kids get weighed often, and for them it is a celebration of how they have grown – they like to get bigger (assuming all is healthy and well). After a visit to the doctor, Kristina proudly told her father her new weight. Then we shared the temporary factoid that, between us, Kristina and I weighed less than her wiry father. His response was, “Keep it that way.”

Given that she was still a child and likely to grow, the message was horrible either way – either she shouldn’t grow and get bigger, or I should somehow get even smaller, to stay below some prescribed expectation.

At the time, I weighed 130 lbs.

I was healthy, fit, toned, and active, running around after and with a small child. Standing at 5’8” with a small frame, I had no rolls or lumpy curves. If I dared to complain about my weight or my body in the company of other women, I was poo-pooed, chastised for being “so thin,” and asked what I would know about such things.

I stayed at that same weight for years.

Yet, if I dipped into a bowl of ice cream, or had some chocolate at home, he would sidle up to me and pinch my waist or my butt, telling me to be careful. Small wonder that I eventually left him.

Two days after I told him our marriage was over, he said that he had always thought my butt was too big. Even on the day we met (poolside in Mexico, when I was 23, had no stretch-marks, and weighed 126 lbs).

It has taken me an enormously long time to get (more) comfortable with my body. I look at where I was – weight- and fitness-wise – and wonder how I could have ever complained. I was lean, healthy, and strong, and clothes draped easily on my frame.

As I slowly gained weight – developing lumps and bumps for real – I came to understand how my friends could scoff and p’shaw when I had passed my hand over my flat, flat belly (or around my bony hips, or smoothed a skirt down my cellulite-free thighs – yes, those were the days) and fretted about how it all looked.

In fact, the pouched belly I saw then was not there. How do I know?

It is here, now.

In the couple of years before Ed and I married, while we worked on remodeling our home and building our life together, I became ill. Without my permission, the genetic switch inside me flicked to ON, and I developed celiac.

During the time before I knew my diagnosis, when I just felt crappy all the time, the needle on the scale bounced all over, and eventually settled on a gain of 12 lbs. Some folks with celiac lose weight during this time, because they are not absorbing enough nutrition, because they don’t feel like eating.

Not me. I was in the other camp: because I wasn’t getting enough nutrition, I craved more food; because I felt crappy, I craved comfort foods.

Six months after our wedding, I finally had a diagnosis for my illness – celiac. And over the next three years, I gained another 30 lbs.

Thirty pounds.

When I realized that, when I said it out loud, I was horrified. Disgusted. I didn’t know how that happened. I mean… I know, but I didn’t know why I hadn’t stopped it from happening. I weighed myself often enough that I knew it was going on.

Something changed this past summer. I began working out again after a series of illnesses and injuries. I continue to enjoy food, but more mindfully, with moderate portions. I bought clothes for the body I have, rather than hating my body and denying myself the feeling of being cute and stylish.

I remember looking in the mirror the week before our wedding, and wishing I wasn’t so lumpy. A few months ago, I reflected on that time with Ed. We were snuggled up like spoons, talking a bit before falling asleep, as we often do.

I told him about that feeling, about the weight I had gained since then, and about how I would, now, give my left arm (although it would probably take more) to look that way, to have that body – and how I didn’t see my body then.

I wondered aloud, if I would be looking back at THE BODY I HAVE RIGHT NOW when I am 80, and thinking I’d give my wrinkly, droopy left arm to look and feel how I feel now – this weight, these curves, this body.

And if so, why couldn’t I enjoy it at the time. Now.

This now.

Oh.

Maybe I could skip that step and simply enjoy my body now – feed it well and nutritiously, move it joyfully, take it places, treat it tenderly, dress it up on occasion, give it time to heal and rest and play and laugh and dance – be in my body and be grateful for it now.

And then 10 pounds melted away.

I am still rounder and curvier than I ever was. And, oddly – to me, anyway – I am more okay with my body than I have ever been, more grateful for what I have and enjoy.

Sure, I would like to wear a pair of jeans and feel like it is a flattering look for me. Maybe I will. And sure, I weigh now what I weighed when I was nine-months pregnant with Kristina. Those are just numbers.

They were always just numbers.

The numbers didn’t ever measure celebration or joy or peace or gratitude.

The true, deeper, lesson in that pillow-time conversation came later, from one of my sisters: maybe, just maybe, at 80, I won’t have to – won’t want to – look back at this body now and wish for it.

Maybe I will be active and healthy, maybe tired and worn-out, maybe I’ll be dragging my shell of a body around to all the things I am still doing/seeing/enjoying/being that I’ll be so damn grateful for all that my body does, being a healthy and supportive house for my mind and soul, that I won’t have time or energy or inclination to wish for a body from a different time.

I’ll have a lifetime of memories and stories from a live well-lived – I know I will, because I am living that joyful life right now.

And no one will care what I weighed as I lived it.

And no one will care what I weigh then.

Not even me.

12 Comments

  • Thank you, Holly. I have come to this place with the help of brave, beautiful, compassionate women and men in my life. Your flawsome story played a significant part – and is the subject of what will be a fun follow-up post to this.

  • Nice! Congratulations on getting here and writing about it. It isn’t just hyperbolic feminist rhetoric to say that the battery of body-loathing messages is designed to control and undermine women. You are not weak for feeling it; rather you are strong for recognizing it and kicking it in the ass. What a great example for Kristina and the kids you work with!

  • Aw. Thank you. Our conversations have gone a long way to shoring up, building, and re-building a healthier perspective. Thank you, always.

    I’ve recently begun following this writer on her blog, and saw this (which totally rocks, and I thought you would like): awesome business cards.

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Jet! Unfortunately, we live in a world in which images of perfect women are pervasive! It is very difficult to feel good in your own body when you are surrounded by messages that there is something wrong with it. I think your struggle is one that many women (and perhaps men to some degree) can relate to. I definitely can…I’m trying to focus on loving my body at any size because when I engage in self-hatred, that just makes me treat my body worse. I applaud your courage!! Thanks again!

  • Sarah Jean, thank you for your kind words. I am so happy to see that this conversation is really taking off. It seems that everywhere you look, someone is talking about reclaiming their idea of ideal, whether it’s shape, or accomplishments, or gender expectations, or _______________ (fill in your own blank).

    Applauding and supporting each other will go a long way to challenging the status quo. We all have stories – sharing them is sharing our humanity, giving ourselves and each other permission to be human and imperfect.

  • you have always been just right, to me, b. Always will be. I am so glad that you have found peace with your physical body. You have always accepted the emotional and philosophical mind you are blessed with and the exploration and acceptance of your shadow self. How lovely that your body has been invited to join the fold.

  • I adore this post! I’m struggling with self judgement stemming from parent judgement. I need to just be. Instead I drink sugar. This was motivating, thank you.

  • Oh, my Tina. Thank you. It is the blessing of long-time friends that they have seen you at your best and your worst and love you still. Thank you for seeing me.

  • MommieV, thank you for your kind words. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received – and one of the hardest to put into practice – is to treat myself as I would a dear friend.

    You wouldn’t be likely to judge a friend harshly, would you? I didn’t think so… it’s okay to be kind to yourself, too. In fact, I believe kindness is required for any other action to stick.

    A fine inspiration in this regard is the super-fun Joy Tanksley. She blogs at Being Joy, and also tweets inspirational little Joy-gems.

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