Tag Archives: body image

10 Years Aboard the Treadmill of Sisyphus Later…

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

I recently posted this image on my social media pages. It showcases my history over the last two years, as well as gives me a clear-eyed view of how my body has looked in the past and how far I have come since I completely changed my diet. Here is the text I put with it:

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve been winning the war these last two years, and it’s still a bit strange to see my wish outside of myself at long last. Most of my friends here in Kentucky only know me as the more svelte, healthy-eating person they see today instead of the person I was during my college years in Memphis and my decade of grown-up life in Dallas. I worked hard to get where I am today, and I’m grateful to have had the right circumstances to make my commitment easier, the ability to afford to eat the way I do, the push from my doctor in the right direction, and the unwavering support of my boyfriend to help me get here. There is a part of me that will always be that insecure, overweight person who was always worried about the numbers on the scale and how well jackets worked at disguising abdominal fat. I have a history that informs who I am today, just like everyone else does, and this is my tale, told in photos taken over the last decade.

I took pains to not try to fat-shame myself in the past or anyone who looks like me. I am glad that I shed weight, as I much better like my health, my appearance, and the way the world treats me since I got thinner, but I don’t want to disparage who I was in the past, paint my life as perfect now (your problems don’t magically get better as you weigh less), or put down anyone who is still going through their own body struggle. Not everyone is me, the same methods won’t work for everyone, not everybody is the same. And I didn’t lose weight *at* anybody. I lost it for me, for the sake of my health and to help my boyfriend’s insomnia.

It was work giving up foods that I love that weren’t always healthy, and it is work now trying to pass up sugary sweets and justify to myself eating food that’s not on my diet. I’m not perfect, and I’ve definitely hit my roadblocks along the way, be they motivational, related to family tragedy, or health-related.

But I’m still going strong. I’m still happy as a participant and moderator of a Reddit community based around fitness, health, and life goal achievement. I’m happy making nutritious soups from scratch that fit closely within my dietary parameters. I’m very happy putting on my shoes and running as often as my body and the weather allow me to run.

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Mothers and Daughters: Legacy of Body Image

I love xoJane and the thought-provoking articles that its writers tend to put out into the world. This post was inspired by a comment I wrote on this article. The comments are a trove of first-hand testimonials from other people on the same subject.

When I was a preschooler, the story goes, my mom told me I could only have one cookie because I was putting on weight. I was so sad that my slightly older brother took an extra cookie to give to me in secret. We weren’t that subtle, so of course my mom knew about it and cherished the memory as one of sweetness between siblings.

As I got older, my mom never said anything to me about my weight. I was a chubby kid, presenting as a purple-and-silver-sequined cylinder in my ballet recital pictures, and an overweight teenager, hiding my body as best as I could with oversized shirts and weird fashion. She said she loved me no matter what and never criticized my body, supporting me in my academics, my art, and my writing. But she talked negatively about her own body all the time and still does today.

I know that like a lot of privileged first world women, I have spent a lot of my adulthood thinking about my weight. These days, I look back on the experience of growing up and living my adult life overweight and mourn all the time and mental energy spent by people like us fretting about our weight. Do I wish I had lost weight sooner so I could get on with my life? Perhaps, but I know that I wouldn’t appreciate my body as much if I didn’t feel pride in losing body fat, improving my health by stopping snoring almost completely and taking weight off injured/stressed muscles and joints, and increased self-esteem by conforming more to social norms. But what if I had been able to focus my gifts on something other than myself and self-improvement over the last 10 years? Would I have done something more “meaningful” with my life?

I realize this perspective and this question are both from a place of privilege – I largely feel like my struggle with being overweight is over, and I’m on autopilot as far as my food intake goes. I can afford to buy nutritious food, and I’m getting into running (despite approaching the nitty gritty of winter and me with no indoor gym access). Other people are less able-bodied, less able to access the kinds of food I can buy and dietary information my doctor gave me, still working on themselves, not in the same mental frame of mind, and have legitimate concerns and health problems that I have no right to dismiss and do not presume to.

I mourn my own potential – what things could I be writing about instead of concentrating on gaining 7 pounds in a month? – and the potential that my mother had and still has. When I was in high school, she was pursuing her masters in education with a focus on special needs education while working delivering pizza and raising 3 kids. She also wrote works of fiction on lined notebook paper she kept in binders under her bed, with several unpublished drafts of novels to her credit. And she, like all of us, was constantly bogged down by the everyday worries of life, including her body. I constantly heard her saying how upset she was that she could no longer fit into the clothes she wore when she was younger; she is short and used to be quite thin during high school. She dropped the “fat” word to describe herself on an at-least weekly basis. “If only I wasn’t so fat.”

Being thinner is a privilege in this society, and she may have been more kindly treated by the world at large. But I wonder how fully her gifts might have come out if her self-esteem hadn’t been hampered by her self-criticism, which always seemed so unforgiving.

My having the same body type that she did probably had some influence on how I viewed myself. It was a while before I came to a truce with myself over my looks, worrying about everything from my acne-prone skin to my large nose to my weight. I was ashamed of my body after the start of puberty, uncomfortable with male attention that I received in 7th grade, and down on myself for my many failed attempts at losing weight, even as an adult. I dieted for months, then fell off the wagon. I exercised hard for several months, then took half a year off. I came to be more accepting of what I looked like, but my health began to suffer as I aged. I was smart; why wasn’t I smart enough to figure out how to change my body and stick to a weight loss plan?

Losing weight was not the answer to all my problems. I’m still thinking about my body – still moderating a self-improvement community, still occasionally blogging about my pursuit of fitness, food, and health – but the rest of my life’s problems persist. It’s easy for us to fixate on having a great body and see it as the answer. “If only I wasn’t so fat.” If I wasn’t so fat, then what? I would get everything I wanted out of life automatically? I wouldn’t have to pay my car insurance? I would finish cleaning out the shed? It never stops unless we reframe the way we think about what’s important, whether losing weight or shaping our body into a more pleasing shape is a self-serving, endless goal, or if it’s a stepping stone to happiness, a facet of our existence.

Sometimes, chasing the ideal body or an improved version of ourselves seems so futile in the long term. I think back on my amazing, beautiful, business-smart, no-nonsense, hilarious stepmom; she was in my life from preschool until last year, and when I was younger, I remember that she was always trying low fat diets, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet… right up until her diagnosis of colon cancer, a disease she fought for 9 years.

I helped sort out her enormous closet of clothing after she passed away; she had clothes (some with tags still on them) in US size ranges 6-18 from where her body size fluctuated so much during years of chemo, surgery, remission, and relapse. There’s a despair in that part of the legacy of mainstream, straight, adult ciswomanhood in the U.S. What good does it do to fret so much over what size we wear and how many carbs we eat and whether our butt looks arbitrarily too big and that we can’t fit into that exact pair of pants anymore?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and the present-day, easy to obsess over weight or unflattering photos, but now and then, life smacks you in the face again with the fact that it’s precious and short; your health, your ability to function as an independent person, and the degree to which you are able-bodied are things you can take for granted. The gift of perspective is precious, if hard to take. My stepmom spent most of her last decade working at the business she and my dad built together, baking cookies and sweets with her grandchildren, going on vacations with my dad, and enjoying herself as much as her health would allow her to do.

Sometimes when I’m out running, out in the middle of the country where nobody can see me, I imagine I’m passing my stepmom on the sidelines of a cancer charity race or some other event, and I give the air a high-five. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for taking up a new sport. I hope she’d say she’s never seen me so happy in my own skin

Tape Measure Results

For two years now, I’ve been a participant in Reddit’s 90daysgoal community, where we challenge ourselves in three-month increments to better our fitness, health, food, and anything else. We’re nearing the final check-in for the latest round. On Monday morning, I got out the tape measure and tracked my latest progress. I weigh myself most Mondays, and I measure my neck, waist, and hips about once a month or so. It’s rewarding because I am still making measurable progress in my measurements, despite the scale being kind of stuck for the last two months.

While I was doing physical therapy and just joining the 90daysgoal community, I took a lot of “before” photos and collected tape measure data points from all over my body. Yesterday, I measured again. The changes my body has undergone between November 2011 and October 2013 are amazing, and I’m proud to share the results now.

Measurements, two years on.

Measurements, two years on.

It has its down sides: I gave a bunch of clothes to my sister, who is in the process of losing baby weight, and she looks so much cuter in my shirts and sweaters than I ever did. This is the story of my life. And when I bake delicious desserts, I usually don’t have any, avoiding sugars and starches like my doctor asked me.

Soon, I’ll slip beneath the 150-pound mark, and I’ll be ever closer to my goal weight of 140. I’ve got more work ahead of me before I’ll get into maintenance mode. The marathon of staying healthy once I’ve reached my own arbitrary destination is going to be a somewhat difficult course to stay. Maybe I’ll never be completely satisfied with my results. But I do know that I loved my body when I was working on fixing it, I love it now that I’ve lost fat and am putting on muscle from running, and I’ll love it no matter what changes are wrought by age, time, circumstance, and deliberate action. I’ll never be satisfied, but I’ll never stop trying to be better, and I know I’ll never stop enjoying the fight.

Weight Loss Problems

What a problem to have. I’m still trending downward with weight, and there is less fat to pad my muscles and joints. I spent quite a while lying down on the living room floor last night, hanging out with my sick dog in her kennel with a pillow propped up under my torso. This morning, my legs and rear end are achy and sore where I rested them on the floor for so long.

The new work pants I bought last fall are too loose and look as though they are falling off. I finally safety-pinned the waistband of one pair this morning, tired of showing the world my underwear.

I am beginning to run into variable sizes the next size down. Some pants fit, some don’t. Don’t vanity size it, and label it correctly, please.

I could not finish a restaurant omelet last weekend. Used to be I could eat the whole thing and the side dish, and still want more. I took the remainder home and ate it for dinner.

Even though I am smaller, my life is still not perfect. No one told me that losing weight would solve all my problems, but I inferred that anyway. Turns out I’m still the same person with mostly the same life issues, just with less snoring and more carrots.

My main goal in life is to get to a weight where I will allow myself to start eating pasta regularly again. I miss it! But I know it’s best eaten in moderation instead of for every meal.

A Stranger’s Body

When I moved across the country, I started a new life with family and friends who hadn’t seen much of me for nearly 10 years. They aren’t as familiar with my body reshaping journey, and they don’t have the same image in their heads of me that I do.

I was having lunch with my new coworkers, and we were talking about dieting, different food lifestyles, our struggles with our bodies that ranged from weight loss to maintaining mobility. I talked some about how my eating habits changed over the last year and why I’m trying to steer clear of carbohydrates and starch. I get comments now to the effect of, “You don’t need to lose weight.” I then tell them about the eating plan my doctor put me on last year, my highest weight two years ago, and how much I’ve lost over the last year. “You weighed 205 pounds? You?” I don’t feel that different essentially, but I know I look different, and the two versions of myself are still being reconciled in my head.

When I look in the mirror, I see myself as I’ve always seen me, even though the shape is different. I’m still surprised at how my abdomen doesn’t protrude as much and how much better defined my chin is. But there I am, with more wrinkles and gray hair every day, smaller measurements all over.

The real shock comes when I look at photos of myself from the recent past. Scrolling through my Facebook photos is eye-opening. While I don’t regret what I looked like or hate myself for it – I know how hard I was trying to change myself for all those years – I am glad that I no longer have the health problems that came with that extra weight, the frustration that came with living that way, and the feeling that I’d never be able to lose it no matter how hard I tried.

People who know me now don’t realize that the larger version of me is still who I identify with, that that’s who I was for two decades. That’s my story, though, and it’s not as visible as my current body and the story that people might assign to me because of the way I look now. For better or worse, our pasts rule us.  That’s one reason I will always be decent to other people no matter their size – you don’t know their story, and it’s a highly personal story that is never really over.

I’m still getting used to seeing this body in the mirror, fitting it with clothes, and understanding the way other people see it. I love myself in every iteration, but this new me is both exciting and strange… and expensive to reclothe. My boyfriend is a valuable touchstone for shifting my perception and highlighting the changes my body has been through.

I have to cull my clothing collection again to rid myself of shirts that just won’t work anymore. I’m starting to fit into size 10 pants; my size 12s are getting baggy, and I’m wearing my boyfriend’s belts for the first time. This would have been impossible in the past due to the measurement of my waist. It’s a whole weird new world to me that just seems normal to everyone else. Time for me to start getting used to it.

Links: xoJane Articles on Body Policing

I love me some xoJane, having grown up reading my sister’s copies of Sassy as a preteen and following the career of founder Jane Pratt for years. Her current website is a wonderful collection of opinion, confessional, and storytelling pieces by a variety of writers who cover the spectrum of the experience of young women in the United States. I particularly love the pieces that center on issues around weight, society’s view of women, eating disorders, fitness, and how these topics intertwine.

Don’t read the comments is the universal rule of the internet when you want to keep your faith in humanity. S.E. Smith has read the comments for us on an online article written by a law student bothered by an eating disorder-promoting t-shirt (banned when originally released) worn by an alumnus to a university gym.

Being fat in public is hard enough, the way our society works, and xoJane author Lesley gets annoyed along with the rest of us for the concern trolling and revulsion some critics have expressed recently over Melissa McCarthy and Chris Christie. Keep your fat-hating to yourself. It’s not making the lives of the overweight and obese any better; it’s not motivating them to lose weight; it’s not helping them in any way; it’s just poison put into the air, and it’s extremely entitled thinking to believe your opinion should and will make any difference to anyone else about their own private lives. And nobody would like it if someone started policing you on your habits – I don’t care if you live on carrots, kelp, and free-range tuna and run 19 miles a day, you would be pissed if someone started bossing you around, ridiculing your appearance, making you out to be less of a person, and criticizing you for everything you put into your body if the body ideal was something other than what you have.

Basically, these articles boil down to “shut your hate hole” to those who feel the need to police the bodies of people around them with hate disguised as humor, hate expressed in a movie review, or hate dressed up like unsought medical advice. Thanks to xoJane for helping to boost the signal of voices that say you’ve got a right to live in your own body without being told you have to hate it based on the opinions of people who aren’t you.

Roller Coaster of Food

Whee! I’m eating healthy!

Just kidding, chocolate oatmeal cookies and sugary cappuccinos forever!

No, wait, carrots for dinner. Nothing but raw carrots. 40 BABY CARROTS.

Woman from the fake Nutrigrain ad "I Feel Great."

CARROTS EVERYWHERE. (If you recognize this image, you’ve been on the internet too long.)

OK, if I could just figure out what my body wants and stick to it, that would be great. Thanks.

I’ve maintained my weight through the month of December through the power of never wanting to eat, not stocking food in my house, going on long walks with the dogs, and eating more at holiday meals than I mean to do. But it is now January, and people have stopped cooking for me out of some sense of familial obligation and holiday spirit. Well, fine, I didn’t want to eat their delicious bacon-wrapped Parmesan and avocado cracker sandwiches. I’ll just go look at my condensed beefy mushroom soup and not think about Danish wedding cookies and soft bread covered in cheesy spinach dip.

Listening to my body is something I have historically had a hard time doing. I’ve tried to develop that skill for my own good and my own health, as lately, I have found myself ignoring hunger pangs and letting my anxiety tell me that everything is terrible and nothing will ever go right again because of some uncontrollable factor.

So if I see a plate of freshly-made dessert things in the kitchen, and if I haven’t had much else to eat that day, sometimes, I just say, “All right. Let’s do this.” At the grocery, I try not to police myself so hard on the food items I buy for myself. “No, soup is fine. Get more vegetables to put into it. And get a different type of apples this time. Eggs! Get some damn eggs!” And then, I prepare these foods when I’m hungry.

I had a dinner of foods that were not on my usual eating-stuff list on New Year’s Day. The ham was pretty much fine, though I ate a lot of it; I also had baked corn, hoppin’ john, homemade mashed potatoes, and peanut butter cookies. How many peanut butter cookies? Hmm. Maybe, like, 5 or 6. Worth it. I hadn’t eaten a lot in the days leading up to that day, and I had two plates of that food. It was pretty awesome. I felt so much better.

I worry sometimes that I’m restricting my foods too much with my lower carb, paleo-ish diet. I worry, too, that my lack of consistent weight loss, my plateauing, and my public straying from my declared eating lifestyle will come back on me as judgment from others and from myself when my body turns all these marvelous things into fat and re-glues some weight to the parts of me that have gotten smaller since last year.

A cartoon of an alien accusing a remorseful human woman.

JUDGED FOR FOOD CHOICES. No amnesty.

There’s letting your diet go completely by the wayside as you eat nothing but sugary snacks and non-nutritious foods. And then, there’s rebuilding, learning new limits, and eventually, eating foods in moderation. I like to think I’m engaging in the latter and not the former.

Some days, it really does feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of food choices. I have to remember that life has peaks and valleys, and self-care is no exception. Nothing is smooth sailing forever. If you learn to recover from the valleys and take them in stride rather than freak out or give in to the temptations completely, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself in the long run, stick to a plan that works, and learn to live with the choices you make rather than learn to begrudgingly tolerate sacrifice for the sake of ephemeral physical transformation goals.