Weight. Body image. Diets.
I’ve been thinking about these things since I was a kid. Ever since my Mum first told me she needed to lose 10 lbs while jiggling her belly fat (she always needed to lose 5, 10, 30 lbs, at least according to her). After she died, I found at least a decade’s worth of diaries chronicling her daily weight. It was something of an obsession for her and a constant source of anxiety.
I’ve been writing about this ideas for more than a decade (I found this old post yesterday about how I feel about my weight), trying to grapple with society’s expectations of me and how I feel about myself.
And I’m still thinking about these things now. Joni Edelman’s recent essay on Being Thin Didn’t Make me Happy, But Being “Fat” Does has inspired some recent weight- and body-image-related introspection.
When I was 15 and skinny, I was about 128 lbs and shrinking. When I was 17 and felt pretty good about my weight, I was 144 lbs.
But I was never happy with myself. I wasn’t taught to be.
The lowest weight I’ve been as a fully-grown adult is 151 lbs about a year after having my first child, right at the moment in time I got pregnant with my daughter. And around that weight again while I was going through a divorce.
Was I happy with myself then? Briefly, post-baby/pre-pregnancy. For about two months.
Today, I weigh 174 lbs. I’m 5’8″. I wear size 12 pants. I’m 38 years old.
And these are my thoughts about dieting and weight and body image these days:
I’m done going on a diet to lose weight.
My primary care physician once suggested a healthy weight for my height would be around 124 lbs (19% BMI). Well, that’s not going to happen. I’m almost 40, perimenopausal and have a wonky thyroid. Weight doesn’t come off like it used to. I get really cranky when I diet — I know, I’ve tried most of them. And I don’t have the dedication to exercise for the sake of weight loss.
I do think my body works better when I feed it well (fresh, whole foods and not much sugar). But I love food. I cook for a family of seven with odd requirements — one gluten-free (me), one vegetarian (my husband) and an assortment of child/teenager likes and dislikes.
While I think a lower-carbohydrate diet could be beneficial, it’s just too damn complicated at this point in my life. And I’m not into self-deprivation. So I eat good food, in reasonable quantities.
I want to be healthy.
I want to be done caring about the number on the scale. I want to be done with making myself sticker charts to get myself to the gym (50 hours of exercise = a manicure). I want to never again log my meals in MyFitnessPal or WeightWatchers to count my caloric intake.
I know what food my body needs to feel good. I don’t need an app for that.
I know I need to move this flesh sack about to keep it vital and alive. Exercise is something I need to find intrinsic motivation to do — watch movies or read books on the elliptical, keep my back strong and pain-free with free weights, meditate and be mindful during yoga.
Having a chronic illness (Fibromyalgia) both makes it harder and all that more important to keep up regular exercise. I get thrown off my routine too easily (up all night with puking kids, have a cold, got lots of work to do this week, etc.). But I mostly get thrown off because of the reason I’ve been exercising all this time — to lose weight. If the numbers on the scale don’t change, despite the other benefits, I feel disappointed and disillusioned.
Plus I probably eat more. Because, you know, I’m exercising! I deserve it!
I want my kids to love their bodies.
I know I’m not alone in this as a mother. It’s bad enough my daughter went through an intensive princess/Barbie phase to ingrain her lovely little mind with an impossible-to-humanly-attain body image. And even though I like to think the kids aren’t as exposed to mainstream media as they could be if we had, say, cable TV or read fashion magazines, they still get plenty of it.
Berry is only 7 and already she believes that fat = bad. (Yet my fat makes me beautiful because she loves me.) Where does she get this from? Does it ooze our of our collective pores? It’s not a message she overtly hears from me as I deliberately bite my tongue and refuse to speak badly about my body — or even to think such thoughts to myself. Yet she’s already got body-image issues going on in her head.
I want to love my body.
Some days I even succeed. There are times I catch glimpses of myself naked in the mirror and, for a moment, see what my husband sees. I see curves. I see pale expanses of skin marred by surgery (spinal fusion), stretch marks (rapid weight gain in my late teens), and a multitude of freckles.
I see my mother’s body. The body she so often berated: the flabby stomach, the sagging breasts. I loved that body. It was a source of comfort and love. It was my source of life.
My kids see the same in my body. Duncan loves to jiggle my belly (if he can lift my shirt and do it in public, so much the better). The kids adore snuggling up to me, drawing in my scent, loving all the parts of me I have the most trouble accepting.
So I do my best to look at my body through the eyes of those who love me best. Then I look my body in the eyes and tell it I love it, too.
This vessel has given me 38 years of life and somehow managed to manufacture two wonderful, mischievous children.
Am I happier being “fat” than I was when I was thin? I’m getting there. The blessing of growing older is the realization that the outside of me isn’t nearly as important as the inside. And I care a whole lot less than I used to about what other people think about the outside.
My goals are to feel comfortable in my body — which is as much about being able to move, feel strong and not be in pain as it is about feeling good in my clothes and not feeling bloated and sausage-like — and to be as healthy as reasonably possible so I can live a long time. After all, I want to keep using this body for one of it’s best purposes: snuggling my kids, future grand kids, and awesomely loving husband.