onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “bodies”

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.

If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.

Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.

My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.

Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.

And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.

I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.

On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.

 

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My heart, not my ass

I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.

When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.

Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.

When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.

We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.

But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)

Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.

When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.

I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.

 

 

Let’s not spread it around like germs

It is hot here in Kentucky. For the past few days, it has been in the nineties, but the heat index has it feel like 100-105 degrees. And yet, I am not suffering. In fact, I am enjoying it. (Though I could do with fewer bugs, thank you.) In recent years I have found that I am always cold. Sometimes I sit out on my porch in the morning and if it’s only in the high seventies, I need to put on a sweater. Seriously. Always. Freaking. Cold. So I am absolutely loving that I can go sit outside in as few, teeny tiny clothes as possible.

 

When I was eating compulsively, I was basically always hot. I was so generally warm that I didn’t wear a coat in the winter in Chicago. I would sweat pretty much constantly, no matter the season, no matter the temperature. And on top of that, I was so ashamed of my body that in the summer, I would keep myself covered up. I would wear jeans under long dresses no matter how hot it got; so that was even more sweating.

 

I would guess that between the ages of 14 and 22, I didn’t own a bating suit. If I did, I don’t remember, and I would guess that I didn’t use it very much. The idea of being seen in a bating suit was terrifying to me. I want you to think about that. I was more comfortable wearing layers of clothing in the scorching heat than I was letting people see my legs, arms and shoulders. I probably didn’t get in a pool, lake or sprinkler for eight years because it was more comfortable to be oppressed by the sun than it was to be oppressed by the potential judgment of strangers. I was both ashamed of myself, and afraid that others would shame me as well.

 

And here is the thing about body shame: it doesn’t go away easily. It didn’t go away because I lost 150 pounds. In fact, it was never just going to go away. It had to be dismantled and I was the one who had to dismantle it.

 

I still have to dismantle it. Here’s the thing, I am not fat. I am 5’6 ½”, I wear a size 6/8. But I am curvy. I have wide hips and round thighs and a belly. And those things can make me feel fat. My thighs rub together. For various reasons, one of which is being fat during my formative years, I am knock kneed. (It is actually a pretty common phenomenon among women because we tend to have wider hips than men.) My upper legs lean toward one another while my lower legs lean away. Because of this, my thighs have always rubbed together. Even at my very thinnest, probably 20 pounds lighter than I am now, when I was wearing size small clothes, my thighs rubbed together. The only way they would stop rubbing together is if I became skeletally thin, and frankly, maybe not even then. Sometimes that makes me feel fat. I have a lot of extra skin and stretch marks and sometimes that makes me feel fat. I have broad shoulders, I have large calf muscles, I have flabby arms. Sometimes every single one of those things makes me feel fat.

 

And it’s not just because I used to be fat. It’s definitely not just me. The other day, on Facebook, there was a picture of a friend (a real natural beauty by any standards) and she made a comment about looking “pregnant” (which I read as fat.) Just to be clear, she did not look either pregnant or fat. And I commented on it, because frankly, it freaked me out. I will admit that it was none of my business, and I probably shouldn’t have made a comment, but I did. In my wishful thinking, I hoped that at least she would acknowledge that like me, while she might feel fat, she at least understood intellectually that she was not. But she declined. She said that at least we could agree that it was an unflattering picture. At that point I had already overstepped my bounds, so after that I kept my opinion to myself, but you know what? No. I am telling you, my lovely readers, that I refuse to agree that it was an unflattering picture. It was a picture of a real woman with a real body, doing real things. What is unflattering about having a body big enough to actually house a full set of human internal organs?

 

I refuse to accept that the only beauty is the hyper-specific set of characteristics that the beauty and fitness industries acknowledge. I refuse to accept the idea that what I am right now at this very moment is anything less than enough. I refuse to look a beautiful woman and agree with her when she tries to convince me that she is lacking.

 

I know that I cannot change others. But I can change myself, and the best way to do that is not always by changing my body, though obviously as a woman who lost over a hundred pounds, I am a proponent of that as well. Sometimes, the best way for me to change is by loving and accepting my body as it is. And what that often looks like for me is to take small actions that make me feel uncomfortable, until they are comfortable. And then I can take another small action that makes me uncomfortable.

 

I can think of so many examples of little obsessions that I managed to let go of. When I was overweight, I never wore a top that didn’t cover my butt. Even after I lost weight, it took something to get over this. It was burned into my brain that by not hiding that I had a lower body, I was somehow being rude to others. When I first started working out about 15 years ago, I wouldn’t wear spandex workout clothes; I would only wear things that were loose fitting, never mind that they might be less comfortable or might even make it more difficult to move around.

 

Several years ago, when I was my thinnest, I started wearing a bikini when I went to my (mostly) secluded New York City roof to sunbathe. I would never have gone out in public like that, but at that point just putting on a bikini was a huge step for me. That I owned a bikini felt daring. Years later, and thirty pounds heavier, I started wearing my bikini in public. And not in a shy, apologetic way. I didn’t hide. I didn’t avoid talking to people (I am a friendly person.) I was just being myself, with more skin showing. It was uncomfortable the first few times, but when I did it often enough, it became “just the way it was.” In fact, I have four bating suits right now, but I only wear two of them, because the others are not bikinis and I decided that I prefer bikinis. My running clothes are spandex now. I wear them because they are made of moisture wicking material. Do they look great? I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t wear them to dress up, I wear them to run.

 

I’m not saying that I am totally free of self-judgment, especially around my body. I have some super-serious body image disorders that I expect will dog me my whole life. But I refuse to kowtow to them. I refuse to spread them around like germs. I refuse to accept them as truth. And I absolutely refuse to prioritize my life around hiding things that some people call flaws, which are really just the realities of living in a human body on the planet Earth.

If you have something to say about my weight, DON’T! Seriously, just don’t.

Something came up this week that I want to talk about.

It was nothing major, really. It was a common enough occurance. But good Lord did it piss me off.

A woman I don’t know very well said to me, “How’s your diet going? I can see that you have lost weight since last time I saw you.”

Number one, I have not lost weight since the last time this woman saw me. At all. I may even have gained weight. So it occurred to me as a lie. And I am not even a little interested in polite lies. I am positive she meant it to be nice. That she thought it was the neighborly thing to do. But that kind of thing is disingenuous to me. And not welcome.

Number two, I am not on a diet. Diets have a goal and an end. You lose 15 or 20 or 50 or whatever number of pounds and then you eat crap again. Diets get cheated on. Because diets deprive you of anything enjoyable so sometimes you have to “live a little.” Diets are about losing weight.

What I do is a way of life. I don’t want to cheat. I don’t have a goal so I can stop. I don’t want to stop. I have boundaries around my eating because it makes me happy and free. If I lose weight great. If I don’t, it doesn’t change anything. I eat delicious meals that I love that don’t include sugar or simple carbohydrates. Because I am addicted to those things. I am not on a diet. I have a diet.

And number three, and this is the important one, it is rude and obnoxious to talk about someone’s weight. Stop that!

I would say that the average human has between 1 and 5 people in their lives who are allowed to speak openly about their weight. Because they are loving, nonjudgmental, and a clearing for the person. If you want to know if you are one of those people, you need to ask. Seriously. Just because you are a parent, or a friend, or a sibling, do not assume you are welcome to comment or ask about a person’s weight. If you are too embarrassed to ask, then you should keep your mouth shut.

And if you ask, and the person says no, then keep it to yourself. Not, “Well I just want to say…”

I don’t care if you think it’s a compliment. I don’t care if you think it’s important. I don’t care if you think it’s polite. Whatever it is, no means no.

I hate this idea that people think somebody’s weight is open for discussion. I understand that it is on the outside for everyone to see. But it is still deeply personal.

My body is the only vessel I have. It contains the entirety of my life. Without it, I am very literally dead. It is a deeply spiritual thing. Whether you see it that way or not. So mind your own business.

OK. I am done ranting. Thank you.

I make me feel like dancing

I have been listening to pop music and dancing around the house.

This is something I used to do all the time. Singing and dancing have always been a huge part of my life. From the time I was a small child.

There are two things about this that are important to me.

1. I don’t think I have done this since I quit smoking.
2. I am so grateful to be in a body that I am comfortable both moving in, and moving in front of people.

I have always danced. I danced as a small child. I danced when I was fat. I have always been a good dancer. (No seriously. A really good dancer. Like strangers feel the need to tell me.)

But when I was fat, I was always ashamed. As if I shouldn’t subject other people to having to look at my body. That my inability to control my eating forfeited any right to love moving that body.

It’s not that I didn’t dance. I did. Even in public. Because that’s how much I love dancing. But I was always self-conscious. And through my teenage years, I can remember being mocked at school or park district dances. But kids are mean. Even then I knew that kids were mean. And that I couldn’t stop dancing because of it. But it meant that I could never “dance like no one was watching.” I could never dance like I did alone in my bedroom.

And then, thank God, in my early 20’s I made friends with people who loved to dance as much as I did. They were great dancers too. And they knew that I was a great dancer. They told me. And to them, being fat and being a great dancer were not mutually exclusive. And we went out dancing two to three nights a week. And sometimes I forgot to be embarrassed. Sometimes it was just me and the music and I was free to honor my body by moving and shaking. Only sometimes. But that meant that I was no longer always worried and ashamed and embarrassed.

But even though I was graceful and talented, it was hard. It was hard on my body. I have always had an incredible amount of energy. But I had pain. My feet especially would ache. I wanted to dance all night, but I physically couldn’t. So I would sit out a few songs. But inevitably some song would come on that I just could not sit through. And I would hurt. I was hurting my body to nourish my soul.

But when I got control of my eating and lost my excess weight, dancing became one of my greatest joys in life. In public or private. I no longer worried if people were looking at me because they were disgusted. I no longer had to sit out any song. I could choose to dance to every song if I wanted.

I don’t know why I have started dancing again all of a sudden. I do know that I go through phases. With almost everything. I read constantly for 3 months and then don’t pick up a book for another three. I crochet in fits and starts. I eat the same thing every day for a year and then forget it exists. (What can I say, I’m a Gemini.) So maybe it’s a coincidence that I haven’t done it since I quit smoking. But I’m glad it’s back. It feels good. In my body and soul.

If you are wondering what I am dancing around my house to, here’s a sample.

Think before you google.

I did something today that I shouldn’t have done.

I googled.

If I were a friend of mine, I would give myself a good, stern talking-to. I even have a specific good friend whom I have (lovingly) made promise me that she will not google. Because no good can come of it.

Let’s face it, when you google, everything you see convinces you that all hope is lost. You have cancer. Or a sexually transmitted disease. Or dementia. Or whatever. But never anything good.

I googled: When will I lose the weight I gained from quitting smoking?

And all it did was piss me off.

Apparently I didn’t gain weight from quitting smoking. Or if I did, it’s because I ate too much. And there is nothing wrong with my metabolism. And quitting smoking didn’t change my body in any way except to make it healthier.

In other words, if I can’t lose weight, it’s my own damn fault.

This makes me feel like a big, fat loser. And rational thought doesn’t help. Because I will give you the rational low-down.

When I quit smoking, I had had boundaries around my food for 6 ½ years. I started gaining weight. First slowly, but then 10 lbs in a month. And then the weight gain slowed down again. But it didn’t stop until after about 10 months. So all together, I gained 30 lbs in 10 months.

I eat an exact amount of food. I had for 6 ½ years before I quit smoking. And I have for the 2+ years since I quit. And after I gained 10 lbs in a month, I (with the help of a sane and loving friend) significantly reduced the amount of food I eat every day. Still exact. Just less. And I continued to gain weight. Until it stopped.

And I have not lost the weight.

I suppose I could be extreme, even within my food boundaries, with the hope that I would lose weight. That I could choose skim milk and fat-free yogurt instead of 2%. That I could stop eating bacon once a week. That I could stop eating steak and carrots and squash. And eat steamed broccoli. And chicken. And lettuce. (I hate chicken. And lettuce.) With the hope that I might lose weight. But even in that there is no certainty. I went from full-fat to 2% and still gained weight. From bacon 3 times a week to once, and still gained weight. From full portions of carrots and squash, to half portions, and still gained weight. I went from cooking in fat, to fat on the side and still gained weight.

I did the smart and obvious things to lose weight. I did the science and math things. So it makes me angry to read that my truth is perceived as a lie. Or at least as a misguided and mistaken notion.

But why was I even googling in the first place? Why do I need to know if I can lose weight? If I will? When and where and why and how? Why do I need to be something I am not? Why do I need it to be different than it is?

And why still? Why, after a year and a half, am I still not content to live in this body? Why can’t I just be peaceful? Why can’t I just let it go?

When I read all of those posts that pissed me off, I did eventually get the message. The message from God to me. That I should mind my own business. That it is none of my business when, or how, or even if I lose weight ever again. That I should trust the way my life is going. That it’s a great life.

And it is a great life.

Of course the answer to why I googled today is Because I am a woman with eating and body image disorders. And I always will be. And just like I’m sick around food, I’m sick around my body and how I think and feel about it.

But it has occurred to me that there might be another reason. Maybe I needed to write my truth for the people like me who gained weight when they quit smoking, simply because they quit smoking. And are being told that they did not. That there is something that they are doing that is making them gain weight. And they feel crazy. And angry. And like nobody is seeing or hearing them.

Well, I do. I see you. I hear you. I believe you. Because in my heart, my head and my soul, I know my truth. And no amount of googling can make my truth false.

Though I’d still do better not to google in the first place.

Glamour is pain. Beauty is something else.

I have been thinking about beauty lately. Not just prettiness, though that too. But beauty. And where it comes from. And what it means. And what it is.

When I was a very small child, I was stunning. No, seriously. At 4 years old, I was positively striking. I had unusual coloring. My skin was on the darker side, and my hair on the lighter. Big deep brown eyes. I was a beauty. And I knew it, but not in an obnoxious way. In an innocent, 4-year-old way. It was just the way it was. And it was nice.

And then I started being told that I was fat, or that if I wasn’t careful I would get fat, or even if I was careful, I would get fat. And then I eventually did get fat. Really, truly, and undeniable fat.

I come from a fat family. In my childhood, the people I grew up around either were and had always been fat, had been fat and would be fat again but at any given moment might not be fat, or were fat, but had once been quite thin.

We were all scrutinized from a very young age. There was no accounting for growing and changing. There was no recognition that growing bodies look awkward. That bellies and thighs plump and elongate and shift as little people grow into big people.

And let’s face it, I would get fat. 300 lbs fat. But sometimes I have seen pictures of myself at some time or another and I see that I was not fat yet. And I can think back to that time and know that I believed I was. In truth, I think that 4-year-old beauty was the last me who didn’t think she was fat. I think by 5 I was ashamed. It’s a sad thought, really.

Because it was also never my experience that my fat family believed that you could be big and beautiful at the same time. The attractive ones were the thin ones. And the ones who went up and down were attractive when they were thin and not when they were fat.

I sometimes wonder if starting out so pretty made being fat such a hardship for me. Perhaps if I had been plain, or even just merely “cute enough”, I wouldn’t have devastated me the way it did. I wished so desperately to be beautiful, and at the same time, shunned all things pretty and girly. I wore men’s cologne and men’s clothes. I hated pink. It infuriated me whenever people called me Katie. Because Katie was a pretty girl’s name. (I still don’t love to be called Katie, by the way. But more because I am Kate. It so obviously suits me better than any other name.)

So yesterday, I had a group of ladies come over to my home for lunch. We are all women who work every day at keeping our eating disorders under control. And we are all beautiful. We are different ages, different sizes, different styles. But we all sparkle.

I remember years ago meeting the mother of a man I was seeing. And she loved me. And I loved her. (Frankly, she liked me more than her son did…) I think she liked me because I sparkled the way she did. I certainly liked her because she sparkled the way I did. And that sparkle was her beauty. She was a very pretty woman too. But it was her sparkle that made her beautiful.

And then I think about the women that I have known or met or just encountered who are beautiful, but not pretty. And conversely, the women that are very pretty, but in no way beautiful. I am very clear that prettiness and beauty are not the same.

So I have a theory about what that sparkle is. I believe it is self-care. Not just the physical part, like eating well, and keeping hydrated and getting enough sleep and exercise. Though, of course that’s a good part of it. But also taking care of yourself in other ways. Like taking care of your integrity. Doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. And being honest. So you can look God and yourself in the eye. And being confident. Not just in the way you look, but in your thoughts and actions. Doing things whole heartedly. Being bold. Knowing that it’s OK to be wrong, and get it wrong. Knowing that all will still be well if you fail. And feeling free to be yourself. Without regard to people and their judgments.

In other words, I believe beauty is peace.

In retrospect, I can see that I was still pretty when I was fat. In a different way, of course. My face was pretty. Rounder than it is now, but still pretty. And I had an hourglass figure. Just a very big one. But I was not beautiful. Because I hated myself. And because I had no confidence. And because I believed I was ugly.

I was not beautiful because I had no peace.

It’s funny where you actually find freedom

Today was the first time since our trip to Florida that I went sun bathing. I have been working more than before and I have long work days with long commutes. And the days that I have off need to be spent cooking and prepping and packing meals for the work days ahead. Not to mention laundry and some minor housekeeping. And then there are walks for my health and sanity. And the occasional manicure and/or pedicure for my vanity. I haven’t been able to lay out until today. By late May I am usually a bronze goddess. This year, not so much.

So today I put on my bikini and I went to the pool.

On my way, I saw two women in their cover-ups with their pool toys and their kids headed there too. And I got scared. That I was going to take off my cover-up and they were going to be disgusted. And maybe even make comments to each other about how I shouldn’t be dressed like that in front of their children. Maybe even say it right to my face.

Now I have still not lost any of the weight that I gained after I quit smoking. Or maybe I have dropped 5 or so lbs. But I’m not weighing myself, so I can’t be sure. And either way, my clothes have not gotten any bigger. Nor has my butt gotten any smaller. Which is not the torture that it was in the beginning, but it rubs me the wrong way.

I oscillate between being resentful of God, and choosing peace and acceptance. Though I also spend a good amount of time avoiding thinking about it, which is like a not-unhappy-medium. I mean, it is almost 2 years since I quit smoking. And it is over a year since I stopped gaining weight. I feel like it “should be” time for me to start losing weight. Like I deserve it. Like I paid my dues and now God owes it to me to let me get back into that body I loved being in. And then there is the thought that I “should” love being in this body. That it is beautiful too.

And the truth is that I do believe this body is beautiful. When I stop comparing it to that other body. When I stop wanting to be thinner because I have been thinner.

And as I write this, I can see another part of it. A part that is embarrassing to write. I loved being on the skinnier side of thin because it was the opposite of what I had been. It felt like an “in your face” to all of the people who judged me. And it felt like a kind of redemption for the fat girl I was. Because there was a part of me when I was fat that thought that my broken body meant that I could never be “skinny.” And then I was. And it was painless. (Not effortless, of course. Because there was all of the shopping and cooking and packing. There were all of the boundaries to keep. But there was no pain. No deprivation. No torture and no crazy.) And now, on the bigger side of thin, I feel like it’s not so much of an accomplishment in the eyes of strangers. Or even family and friends. It feels like the world is secretly thinking, “Sure, she lost weight. But a fat girl can never get really thin. They are not built that way.” It feels like more of the same “fundamentally broken.”

But of course, I don’t keep boundaries around my food to be skinny. I say of course because if I did, gaining thirty pounds would have made me give up. Sure I would have gained another hundred and thirty, but that thirty felt like a hundred and thirty anyway. And I certainly don’t keep eating boundaries to impress other people. Frankly, for every person who is impressed, there are three who think that I am extreme, or unhealthy, or just plain weird.

I keep boundaries around my food to keep myself sane. To keep being a person I want to be. In life, and with money, and work. And with people. Strangers and family and friends. And especially my boyfriend. And for me. To keep liking and loving and honoring myself.

So anyway, back to the pool. I took off my cover up, and I set myself up in a lounge chair and closed my eyes. And when I opened them a while later to take a look around, I saw that one of those moms was wearing her own bikini. And she looked a lot like I did. A real woman in a real body. Getting her sun.

And then I remembered something else. That those years ago, when I was in that skinnier-side-of-thin body, I never wore my bikini in public. I was too embarrassed and ashamed then. It wasn’t until after I gained my 30 lbs that I started wearing it where people could see me. This body that I judge so harshly is the one I found freedom in.

As every parent knows, “There’s nothing wrong with the one you’ve got.”

I’m in a funny place about my body lately. Not terrible. But not great either.

I have not been weighing myself for many months. And I am grateful for that. For some reason, numbers make me irrational. But I can tell I go up and down. In the way my clothes fit. And how big my butt is.

For whatever reason, a few weeks ago, I was up. And I can tell that I am in the process of going back down. And while I don’t know how much in terms of pounds, it is not a lot. I am not growing or shrinking out of my clothes.

But I am disappointed lately. Because I had hoped that I would have lost more weight by now.

If you don’t know, I quit smoking for my 35th Birthday. And I will turn 37 in less than 2 months. In the first 9 months of quitting, I gained 30 pounds. Not because I was eating to compensate. But simply because that was one of my side effects. I had others too. For the first 6 weeks I had open sores in my mouth and for about 10 months I was depressed. But it was the weight gain that was most devastating to me.

As a former fat girl, I have all sorts of eating and body image disorders. Sometimes they are dormant. And sometimes they are active. Though only in my head…When it comes to eating, starving, binging, purging, laxatives, over-exercising, and all other manner of acting out with food, I have the action part under control with strict rules and boundaries. And I have for over 8 years.

So gaining 30 lbs, especially with my eating under control, was triggering for me. It made me crazy. And unhappy. And it was hard to reconcile myself to it. I felt like I was being punished. And it was especially frustrating because I felt like I was being punished for quitting smoking. You know, no good deed goes unpunished, and so on.

But I felt like I could handle it, because I thought it would be temporary. I thought that after some time went by, I would lose that 30 lbs. Or at least the greater portion of it. And here I am almost 2 years later, and a full year since the excessive weight gain stopped, and I have not lost any weight.

There is something that I have told more than one person recently, and I would do well to remember it myself. When I was actively eating compulsively and eating sugar, my eating habits were surely the reason I weighed 300 lbs. (Duh.) But since I got my eating under control and stopped eating sugar, I have noticed that what I eat has generally had the least to do with my weight. The thinnest I ever was in my life was the time that followed the illness of my Dad’s mom, who was the first love of my life. In the months that led to her death, I must have dropped 15 lbs, and I was already thin. Then, and in the years following that time, it did not matter what I ate. Drenched in butter, deep-fried, bacon, full-fat dairy, huge portions. Every day. Just to maintain a tiny little body. And then I quit smoking. And even cutting portions in half, reducing fat content and limiting how often I ate certain foods, I still gained weight. I gained 30 lbs, eating less than half of what I had been eating before I gave up cigarettes.

I’m saying I don’t want to start worrying about what I eat. That I don’t want to start drinking skim milk and eating nonfat yogurt. I don’t want to start steaming my vegetables. I don’t want to stop eating roasted squash and carrots. In the (possibly vain) hope that I will lose 20 lbs. Because for years now, what I eat has not had nearly as great of an impact on my weight as all of the other things going on in my life. My stress, my sadness, my anxiety, my withdrawal, my unwillingness to let things go.

And I’m also saying I want to stop judging my “willpower” and my looks so harshly.

I know that my eyes are broken. And I can see that sometimes I think I look like women who are significantly bigger than I am. But also, the truth is that I am not particularly thin right now. And I don’t like it. And dammit! I don’t like that I don’t like it.

I really want to be comfortable in my own body. Exactly as it is. And I don’t want to feel like I should eat diet food. And I don’t want to judge myself on what I am eating. And I don’t want to feel like my worth is based on how “good” I can be. And I don’t want how “good” I am to be based on how much I can deprive myself, and how much I can suffer for a smaller body. And I don’t want to buy into the notion that a smallest possible body is always healthier, prettier, better.

Because that is the notion in modern Western culture, right? That any body bigger than tiny is fat. That the best body is the smallest one. That as a woman, that’s the one to strive for. And if you are not striving for the smallest possible body then you are somehow lacking. Lazy, or shameful, or ultimately unwomanly.

There is a kind of person that I want to be. And it involves having peace around what is so. And it involves trusting that I have exactly the body that I am supposed to have. And knowing that this body is beautiful. Because it is well cared for. Well fed. Well hydrated. Well maintained. Well used with out being abused.

And I want to be the kind of person who has some perspective about bodies. Specifically my own body, but also in general. Human bodies in the world. To have a realistic and sane outlook on them. To see that they aren’t all created to grow into doe-eyed, pouty, ectomorphs, if only their owners would behave properly. To understand that they all grow into different shapes and sizes. And at different rates. And that I got as good of one as anybody else. And you did too.

Because I can’t unshoot the gun. And I don’t know that I would if I could…

I was talking to a friend this morning. Another woman with eating disorders and body image issues. Someone I love and identify with. The kind of person with whom you can have a conversation that is both intellectual and spiritual at the same time.

She said something that I had never heard before. “Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” It’s a quote by Dr. Francis Collins.

I believe that I have a genetic predisposition to have an unhealthy physical reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. And I believe that when that physical reaction was triggered in my childhood, it triggered a mental obsession. But the environment I grew up in triggered a very specific mental obsession. It was an obsession with eating. Eating more. Eating constantly. I hated being fat. So I disconnected from my body. But my obsession was with food. Sugar, specifically.

Then I moved away from that environment. To New York City. And in that new environment, I developed a whole new set of mental obsessions that stemmed from that same physical reaction. All of a sudden I had a kind of vanity that I had never experienced before. I did not have bulimic tendencies or the same kinds of body image issues before I moved to New York City. There I was still obsessed with eating, but then there was this added obsession with appearances. With being beautiful. With appearing like a normal eater by maintaining a socially acceptable body.

I am clear that I am not going to be able to reverse any of these things now. Perhaps if I never moved to New York, I would not have become a bulimic. But I did. And I am. And now I can’t unshoot that gun. Or the sugar addict, compulsive eater gun. I am now irreversibly a compulsive eater, bulimic, exercise bulimic, and sugar addict with body dysmorphia. One particular blessing is that I do not have to engage in the damaging behaviors of these diseases because I do the work I do every day to keep my eating and my eating disorders under control.

But then I have to ask, what of it? Does it even matter? Is there an environment that I could have grown up in that would not have triggered my eating disorders? And even if there were such an environment, that’s not how my life went. Who is to say that growing up with a healthy relationship with food would have given me a better life?

Because along with a certain amount of pain and difficulty, my eating disorders gave me another gift. Dealing with them meant changing the way I looked at life and the world. In other words, I don’t know if I would have learned the best lessons of my life if I didn’t have to learn them to stop killing myself with food.

• Keep your eyes on your own life. You don’t know what people are going through by looking at their shiny hair and skinny thighs on the subway. All you are seeing is their outsides. You don’t know their troubles or their pain.

• You have your journey and everybody else has theirs. You didn’t get a bad one. Or the wrong one. You didn’t get a life any worse than any other.

• Control is an illusion. The only things you control are your actions and your reactions. Outcomes are totally out of your hands. So behave in a way that makes you proud of yourself. Because when you think doing it “right” means it will turn out the way you want, you’ll start to think you always do everything thing “wrong”. Bit if you live like you can’t do it “wrong”, you start to notice that everything always turns out “right”.

• Perfection is not an option. And once you accept that as the truth, you are free to be yourself. And free to be happy.

I guess what I’m trying to say today, is that it doesn’t matter that genetics loaded the gun. It doesn’t matter that environment pulled the trigger. It doesn’t matter that I can’t unshoot it. It’s life. My life. I happen to think it’s a good one. Full of blessings. But in reality, it’s the same life as when I thought it was a great big bucket of suck. I just make better decisions now.

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