Not long ago, I saw this image on the Book of Faces:
It was a bit shocking, somewhat troubling, but mostly heartbreaking.
I was this little girl.
In many ways, I still am this little girl.
So many of my friends were and are this little girl. We get bombarded with images of what is beautiful, what is desirable, what is considered gorgeous or even acceptable. And many of us just simply don't fit that mold.
Strides have been made to recognize the multifactorial causes associated with childhood obesity: easily available high calorie but nutrient poor foods, reduced physical activity, increased screen time, genetic predisposition, the list goes on. This entry isn't about those things, there are plenty of blogs about those things.
There have also been plenty of blogs and articles about fat shaming and how it affects people in their journey for health. Let's face it, we live in cruel times where people like to point to strangers on the internet or celebrities and critique bodies, clothes, style. The 'love your body, we're all beautiful' campaigns have been met with the 'stop making it okay to be unhealthy' response. Who has the right answer? I honestly don't know.
I do know this, though, it's a disturbing place to be with one's daughter. I have a gorgeous, funny, intelligent, active, healthy 8 year old daughter who is overweight. She loves to run, she loves to swim, she loves to play outside. She loves art, books, music, television and video games. We don't live in a neighborhood where she can play outside with other children. She doesn't want to play group sports or join an after school group that does physical stuff (basketball, soccer, gymnastics), even though she loves all of those things.
She, like most of the kids her age, loves pizza, macaroni and cheese, junk food, sweets and other fattening snacks she has access to, either at school or home. She, like most kids her age, hates to try new foods, especially when they're vegetables. I desperately want her to be healthy and to love her body as a vehicle for allowing her to do what she wants, but I don't want to turn her into the girl pictured above. I don't want her to see pictures of 'beautiful' women and allow that to drive her opinion of herself. I don't want her to measure her self worth based on her clothing size or her body shape. I don't want her, at 8, to talk about being on a diet for the rest of her life.
The truth is, I don't want to turn her into me. I hated my body, hated myself, for so long. I hated being fat, being clumsy, being slow, being weak. I hated being 'on a diet' for most of my young adult life. I hated buying every new fad to lose weight that was out there. I knew I should have eaten better, knew that second helpings of mashed potatoes or spaghetti weren't good for me, knew that vegetables were. It wasn't that I didn't know, it's that I felt helpless to try and change. Every time someone made fun of me at school for trying to wear a dress that didn't flatter, every time my dad mentioned that I needed to stop eating, every time I couldn't find the dress or pants or cute outfit in my size, my self-loathing multiplied, and the only thing that made it stop for a few minutes was food.
I will never forget the day I bought a pair of jeans in size 12 and assumed it would be my last pair of jeans ever, because I didn't know at the time that there was a Women's department hidden in the back of the store with the Petites and foundation garments. I was horrified, ashamed and resigned to that pair of jeans as my last, and that if I didn't lose weight, I would be trapped wearing my mom's clothes. Let's face it, in the 80s, women's size clothing styles were hardly something a 17 year old girl would have wanted to wear. But I also knew that I would never lose that weight, that something in me was broken if being on the swim team and swimming 2 to 3 hours for months didn't solve the problem. And it didn't. And I hated myself even more, to the point where I gave up on all of it when I went to college: I stopped swimming, stopped running, stopped caring about what I was supposed to eat, and just ate what I felt like eating. My "freshman 15" was more like a "freshman 40."
When talking about those experience with one of my dearest friends, she told me "don't break the other leg." If you break your leg, you don't lie on the couch and tell yourself, "well, the left leg is broken and I can't walk on it, I might as well break the right one." And yet I find myself doing it all the time: well, I didn't eat well at lunch today, I might as well just have a pizza for dinner. I didn't walk yesterday, what's the point of going today? I have to learn that it's okay to make a mistake, but that it's not okay to allow that mistake to define who I am or what my potential may be.
In order to stop breaking that other leg, I have to learn to be mindful. I need to be mindful of where I want to be. I need to set a fitness goal or a diet goal, absolutely. While "eating better and exercising more" is simple and effective, it is far from easy. To get from one size body to another, it seems simple enough, but I have to know and have a true awareness of where I am before I can start the journey to where I want to be.
If I'm driving to an address previously unknown to me, my GPS enabled phone won't be able to guide me there until it knows where I am right now. And I think that's what allowing me to love myself, even in this body that requires plus sized clothes, is all about. I need to be okay with where I am now, to know where I am right now at the start, so that when I hit a detour or a bump in the road or blow a tire, I can make a plan to get back on that journey and arrive successfully.
I have to stop being ashamed, I have to love myself enough, right here, right now, in order to get to where I want to go, to get the body I want to have. No longer am I needing to look like a model, but my quest is more pressing: I need a body that will allow me to function for the years that I will get to see my daughter learn who she is and what she wants. I want to keep up with her, to run with her, to watch her grow and enjoy her adulthood with her the way that I hope my mother is enjoying mine with me. In order to stop breaking the other leg, I have to recognize that the broken one is still a part of me. It's something I can allow to heal and that I can rehabilitate back to strength and utility again. It's something that will help carry me on my journey. There is a difference between loving myself, and my body, where I am right now and being happy about it. While I can be disappointed at having a broken leg, I have to continue to love the broken leg in order to stop myself from breaking the other one. In order to stop breaking the other me.