When I was about fourteen, I read Seventeen Magazine on a regular basis. This was the late eighties, so the pages were covered in tall, lithe, gorgeously-dressed models who had legs that went on for miles. I liked the bright-colored fashion and reading the articles, but one day I noticed every time I finished flipping through the magazine, I felt bad about myself. I felt unselfconscious beforehand, but after, I felt like I didn’t measure up. My body didn’t look like those girls’ bodies, and I’d feel depressed, unattractive and “less than.” It was then I made what I see now was an incredibly mature decision: I quit reading the magazine and told my mom to cancel my subscription. Problem solved; self-esteem restored. That was the beginning of my body positivity journey, though the term “body positivity” hadn’t been invented yet.
Unfortunately, eschewing Seventeen didn’t protect my teenage self from media influences that insinuated or outright told me my body wasn’t good enough. All the successful people on TV shows, in music videos (back when MTV showed them), and in commercials were not just not fat, they were REALLY thin. It didn’t matter whether an actor was playing a bikini model, a vampire slayer or a lawyer, she always fit the stereotypical idea of beauty: thin with big boobs. The rare fat woman on TV was almost always doing comedy and often the butt of the joke. It was also about this time I started seeing ads for weight-loss products: SlimFast, Dexatrim, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig. There was actually a product targeted at little girls (not boys) called “Get in Shape, Girl,” which included a jump rope and some pink dumbbells. The ubiquity of weight-loss talk and uber-thin models told me, as a woman, being thin was the most important thing. Enter fat phobia.
My senior year in high school, I gained 25 pounds. I’m not sure why, because I wasn’t really paying attention, but I had broken up with a boyfriend who never ate and started hanging out with my skinny friends who devoured pizza and chocolate muffins at midnight. Or maybe my adult metabolism just kicked in early. But, here’s the thing: I freaked out. One day, I couldn’t get my jeans over my hips and I fell apart, as if I had a terminal illness. I then threw out all my candy and embarked on a series of misguided attempts to lose weight, which mostly amounted to fasting all day, then bingeing because I was hungry and couldn’t stand it anymore. I was focused on the weight instead of my lack of confidence.
Eventually, I lost that weight. And I kept it off, but the question is WHY? What motivated me to restrict my diet and keep that weight off? Fear. I was afraid… no, mortified I’d gain weight, like that was the worst of all possible scenarios. I was very strict about what I ate, and if I caved and had a few pieces of pizza, I berated myself for days. Everyone said, “you look great!” and I fed on that (no pun intended), but my attitude was anything but healthy.
Years later, I had another couple of body-positive experiences. After fearing weight gain for over a decade, I got pregnant. I didn’t worry one bit about gaining weight with the pregnancy; that’s what was supposed to happen. When my doctor, seeing my scale numbers, suggested I watch what I ate, I smiled and mentally told him to go fuck himself (because I am too non-confrontational to actually say it.) Then, I went home and ate a cupcake, guilt-free.
Six weeks after Jack was born, I set about “losing the baby weight.” I put that in quotes, because it’s trite. It’s on the cover of every pregnancy magazine in the doctor’s office. People have an awful lot of concern about new mothers losing weight, but fewer seem interested in her actual healing from birthing a whole human. Anyway, I started running, put a chart on the wall, and weighed myself once a week. I made progress fairly quickly, but with five pounds to go, I got stuck. The scale wouldn’t budge, and I was frustrated. I didn’t want to exercise more often or harder; I didn’t have the time or energy for that, so I made peace with it. My beautiful Jack was certainly worth five pounds, so to celebrate, I ordered myself an expensive pair of black corduroy pants in my new size.
Since then, I’ve had my moments. I pitched a fit several years ago when I gained ten pounds. Then, I worked my ass off to take those pounds off. I’ve discovered new ways of eating and tried many, many different kinds of exercise. I’ve posted before and after photos and even had something close to six-pack abs for about a minute. By the way, I apologize to anyone who had to endure my before/after photo phase; that was totally obnoxious. I learned a lot from all the food experimentation, and I enjoy having knowledge of weight-lifing, HIIT and yoga at my disposal, so I can keep it interesting, but I’ve let go of the number on the scale.
Several weeks ago, I went to the doctor and got weighed. I was up about ten pounds over what I’ve weighed most of my adult life. And for the first time, that didn’t send me running for the treadmill. That number has nothing to do with how healthy I am or how happy I am. Bottom line, I have to work way too hard and restrict myself from eating and drinking way too many wonderful things to have six-pack abs. I feel much more secure now than I ever have, because I finally don’t give a shit what the scale says or what I look like compared to society’s ideal. I try to listen to my body about what it needs and exercise and eat what and when I feel I need to. I say, “try,” because I am a human being who still wrestles with her habits and still struggles with body image sometimes, but I have made decided progress as of late. And, I have way more to offer, and you do too, than outside appearances.