On My Body Image

This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. It is a subject that affects all of us – rich, poor, fat, thin, young, old, male, female. We are surrounded every day by what our society tells us is “beautiful” and “correct.” I have heard, far too often, from far too many people, that they are “fat” and “ugly.” Or the opposite – “toothpick thin.” Only what the magazine and TV showed as beautiful is truly beautiful.

Growing up, I was often told that if I continued to eat (chips, pop, ice cream, chocolate, whatever) I would grow up to be “fat and ugly.” I know what they meant. They were concerned that I wasn’t eating healthy enough, keeping my body from the nutrients it needs to survive. I wasn’t active enough either, thus had the perfect equation for becoming obese.

Their concern is touching. I look back and see the care and love those people had for me. My father was one that often took that route, adding the quip “like me,” at the end to take the sting away. Dad, I know what you meant.

But what I heard was that being fat meant being ugly. There was no way around it. It was cold, hard fact.

Add to that the fact that I was one of the heaviest girls in my class, and this is a recipe for disaster. My young, immature brain could not handle the strain. So I ate more, hid my body, and hated myself.

I was fat and ugly.

….

Looking back, nothing could be further from the truth. I wasn’t fat. Sure, I was a large girl, but I look at old photos, and I was merely out of shape. I was carrying the right amount of weight for me. I looked wonderful, really. But I hated my body, I hated my image, and I just wanted to hide. I had the fashion sense to match – big, bulky clothes, baggy jeans, baggy sweaters and t-shirts. Nothing to draw attention to myself. The few times I tried to dress better, I was made fun of, teased. So I went back to my baggy jeans and sweaters. Hiding myself away from the crowd. If they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hurt me.

I graduated high school. I was six months pregnant, totally in love, and thought my life was going exactly as it should. I gave up that precious baby (another story for another day), and did my best to move on with my life.

But I had gained weight. The stress of a teenaged pregnancy had caused me to overeat more than ever before. Soon, I was over 200 pounds, and hating every inch of myself.

I remember trying so hard to lose the weight. I would buy exercise books and weights, and work out. I’d push myself to my limits – past my limits if I could. I would restrict my food to crazy things – money was tight too, so I ended up on a pancakes and Kraft Dinner diet. Original, I admit, but not particularly healthy. Or good for losing weight.

And then, when the weight didn’t magically disappear after a half hour workout, I’d get ashamed, honestly believing the hurtful comments of the one I loved most. I was “fat,” “lazy,” and “good for nothing.” I would never get anything better than I currently had because I didn’t deserve it.

When I think back on my life, my body image was a driving force in everything. The food I ate – whether while trying to be healthy (depriving myself of treats, focusing on eating because it was healthy, and hating every minute of it) or while trying to forget all the pain and hurt I suffered from (stuffing myself on all the delicious food that was so bad for me) – truly defined my life.

It still does to an extent.

My life was a cycle: I would be determined to lose the weight, workout, and be healthy. Not because I worried about my health, but because being thin was equated in my mind with being beautiful and worthy. If 175 pounds was good, 140 pounds was better. And the crowning glory would be if I could just hit 100 pounds.

And when I inevitably hit that wall of shame, the inability to lose all that weight in record time? What happened then?

I would say “fuck it” and eat whatever I wanted, in whatever portions I wanted.

I was either starving myself (“only one slice of bread and a small salad. I’m trying to lose weight.”) or I was gorging myself (“a whole extra large pizza by myself? Don’t mind if I do!”) In the end, I managed to lose about twenty pounds – and gain about 100.

When I got really sick – and by really sick I mean “spent three days in the ICU and had to have a pacemaker inserted in order to save my life” sick – my focus on eating changed. Suddenly, I had to eat to help heal myself. I had to recognize the healthy foods from the junk. And I succeeded.

I managed to lose about 70 pounds. I was 240 pounds. Down from 310. I felt fantastic. I loved my new body.

Of course, the high didn’t last. I became comfortable in my new found body, and started cutting corners. A small bag of chips wasn’t going to be the end of the world. Oh sure, one can of Coke won’t kill me.

And I returned to a normal life. I went back to school, and eventually found work.

Okay, here’s where the story takes a turn I am not proud of. I’m writing this to try and help myself find that place I was at 5 years ago. I’m admitting to things that make me horribly embarrassed.

It started with a horrible break up. Not that I blame him. He did what he felt was right, and it blindsided me so badly that my whole world went spinning out of control. And even though so many exciting and happy things were happening – my heart was as healthy as it ever could be, I was given the green light to go back to the real world, go to school, get a job – I felt like the world had betrayed me, and that nothing was truly worth it.

I rebounded into a bad relationship. Not that he was bad – he just wasn’t good for me. We both had major issues, and I would like to point out that instead of holding on for almost five years, like I did when I was younger, I recognized what it was doing to me and got out. Let’s take all the victories we can.

And one night, deep in the badness that was poisoning my life, I found myself surrounded by not a small bag of chips and a can of Coke, but a really big bag of chips. One that by eating all of I had almost doubled my daily recommended intake of sodium.

And even then, I couldn’t stop myself.

Since then, I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride. Yes, I’ve had my fair share of ups – a great job, new friends, being able to stay in touch with old friends, and meeting my personal heroes, to name a few – but under it? This horrible, overwhelming nothingness. Like for a brief time I was worthy and now I can’t find it again. Sure I LOOK happy – and I am happy with much of my current position – but in other ways, I’m just putting on a great mask.

For the last four years, I’ve been eating those really big bag of chips, and drinking all that pop. Having an entire pizza. And generally just doing everything I did back in the day. Everything I know will cause all my hard work to reverse.

And that scares me.

Here’s the thing: it’s one thing to know that what you are doing is self-destructive. It’s another to care.

I recently underwent a drastic change in outlook. I stepped on the scale. I took one look at the number, and jumped off in shock.

I knew I had gained weight.

I didn’t know I had gained THAT MUCH weight.

And that’s why I’m here now.

This is my pledge.

I will do what I need to do TO GET HEALTHY.

I will not step on the scale and hate myself. When I get scared by the number, I’ll tell myself that it’s okay. That we’ve done this before. And we’ll do it again. For good this time.

Everyday I will do something for myself. Whether that be to read a good book, do some sewing, work on a knitting project for myself, or even just watch a favourite TV show, it will be for me.

Finally, I pledge that I will focus on why I’m doing this. I will not focus on the numbers. I will not count calories, and weigh myself incessantly.

I will focus on that feeling of knowing that I have done everything in my power to be healthy. To control that which I can, and ignore that which I cannot.

Because the numbers on the scale do not directly tie into my self-worth. I am more than my weight. I am an intelligent, independent woman, with a loving family, great friends, more talent than I know what to do with, a job I love, and a lot to live for.

I will need help. There will be days when I will want to give up. That’s its too hard, or that I wonder what does it really matter if I’m 280 pounds.

For those days, I have my friends. The ones who know me well enough, and don’t even outright say “Shauna, keep it up you’re doing fine.” They know not to try to encourage me. Instead, they distract me. They find things that will take my mind off of the gaping hole that is my emotional state.

And eventually I will come back, see that I made it through once again, and I will go on.

BECAUSE I AM WORTH IT.

So what is my body image? It’s not that picture where I look fat no matter what I do. It’s not those things that I imagine people saying when I walk by on the street.

My body image is that of a woman reaching for attainable, healthy goals, being the best she can be.

And that’s the big difference between 37 year old me and 19 year old me: 37 year old me realizes that I am worthy.