Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones, But Your Comments About My Weight Will Hurt Forever
OK folks, buckle up for a two-parter. Tonight I’m kicking off a discussion on one of the female collective’s most sensitive topics: weight loss, body image, and that mother-effin scale.
If you’ve ever seen me in real life, you know this chick’s got curves and extra cushion in lots of places. To quote Meghan Trainor, I’m all about that bass. And if you’ve ever spent more than two hours with me, you know I thoroughly enjoy food - and not of the green and earth-bound variety. And if you have ever worked with me, you can vouch for all the chocolate goodies that litter the bottom right drawer of my desk.
I’ve never been “the skinny chick.” In fifth grade, I was 5’7 and about 160 pounds. My family heritage is Portuguese, which means the closest thing I got to a vegetable throughout most of my childhood was the kale inside the soup I ate as a first course. Fresh bread from the bakery was in a food group all of its own. We were a meat, potatoes, rice, and bread kind of fam. Much like our other Mediterranean brothers and sisters, if you showed up at someone’s house, you best expect to eat SOMETHING, whether or not you were actually hungry. My dad and I typically bonded over heaping bowls of ice cream every single night around 8:30, just before bed. I didn’t get truly active in sports until sixth grade and it became abundantly clear quite quickly that one of these things was not like the other - and that thing was me. I was out of shape and overweight.
That trend pretty much continued throughout college. I packed on the pounds, growing out and not much more upwards. Thankfully, I had a few basketball coaches who were fond of suicides and conditioning, and their training helped keep my burgeoning belly at bay.
When high school hit, I found that as my problems got bigger, so did my appetite. I had learned some truly terrible coping mechanisms, which included substituting sugar for soul-chats. My therapy was Swedish Fish, Reese’s Cups, pasta, fresh-baked rolls and Portuguese sweet bread, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and frankly whatever else was in the cabinets or our fridge.
By senior year, I was nearly tipping the scales at 200 pounds. But again, basketball and volleyball saved me (at least temporarily). My sister, a starter on our varsity basketball team, was 5’9, a size 2, and a knockout on and off the court. I brushed off requests from my senior crushes asking for her number. I laughed when others told me that she was “the pretty one” and I was “the smart one.” And I tried not to cry every damn time we went shopping for a dress for a formal dance, standing in front of the mirror in the dressing room like an overstuffed sausage in its casing.
When high school ended, I settled into a relationship with my (now) ex-husband and tried to juggle college, a new beau, and my health. He has Crohn’s disease and was constantly trying to gain weight, cooking Hamburger Helper and tons of baked ziti and garlic bread for us, almost nightly. We went out to eat constantly. I gained the typical ten pounds you put on at the beginning of a relationship, but it didn’t stop there.
By the time he proposed, I was nearly 240 pounds. By the time we married, about 260. At 25 and two kids and c-sections later, I was 285 pounds (or at least that was the last time I had weighed myself).
I felt the suggestive glances of others when they saw me out with him. To his 120 pounds, we were polar opposites. I couldn’t wear his sweatshirt, like other wives. I couldn’t sit on his lap at cook-outs, afraid I’d break him or a chair.
And while their pity-filled stares hurt, it was his words that stung the most. There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t reminded of my weight and how unhealthy I was in his eyes. Every choice I made around food was weighed and judged openly. When doctors suggested weight loss, he was quick to jump on their bandwagon, shaming any selection I made at the grocery store that wasn’t considered healthy enough by his standards.
Finally in 2014, I opted to have surgical weight loss, going under the knife to have gastric bypass. In the 10 months after the surgery, I dropped over 100 pounds, downsizing from 285 pounds to a slim and trim 160.
I was unrecognizable. I could feel my collarbone. It actually pained me to sit on my tush too long, as my tailbone started to protrude through what was once my ample Portuguese ass. Thigh rub? What thigh rub? For the first time since elementary school, I could stand up, feet shoulder-width apart, and see light between my thighs! No more friction fading in my jeans. I went from a size 22-24 to a size 8. I even wore a 6 on some days where a few gymnastic-esque maneuvers got me into a pair of designer skinny jeans.
I received more attention, from strangers, family members, and friends alike. And when it came to the kids, I had mountains more energy. Hikes weren’t a problem. Three-mile run in the morning followed by a trampoline park outing at 2? No sweat! I could keep up with them and that was all the motivation I needed.
Our sex life even improved, temporarily. For a few months, my body was a new toy for him to explore. We were both re-learning our roles, desires, and likes in the bedroom. But over time, we slowly slipped back into our old routine - sex weekly, or bi-weekly, at best.
When I became comfortable in my eating habits, I started to reintroduce foods that had previously been triggers for me - like cookies and chocolate. This was a blasphemous act to Him and jump-started the previously muted and paused comments.
I was back to feeling like shit. The temporary high I had ridden as a skinny girl jolted to a stop and I found myself and my mental state right back where it had been: in fat chick mentality.
Eventually, I dropped another 120 pounds - in the form of a much-needed and long overdue divorce. But when I lost, I gained. Over the course of my marriage and even as far back as high school I convincingly lied to and told myself that the right man wouldn’t care about my weight. That as long as they were attracted to me, it wouldn’t matter what the number on the scale read. After we split, I came to realize that the true love I thought I’d had was conditional. He would never have been satisfied with me, at 120 pounds, 180, or 300.
As I began dating post-divorce, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my internal monologue was far more vicious than any man’s actual thoughts. Of course there’s a possibility they were purely motivated by their pecker and the pussy they were about to get, but I don’t care. It was the confidence boost I needed.
The more I heard it from others, the more men I spoke to candidly, the more I learned how little they actually cared about the stupid imperfections of our bodies we focused far too much on. After having lost 120 pounds, I had some extra skin and it left me feeling more like a wrinkly Siamese cat and less like Kim Cattrall. I was paranoid and practically refused to let any man touch my stomach. When it came time to prepare for a date, I was meticulous about my wardrobe choices, even laboring over which panties provided the most coverage and still looked sexy. I wore a TON of booty shorts. Sex with the lights on? Fuck no. Oh, you need to use the bathroom quickly before we begin? No problem, I’d say and strip in about three seconds flat and Bruce Almighty fashion before using my bed and comforter as a shield to cover my naked body.
It took a long while for me to get comfortable in my own skin. For most of that first year post-D, I heard His voice every time a man touched me. Every time I undressed before a shower. Every time I had to buy clothing. Every time I made a poor food choice. But slowly, my inner monologue shifted and I started to believe what other men had told me.
I wasn’t the fat chick any more. And I wasn’t the skinny chick, either. I was just me, complete with a muffin top and cellulite-riddled ass. And that was more than enough.
It’s been three and a half years since we officially split and single motherhood has destroyed a lot of the healthier habits I’d established prior to me leaving. Juggling two kids, an insomniac of a puppy, a full-time teaching career, and a 12-hour day has left me with little to no personal time. I’m always exhausted, which means I order take-out way more than I’d like to admit and I rarely use the personal gym I built Christian and I in the basement.
Since 2015, I’ve put back on about 40 pounds. Oof, that hurts to say out loud. I use chocolate and sweets as a means to procure sanity. And pandemic teaching has me buying it in bulk, let me tell you. Buying on a budget means super healthy and fresh foods are sometimes cut from the grocery list and replaced with less desirable options like cereal bars and cheap and easy pasta.
Am I proud of where I’m at? Nope, not exactly. Am I grateful that I’m not back to where I was when I started? Hell to the yes.
I know I have some work to do, but let’s be honest, mamas. I am STRUGGLING to “have it all.” I actually miss working out. Before we split I was running three-four times a week and doing 5ks and even a few half-marathons. I would KILL for two hours each day at the gym to reset my mind and body.
But where the fuck is that time coming from? My workday? Do I tell my boss that I’d like the same pay but to work two hours less so I can balance my own personal health with the demands of the school day? Do I say “Eh, fuck it!” to all the grading I have to do? Or, do I pay extra to have someone half-ass my InstaCart order and bring me shitty produce so I don’t have to run all my own errands between 4-5 every afternoon? Perhaps I should leave my on-again-off-again bickering children to their own devices inside my house to do Lord only knows what to each other so I can get a quick 45 minutes of cardio in on a neighborhood run? Or better yet, after I make sure their homework is done, dinner is cooked (or ordered), showers have been had, and bedtime routine is wrapped, maybe I should ignore the dishes in the sink, the lunches that need to be made, the laundry that needs putting away, or the bills that I need to pay in order to go do some free weight exercises in the basement?
Fuck, it’s exhausting even just to type. And I hate how all of that sounds like one giant freaking excuse, but it’s true. I’m in that rut currently of alternating between looking at the scale and crying every time I see it creep up, but also being too fucking mentally and physically tired to do a damn thing about it.
And as a parent and former fat kid who didn’t grow up with the healthiest of habits, I know it’s my duty and responsibility to set my kiddos on the right path now so they’re not fighting this waistline war in two decades on a Sunday night while they peruse take-out menus. No part of me wants them to fight this battle, because I know how painful it is. I understand what it’s like to grow up as a fat kid in our society.
And what’s harder than growing up as the fat kid?
Well, watching your kid grow up as the chunky one.
And it’s even harder still to watch others tear your kid’s self-esteem apart and knowing there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
I have lots of work to do, on myself and as a mama. I want my kids to have a healthy mama, in mind and body. And I want them to have established healthy habits that will carry them into adulthood. And I’ll be damned if I want to set them up for years of therapy visits trying to work through the trauma that is weight-related and body image-based. And of course, I know all of this starts with me. A healthy mama means a healthy house.
So, check back in tomorrow as I explore how our conversations around our bodies impact our littles, for better or worse. Hell, maybe I’ll even muster up enough oomph to go for a jog beforehand.