"Holy crap, woman! Eat a sandwich!"
Not an order I ever thought I'd hear barked at me in my lifetime.
From the time I hit my teenage years to my mid-20's I was overweight. At first it didn't bother me. I thought growing out of my clothes was normal--after all I was a growing girl, right? Apparently, those around me saw it differently. And I started to believe them. And I started down that path of diets, yo-yo weights (often times more time up than down), self loathing and depression.
I made the detrimental mistake of forgetting that what others think of me, how they see me Doesn't Matter.
The summer I was 15 we moved back to the US for a year. I would be attending public school for my 11th grade year. I was clueless about American culture and completely unprepared for the shock of going from a small missionary boarding school to living at home and being in a large public school. Remember the scene in Mean Girls where Lindsy Lohan's character eats her lunch in the bathroom? That was my life my first few weeks at school. I've never watched that movie all the way through simply because I cannot get beyond that scene. Because that's my story. I was terrified. Petrified. So far out of my comfort zone that I could not eat. My first experience with weight loss.
It didn't stay off. By the time I returned to the US for my sister's wedding May of my senior year, the weight was back and it had brought company. I cringe when I look back at my sister's wedding pictures. Her sisters-in-law were my age and were petite and perfectly poised. I plodded down the isle in my too small shoes and ill fitting dress. Ever mindful of their snickers and disdainful thoughts.
At my heaviest I tipped the scales at 180lbs. I wore a size 14 jeans. That's me in the white hat. I was 21 years old. I made a lot of my own skirts and dresses. It wasn't only that I was big, I also had no idea how to dress for my size. I had grown up in a boarding school that had ingrained in me that if I did not dress modestly I was going to cause some member of the opposite sex to completely forget his own upbringing and morals and anything that happened would be all my fault. Because I wasn't wearing a baggy enough shirt to cover my ample self.
Shortly after the above trip back home to Kenya I enlisted in the US Navy. I never adapted well to living back in the US. There were (and still are) so many aspects of this culture I don't understand and I always stood out as someone "not from around here". My enlistment was my ticket back overseas. But not before I paid dearly in bootcamp for being a chunky recruit.
Of course, true to personal history, once released from the rigors of bootcamp my weight returned. Following various schools, my orders to a squadron based in the south of Spain came through. My first weekend there I met the amazing man I'm now married to. He doesn't remember that meeting. And there's no reason he should--I was overweight, poorly dressed and highly self conscious, unsure and socially inept. I wouldn't have remembered myself either.
This picture was taken the day I flew out to Spain. My trunk failed to make the connection in Europe so I was stuck with the same clothes for a week. Probably exactly what I was wearing the night we met.
I loath the word "diet". I will be the first person to campaign that diets do not work. In order to lose weight it has to be a total and complete lifestyle change. Inside and outside. All parts of your body need to be in the same place--heart, mind, soul, and body. From 14 to 24 I dieted. I lost weight. I'd gain it back again. And I'd go back to a diet.
The night it all came together for me was a traumatic one. It had to be. I was walking home one evening and a group of visiting ship sailors mooed at me from across the street. Yes, they had had too much to drink. But they mooed. At me. Laying in bed that night, sobbing from the humiliation of it, I decided I was done being Fat. No more. The cycle stopped there. The following day I made an appointment with the base nutritionalist. We talked about what it took to live a healthy lifestyle. Not just foods, portions, exercise but also taking care of my brain and mental state.
Regular visits to the gym. No more late night hamburgesa competas (fully loaded hamburger complete with a fried egg). The weight came off. The final 15 pounds I wanted to lose dropped once I finally gave up my three Pepsis a day habit. That was 17 years ago. My final weigh in with the Navy I was 140lbs. Well within the accepted weigh range for my age and height. With the exception of two pregnancies, I've maintained the same weight...give or take a few pounds.
A year and a half ago, crossing the finish line of my first 1/2 marathon I was in the best shape of my life. This was three months before my 40th birthday. I wasn't skinny (at least not by magazine standards). But my size 8 jeans fit and fit well. More importantly, I was at peace with who I was. Inside. I liked this person I had become. Somewhere in the past 10 years I had finally learned to not give a crap what other's thought. I was the source of my own happiness, my own inner peace. And the strangest thing, I found the rest of my life falling into place around me. Relationships weren't as strained. Life wasn't perfect or easy, but I was empowered with the tools I needed to navigate over the rough spots.
As I've aged and matured I've slowly come into my own style. I loath shopping with a passion. I've learned who the retailers I can trust to maintain accurate sizes are, thereby allowing me to order clothes online. I've learned what works with my body, what's comfortable and what I'm comfortable in. My work "wardrobe" consists of jeans, shorts, a collection of geek t-shirts, Earth shoes and Chucks. I'm sure the What Not To Wear people would make me toss the entire contents of my dresser due to not being "age appropriate." Which is one of the many, many reasons they'll never be invited into my life.
Last weekend we attended a cocktail attire function. It was put on by the National Arthritis Foundation and we were invited guests since this year's emphasis was Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis awareness. My one dressy dress no longer fit. I was forced to shop for a dress I would most likely wear only once. If I must shop for clothes, my first stop will always be the second hand stores. On our side of town, "Plato's Closet" just happens to be next door to "Once Upon A Child." I found a dress at one and both kiddos picked out their own fancy pancy clothes at the other.
Today, I'm the smallest I've been since I hit those teenage years. On a low gravity day I'm 5 feet, 5 inches. At a doctor's appointment last week I weighed in at 125lbs. I'm putting that number out there because I'm not any more ashamed or proud of it than I was of 140 lbs. It's just another number.
Over the past summer I had gained a few extra pounds simply because I was no longer on the rigorous training schedule I had been on--but I was still eating the same and my body hadn't adjusted yet. It hit me one morning to realize seeing four or five additional pounds on the scale didn't bother me. I was happy to just be healthy and no longer broken. Returning to work full time in the fall kept me active and on a fairly steady eating schedule and the extra pounds came back off. Developing a stubborn sinus infection that refused to go away for almost three months took me down to the weight I am today.
I eat well. I eat healthy. I am healthy. Even with a broken ankle I have managed to stay quite active. A few weeks ago, when I put up the picture of my cut off 10 inch pony tail, I was completely caught off guard by the response. People telling me I was possibly too thin. I needed to eat more. Eat a sandwich! There were also a number telling me how good I looked...which was nice, but certainly not why I shared the picture. I shared the picture to raise awareness for the hair donation programs. Not to show off my thigh gap.
Yesterday, on the playground at the preschool, a couple of our little girls were practicing walking the "balance beam" (a 2x4 in the ground). One turned to the teacher assisting her and told her that the other girl wouldn't be able to walk it because she was fat. And she was fat because she ate too much. They are both 3 year old girls! Yes, their bodies are different. But how does a 3-year-old learn about being fat and the correlation between size and eating habits if not from what they hear at home? It was a stark reminder to be mindful of our words. Little ones are listening and watching. The one she said was fat? Perfectly healthy, eats healthy food, full of life and doesn't give a flying fig about her belly sticking out. I sincerely hope she retains that attitude.
My hope for my own daughter is that she never develop the same distain for her body I had. It's my job to insure she does not. Twirling around in a dress...
Aren't I beautiful in this dress, Mommy?
You're beautiful no matter what, baby girl.
It bothers me that my 5-year-old daughter is already concerned about her own beauty. But I will always tell her she's beautiful. I will also always remind her she's creative, intelligent, and that she's more than just a beautiful face.
Our culture is obsessed with looks. I don't understand the superficialness of it. The irony of the same people who told me I might want to put down that sandwich all those years ago now telling me to eat it is not lost on me. Size and weight shouldn't define who we are. I have remained the same inside. I have no more of a chance of being accepted to the "in" crowd in size 4 jeans than I did when I wore a size 14. My lack of social etiquette combined with the inability to make small talk insures that. I'm okay with that. The friends I have, the ones I hold dear, accept me--social awkwardness, geek t-shirts and all. And that is a treasure far more precious than beauty or the perfect body.
I feel like I need to apologize to the entire interwebz world because I have to blur my husband's face. I'm doing a grave disservice hiding his amazing hotness from the world. However, I respect his privacy wishes. But believe me...there is one handsome man behind that blur! That's not being obsessed with his looks, merely being highly appreciative of them.