onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “body image”

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.

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The kind of stuff I want to buy

I will admit that I have a terrible click-bait problem. Ok, it’s not that bad. But I have a morbid fascination with plastic surgery before and afters and “no makeup” selfies. I swear I do it just to get myself riled up….Did you notice how I put “no makeup” in quotes? Yeah. Because more than half of these “no makeup” selfies are really makeup-that-is-meant-to-look-like-you-are-not-wearing-any-makeup selfies. Which, frankly, pisses me off.

I know that this is an eating disorder blog. But part of my having eating disorders is having these fun and exciting body image disorders. You know, the kind where you don’t really know what you look like, and perceive yourself as deeply flawed because you don’t look like the imaginary women in advertising. And how even knowing this intellectually, and being a highly intelligent woman doesn’t make it any better. Right. Those kinds of body image disorders.

If you don’t already know, I have a HUGE problem with the beauty industry. And with us as consumers. I am angry that we collectively agree that what is really beautiful is this elusive woman who can’t possibly fit all of her internal organs into her torso. The unicorn woman who doesn’t exist. Even underwear models get their images “fixed” by eliminating things like puckered skin under a bikini strap, or slimming down their thighs. Seriously! Slimming down supermodel thighs!

And if you also don’t know, I have a (slightly less huge, but still pretty darn) huge problem with internet culture and the way so many people only show the best sides of themselves, or in the case of trolls, the worst sides of themselves, because they feel protected by anonymity. 

That never impresses me. I know better. I mean, I have a pretty darn spectacular life in ways that I cannot begin to explain. And still there are so many things that go wrong, ways I get upset, times I am miserable for no reason. Or for some reason. It’s not all trophies and accolades. Nobody’s life is. And anyone who says differently is selling something. (Yes, I know that is a Princess Bride quote.) Selling something like no-makeup makeup. Like a meal replacement shake. Like an album. Like themselves. Like me on Facebook. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter! I’m going to make my Snapchat public!

So I look at the fake “no makeup” selfie, and I think “What a bunch of a**holes!” See, I thought the point of the no makeup selfie is to say “I’m imperfect too! You can’t be perfect because nobody is perfect!” But instead, it has become just another trophy. “Look! I’m the unicorn woman who wakes up looking like a supermodel. Too bad you can’t be like me. But you can worship me! And buy all of the things I am selling!”

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I, personally, do not wear makeup. I think I have worn it twice in the past in the past 5+ years. Both times to other people’s weddings. (I was conspicuously, yet unselfconsciously bare-faced at my own wedding.) But this is not about makeup. I have no problem with makeup, or women who wear it. I wore makeup for many many years. And I did not stop because I have some sort of moral issue with makeup. I still wear nice clothes and get my hair cut, and pluck my Groucho Marx eyebrows and Italian woman chin hairs. (I am an Italian woman, so I come by the chin hair honestly.) I really stopped because I was single and I noticed that I got hit on way more without makeup. And very early in our relationship, my husband said that he, too, liked the fact that I didn’t wear makeup. 

So this is not about makeup, it’s about lying. Deceit. This is about yet another way that we as women judge and disparage one another so that somebody can make money off of our insecurities. 

But I want to end with a shoutout to all of the women who post pictures of themselves with really no makeup! (Tyra Banks and Teri Hatcher, I’m high-fiving in your direction!) 

I know that these women are selling something too. But what they are selling is authenticity! Honesty! Womanly solidarity. And that’s the kind of stuff I want to buy. 

Exercise as long as I enjoy it. There’s a joke in there, right?

A few weeks ago, I started jogging again after almost 10 years. Nothing crazy. Two miles a day, 5 to 7 days a week. I took it easy at first, not trying to push too hard, partially running, partially walking. It’s interesting how little time it has taken me to get back into good enough shape to jog the whole 2 miles without stopping to walk.

When I was still eating compulsively, I used jogging to control my weight. Or rather, I tried to control my weight with it. But I couldn’t control my eating, so jogging didn’t help me very much there. I was so obsessed with “getting out” the food I couldn’t stop eating, that I was pushing too hard, and not taking care of my body. I would run until I injured myself, and then I would continue to run injured. I was punishing my body for being fat. I was abusing my body to try to force it into a shape and size that I thought would be socially acceptable, without dealing with my eating. Because I could not deal with my eating. I really didn’t have a solution. I didn’t think there was a solution. I was doing the best I could. But it was painful and difficult. It was damn exhausting.

But the other thing is that I was in great shape. Look, I don’t mean to glorify exercise bulimia. It’s not pretty. I was bat-shit crazy when I was eating compulsively and running to try to control my weight. But that doesn’t change the fact that my body was capable and strong. And I never saw it that way. Or if I did, it was not enough. It was not really what I wanted. Because I was looking for something very limiting. I was looking for beauty. And not just beauty, but a narrow view of beauty. Simply put, I was looking to be as skinny as I could be.

So I didn’t enjoy how healthy I was when I was healthy. Partially because I was not totally healthy. I was so sick mentally and spiritually, that being in good physical shape wasn’t even healthy.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I had to stop a lot of the things I was doing to manage my weight, because they were just part of how sick I was with food. I had to stop eating “diet” food, and start eating real food. I had to stop counting calories, because tracking calories was how I tried to manage my weight without giving up sugar. Or it was about eating as few calories as I could in a day so I could be skinny. And I had to stop running because it was all about the size of my body. I had to give up all of those things because I had to change my thinking about the problem. The problem wasn’t the size or shape of my body. The problem was my inability to stop eating and the obsession I had with my weight. That obsession with my weight, which I was just then starting to let go of by putting boundaries around my eating, made me scared of over exercising. And it was a valid fear. I am still afraid of it.

I decided to start jogging again because I am 38 (and a half) years old. And it isn’t going to get any easier to get in shape the older I get. But I need to be in communication about this, because there is still an Exercise Bulimic Girl somewhere in inside of me, just like there is still a Good Girl, and a Fat Girl, and a Body-Dysmorphic Girl, and even an Overly Critical Perfectionist Girl with Anorexic Tendencies. All of these aspects of my eating and body-image disorders still occupy space in me, in various states of dormancy. So I went to my friend who helps me make decisions about my food and my weight, and I told her I was running 2 miles a day.

She asked me, “Are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying the endorphins?” And I thought about it, and yes. I am enjoying it. So she said, “It’s good that you are telling on yourself. Do it as long as you enjoy it. If you ever stop enjoying it, let me know.” And that was that.

I don’t think of myself as someone who enjoys exercise. But then, I was never a person who exercised for herself. I was exercising for everybody else. I was killing myself for validation by unnamed people who didn’t know or care about me, who had also bought a limited sense of beauty and beauty-connected worth. But the truth is, I do love exercising. I love the feeling of self-care. And I love the feeling of accomplishment. And I love the feeling of getting stronger. And yes, I love the endorphins.

It’s not the salad, so much as the principle…

I have been eating a lot more raw vegetables for several weeks. I have been having big salads at least once, and often twice a day. Colorful, delicious arugula salads with radishes, onion, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumber, and a handful of steamed broccoli and canned artichoke hearts.

I haven’t generally thought much about raw versus cooked vegetables, but I have noticed that my body dysmorphia is in what seems to be a dormant phase. And it makes me wonder if the two are connected.

I eat my vegetables every day. I have done so for over 9 years. I have been regularly consuming fresh produce like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions, bok choi, Swiss chard, cabbage and green beans. Mostly roasted or sautéed. But since I have started eating so much salad, I have been feeling significantly calmer about what I look like.

And I have not lost weight. That’s what makes it interesting.

I have questions about why. Is it chemical, and physiological? Is it all psychological? Is it a combination? Or is the whole thing just coincidence? Am I just in a good phase regarding my body image issues?

There is a part of me that wants to say that it doesn’t matter if the two are connected. What matters is that I am mostly well now. But ultimately, it does matter. It is the difference between peace and torment. And I need to admit that I do not believe it is a coincidence. But I don’t want to, because I love eating lots of cooked vegetables. And if I admit that is having an effect on my mood or my happiness, it means I will have to moderate how much of my food is cooked.

I am a compulsive eater. I might have my eating under control, but I will never be neutral around food. If I ever had the ability to be indifferent, that ship has sailed. And then it sank. I like my food, and I like it decadent.

It’s not that my big salads are not delicious. They are wonderful. I love every bite. But I can often forget how much I will enjoy them when I am not in the actual process of eating one. There is a kind of mental block I have around salad. And I know that I am not the only one. I have talked about this with lots of other people.

And there is that part of me that doesn’t want any more limits. Whenever I think it might be time to make a change, my first reaction is always to be a crybaby-whiner. But I already gave up sugar and grains, and I quit smoking, and I limit my coffee, and severely limit my diet soda. Don’t take anything else away from me! I mean, they are just sautéed Brussels sprouts? Can you really find fault with Brussels sprouts? Seriously?! (Can you hear the whining?)

The first thing I have to remember is that moderation does not have to mean The End. I do not have to give up my Brussels sprouts forever and always. I can limit them to, say, three or four times a week. But the more important thing I have to remember is that I don’t have to do anything. It’s one of my Jedi Mind Tricks. It takes away a lot of my initial instinct to rebel when I remind myself that I’m a big girl who lives her own life and makes her own decisions. If I want to fight and make a fuss, I can eat cooked vegetables every day on principle. Who is going to stop me? But just like every other action I take, I will reap what I sow. There is no escaping that.

In the end, I always want the gifts. If limiting my cooked vegetables means more days of peace and sanity, I will choose that. It’s how I roll. But I don’t always choose that first. Sometimes I take longer to get out of my own way than others. But ultimately, I want what I want. And I have learned over the years that I want sustainable happiness more than I want instant gratification.

I am still interested in the ways you take care of yourself and the gifts you get from not harming yourself with food. Use the hashtag #betterthanchocolate and share your experiences. I want to hear from you!

Also, follow me on twitter @onceafatgirl5.

And please feel free to follow, share and repost my blog!

A city of not-so-secret admirers

I am in New York City for a few days. I’m here for a kind of conference. It’s a conference about eating disorders and getting your eating under control. It has been two days of community and fellowship. And I’m exhausted.

It’s good to be back. I like it here. There are things I had forgotten about living here. Things that I miss. Not all of it. I don’t miss the stress. People keep telling me I look so relaxed. And I am. There is a buzz in the city. Not always a pleasant one. Sometimes an anxious, neurotic, unfocused one. But there is something else here. Something that I used to thrive on and I don’t get it other places. New York is a city of show offs. Hence, it is a city of audience members. At any given moment, you are the player or the viewer. Looking to impress or be impressed.

Last week I was in tears over my body. Angry at God that I have not lost weight. Feeling fat and ashamed. Not wanting to come here. Worrying that I would be judged harshly for not being skinny.

But the truth is, I had been in the city for 20 minutes and I couldn’t even get the half mile to the farmers market without being admired. Without being called beautiful. Without being asked if I was having a nice day. Without being smiled at.

I had forgotten how much that was worth to my self-esteem. I had misunderstood what had changed. My beauty had not changed. My surroundings had. I had noticed that fewer men were making note of my attractiveness. I wondered if I was not aging well. If I was not a pretty as I had been. If it was because I was fat.

Now I just want to note that my boyfriend tells me I am beautiful every day. And I know he means it. And I love that. And need it. But, you know, he’s in love with me….

What coming to New York did was give me some perspective. That I live in a perfectly lovely body. That my weight is not affecting my beauty. And that, really, my weight is not a problem. All of these men kept telling me so in kind, gentlemanly ways. Not aggressive or objectifying. Just in admiration.

I will always have body image issues. Those will never go away. I know that. And they are not rational. I know that too. But I hope I get to take this with me back home. At least for a little while. This experience of being a beautiful woman among beautiful women. This knowledge that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

And, a woman at the conference said that her doctor recommended walking at night in order to jumpstart her metabolism. And she said it helped. So I am going to try that too! Not because there is anything wrong. Just because why not.

If you are looking for a warm fuzzy, this is not it.

So yeah. Really not looking forward to writing this particular post. In fact, thought about what else I could possibly write about. Anything. But nope. It’s this.

I have gained weight. My jeans still fit, but different. And my arms and belly are bigger.

I am still not weighing myself. And thank God. I don’t do well with numbers. I am bad at rational thought when it comes to my weight. I know that to some people (including myself in the not-so-distant past), knowing the number would be a chance to look reality square in the eye. This is not true for me anymore. When it comes to me and the number on the scale, I lose all sense of reality and it is all about shame. I am sick in the head about these things.

I want to be clear. I believe that knowing things is better than not knowing. I think that most people who are interested in managing their weight and their bodies should get on the scale every once in a while. Before I quit smoking, I got on once a month. And it was fine. Maybe not fun, but not an issue. But since my quit-smoking-weight-gain, getting on the scale has been a kind of torture. So I stopped.

I need to acknowledge that for over a year, I have been waiting to lose the weight I gained. I feel like I deserve it. I feel like it’s due me. I feel like it’s my right.

I am going to be honest. And the Good Girl inside me doesn’t want me to say this. But if I had known that this is what was going to happen to me, I never would have quit smoking.

Look. I quit. It’s done. I don’t have any intention of starting again. But my relationship with my body has suffered badly in the past 2 years. I feel ugly a lot of the time. I feel fat most of the time. And feel like the whole thing is completely unfair.

Perhaps if I really went back and inventoried all the benefits I personally received from quitting smoking, I would see that I would do it all again in a heartbeat. But when I think about how I was once, miraculously, for a time, at peace with my body and now I am regularly unhappy and sometimes deeply ashamed, it’s hard to be objective.

Having been a fat girl, I have always had a strained relationship with my body. It has always been an issue and it always will be. But having had that reprieve from 30 to 35, where my weight was not a constant torment, has made this past 2 years all the worse. Because I have the distinction, and I can’t seem to get back there.

The Good Girl is telling me that this is where I am supposed to tell you about how I am going to accept my body because it is the beautiful vessel for my soul. That as long as I honor myself by keeping my boundaries around my eating, I am honoring Life and the Universe, whatever my size. But the part of me that feels frustrated and cheated says that the Good Girl can go f*** herself.

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.

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