As I sifted through old photographs my mother had just handed me all neatly contained in a plastic bag, I kept having the same thought over and over:
How did I ever believe I was fat back then?
There I was in one photo, in shorts, not even on the borderline of fat. I was trim. In another picture, more shorts, more thin. In yet another, I have an actual waist, nicely accentuated with a belt. Bathing suit shots from resorts I visited in my 20s show a well-proportioned woman with an hourglass figure; she isn’t fat either.
It hits me upon reflection that ‘back then’ covers from roughly age 12 to my late 40s or about 35 years in total. It was a constant refrain. As I recall, it’s even a recurring theme in a diary I kept as a pre-teen.
I am left with this – What could I have done with all the energy I expended on worrying about my weight?
Imagine all that negativity buzzing around me like a force field. Heaviness of a whole different kind.
Is it any wonder that when I shed this mindset the last few years that it was the word ‘unfettered’ that first came to mind and stayed with me? Fetters are shackles. Mine are off. There are so many more important things to focus on.
In the meantime my fellow 50-something, Barbie, is consistently in the news for ostensibly screwing up girls and women everywhere. Every time these incidents come up, I scratch my head and wonder if I was the only little girl who didn’t aspire to have Barbie’s body. She was more like a saving grace for me, as I projected all my dreams about growing up onto her. Barbie may have been my first vision board in a sense and the recurring themes were teaching and being well-dressed.
When I began to develop early, around age 12, I was too young to think of my burgeoning breasts as an asset. I remember being unable to handle the attention they brought and hating the constraints they placed on me when selecting clothing. I wanted to fit in, be stylish. I wasn’t ready for the male gaze, the staring, the lingering, the comments. I was wearing a plaid uniform to school every day and still very much the innocent.
Somewhere I had a shift. Instead of radiating vitality and love of self from within, I began to draw energy from the outside and turn it inward. Insecurity ruled and perceived societal norms became my standard for myself. If a guy said I looked hot, I felt good about myself. If a guy said I had a big butt, I wanted to cover it up. My self-esteem flailed around like a goldfish out of water.
I honestly don’t know if there is a formula for turning this around. It’s not just about countering upbringing and generations of self-loathing passed down like Grandma’s flatware. I remember a former co-worker telling me she went out of her way to do the reverse of what her mother did to crush her spirit and self-esteem. She instead praised her daughter, told her how beautiful she was on a regular basis. One day when her daughter was in her 20s she told her mother she had given her an unrealistic sense of her own beauty.
Those photographs my mother gave me tell a story of an awkward girl growing into a woman who tried so hard to be comfortable in her own skin. I feel proud and grounded now, realizing how persistent I’ve been in my ambition and in my quest to understand why we’re here. As I become more aware and awake along the way, I get that all of those past experiences and emotions have made me who I am today. If I’m proud of that, then would I even want to know what I would have done with all the energy expended on maintaining the perception that I’m fat?
No. Logically not.
It’s interesting to start writing a piece that you intend to go somewhere and it instead lands you here, asking yourself why you’re even sweating what you thought of yourself at age 15, 25, 35, 45. Isn’t there joy in knowing that by the time you hit your 50s the ‘fat’ voices never get higher than a whisper when they do rear up at all?
The other day a guy at the gym asked me if I’ve gained weight. I told him that’s not the wisest question to ask anyone, ever. Then I kept on stretching and weight training, with all the focus on my strength and flexibility.
I feel like on most days my vitality and love of self radiates from within and extends out, that my expressed gratitude for so much of what I have is what buzzes around me now in place of the heaviness.
Maybe 35 years of fat obsession makes you appreciate it all the more when you give it the heave-ho.