I was three the first time I cried, because I thought I was fat. I had the chicken pox, was covered in calamine lotion, and my brother, six, joked that I looked like Miss Piggy. He was referencing the pink color, but the thing that made me cry when my thumbsucking had caused my lungs to become infected with chicken pox, was being called fat. I can’t tell you exactly why, having been a toddler, but I’d wager it was the constant dieting and negative weight talk in our household. Throughout my childhood, I remember my mother serving us strawberries covered in Sweet N’ Low, jelly on rice cakes, Diet Coke, Snackwell’s cookies, and even Slim Fast. Along with the family fad diets, came a constant stream of complaints from my parents about their weight and how it made them feel.
As my parents’ marriage degraded, the weight discussion became increasingly hostile. My father was no David Hasselhoff and responded by lashing out at my mother, as she put on pounds as well. Pleasing him became her primary focus during those years, as she dragged me to Weight Watcher’s meetings and read Susan Powers books. In response, my dad grew increasingly critical, not just of her weight, but all of ours. No matter how desperately my mother wanted to be the slender woman he married, however, she continued to gain weight, as did he… as did my brother and I. We’d begun some unhappy years and we happened to be fat.
In all fairness, my mother had plenty of issues of her own, as well. I still remember sitting in the emergency room at nine years old, when the nurse quoted my weight at 106. My mother, a nurse herself, gasped in embarrassment and scolded me. Not only did I suffer the pain of a broken wrist, I was mortified and ashamed. I had become The Fat Kid, just as I feared. A year or two later, when my parents split up for the first time, it was also my mother who told me that it was because of her weight. When I asked my dad if this was true, he responded “your mother has no willpower” and I never really got an answer beyond that.
Over the years, my home life compounded with my school life persona as The Fat Girl. While the other girls wore fitted shirts with glittery puppies on them and had their first “boyfriends”, cute 12-year-old boys would try to convince me that their friend liked me, because they thought it was funny. For the entirety of sixth grade, I wore a jacket to school, because a boy had told me my arms were fat. I became increasingly defensive and could even be considered a bully myself, in time. There’s something about hearing someone sing “Who Let the Whales Out” as you walk down the halls of your middle school, that makes it hard to trust.
My high school years were easier, both at home and in school. My parents were officially divorced and my mother worked the evening shift. I had a hodge podge of friends, most of us walking around with targets on our backs, but at least we were doing it together. Still, I’d never let go of my identity as The Fat Girl, though in hindsight, I wasn’t even that big. I was just fuller figured than many of the girls my age, especially the ones on TV, of which I’d been consuming way too much for the last ten years. Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer… you name the show and it starred a notably tiny actress. By comparison, I felt like an Amazon, long before the Gal Gadot reference. Then my mother left, during my senior year, and I got married at 19.
There’s no need to recount the years I was married, They were some of the darkest in my life and while I’d previously been a little chubby, the financial troubles, combined with crippling stress and depression, led to poor coping mechanisms like binge eating and drinking. It was at this point, 5’5.5″ and 275 pounds, that I realized I was the largest person in most rooms. I was not curvy or fuller figured, as many still very attractive women could be described. I was morbidly obese, with a BMI of 45.1 at 23 years old, and I hated my body. Being The Fat Girl, all grown-up, was a very different experience. Where I was mocked and bullied as a teen, as a fat adult, I was simply invisible… literally, apparently. I once stood in line at the video store and the clerk motioned to the woman behind me, as if I didn’t exist. I would go out with friends and men would talk them up as if I weren’t there. I was forgettable, at best and at worst, I was disgusted with myself and no longer even felt like a woman. I was miserable, in every aspect of my life, and I happened to be fat.
After my divorce, I resolved to lose weight, when a friend mentioned how strange it felt that we were too old for Hollister and I realized I’d never bought anything there, because nothing fit. I’d missed the Hollister stage of life. It wasn’t even a stage I wanted and the idea that I missed it, solely because of my size was upsetting. What else was I going to miss? I rarely had the energy or self-confidence for many of the activities I wanted to do by myself, like go hiking or bike riding or swimming. I was too self-conscious to wear cute clothes or date. Would I ever even meet the kind of man I hoped to marry this time around, the antithesis of my ex? I pictured a hardworking man, who could chase our kids around the yard and walk around the zoo and ride roller coasters with them. That didn’t require a body builder, but it did require someone relatively physically fit and, even before I’d fully entered it, I understood that in the dating world, like attracts like. Active and reasonably in shape people don’t typically date those who are morbidly obese and unable to climb stairs without breathing problems, regardless of gender.
Over the next year or two, I began working out, dieting, and putting more effort into my appearance. While I hoped the results would eventually play in my favor with men, I wasn’t really dating, nor was I interested in doing so. I was working two jobs, getting my degree, and taking time for myself. My motivation was purely intrinsic. I wanted to look in the mirror and toward the future and like what I saw. I didn’t want to be limited by my weight and I didn’t want to feel bad all the time. Within two years of my divorce, I weighed 158 pounds, which put my BMI at 25.9, barely in the overweight category, and my whole life had changed. I’d gained self-confidence and become better with social cues. I dated casually and stopped assuming it was beyond the realm of reason for a man to be interested. Additionally, I’d made friends, gained control of my finances, broken into my professional field, and finished my degree. My life was infinitely better and I happened to be fit.
After I lost the weight, my extended family became somewhat obsessed with the topic, since so many of them have struggled with their own fitness throughout their lives, most of them fluctuating wildly over the years. It has been ten years since I achieved a healthier size and, to this day, I cannot attend a family event without multiple comments on my weight… how I lost it, how I’ve kept it off, how good I look now. A subject I already struggle not to obsess over is casual conversation amongst my family. In the past, I’ve actually told my husband that my family has two favorite topics: Belle’s weight and Belle’s crazy mother, a fact that was clearly proven when my uncle once cornered him to exclusively discuss both… which brings me back to my mom.
My mother passed away over Mother’s Day weekend, after an overall sad and lonely life. After the divorce, things just never really came together for her again, unlike with my father. She was always a mentally weak person, caring far too much about what others thought and trying too hard as a result. Through a combination of her own self-esteem issues, much of which I know were tied up in insecurities about her weight, and a smorgasbord of mental problems she refused to acknowledge, she became steadily worse as the years passed. By the time I was on my own, she’d lost any sense of decorum or social awareness, most of her friends, and even her job, leaving me to wonder if there wasn’t some frontal lobe damage during the removal of her brain tumor, when I was 10. Beyond her strange and enabling husband, she became something of a recluse, eventually cutting ties with her own mother and losing them with me, as well. She was pitiful and only became more pitiful and she happened to be fat.
While there have been some clear connections to the unhappiness I’ve seen and weight issues, as an objective adult, I’m aware that being fat is not a blanket causation for misery. My parents had an unhealthy relationship with weight, but they also just had an unhealthy relationship with each other. My dad would have been unhappy with my mother, regardless of her size. I’d have been cruelly bullied for something else, had I been slender, because kids and teens are jerks. The real problem was my lack of a supportive home life and that is completely unrelated to body weight. I understand that I wasn’t miserable because I was morbidly obese, when I was married to a sociopath. I was morbidly obese because I was miserable, when I was married to a sociopath. I also realize that while my mother’s weight might have played a role in her relatively young death, it wasn’t the reason she had such a hard life. Again, it was likely the result of her many mental and social struggles, after years of comforting herself in unhealthy ways.
I know these things to be true and I know many bigger men and women, who are self-assured and happy and have healthy relationships. I’m related to many. When I see a bigger woman in a bikini, I envy her confidence. When I see some cute, fuller figured woman on a cowboy’s arm at a rodeo, I think it’s awesome… but then there’s me. I am the woman who has only ever been unhappy while fat and despite my objective knowledge, I cannot bring myself to dissociate the two. No matter how long I’ve been a healthy weight, I cannot seem to overcome my internal fear of reclaiming the title of The Fat Girl… and now I’ve given birth to twins and feel like I have a permanent baby belly.
Anyone who’s followed my blog for even the last few months knows what it took for me to get pregnant. Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option for having children a month before the pandemic hit. We were both fortunate to keep our jobs, throughout, with Jake even receiving two promotions… but it still cost us $30,000 and a lot of stress and heartache to hear those two little heartbeats. Now, here I am, two months postpartum, desperately trying not to obsess over my weight and I feel like I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’m so grateful for my girls and the chance to have a family at all… but I’m still self-conscious about my post-baby body.
To be honest, I thought this would have been a more prominent issue, throughout my pregnancy and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to remind myself that I wasn’t only pregnant, but carrying twins. I had a pretty good pregnancy after the first trimester. Though I had trouble sleeping, since my legs would go numb no matter how I arranged myself, I generally felt pretty good. I watched what I ate and exercised. I had a small wardrobe of cute and feminine maternity clothes. I did pull Jake into the bathroom at my baby shower, where I burst into tears because I was “disgustingly fat,” but I’d just seen my aunt using hand gestures to help fully depict her loud description of how I was carrying my weight.
It wasn’t until those last couple of weeks that I started to grow more uncomfortable with my appearance, as strangers began commenting more about how I looked like I was “about to pop”, my maternity jeans no longer fit, and I lived in an XXXL Summer Reading t-shirt. It was only then that I began to tearfully ask Jake whether he was going to leave me because I was fat. I started to picture the holidays and all the comments my family would make about how I’d lost the weight… or worse, the silence when I was around, because they were waiting to talk about how I didn’t. Feeling substantially larger the day I hit week 35, I procrastinated on posting my weekly belly photo on Instagram, because I didn’t feel well… and I never did get the chance. I thought the exhaustion was to be expected, though I was surprised by how run down I felt…
:: drumroll please::
… until I was diagnosed with “substantial pneumonia” and heart complications far exceeding preeclampsia. I’m sure I’ll share my horrifying birth story in time, complete with trigger warnings, but since that’s not the point of this post, I’ll simply say that it was the most terrifying experience of my life and I’m still recovering physically. The night I got home, I wasn’t supposed to stand for long stretches of time, having just been taken off the heart monitor. After a week as a patient, though, I stubbornly insisted on feeling human again. I washed my hair, shaved my legs, trimmed my bangs… and bravely stepped on the scale, expecting to have lost anywhere from 15-20 pounds, only to realize that I was only two pounds above my pre-baby weight. I was so incredibly ill that, while I hated those initial hospital photos, because I was carrying so much water weight, by the time I was discharged with my one week old twins (who’d been discharged days earlier), I’d lost 47 pounds since I went to the E.R. for breathing problems. I was shocked… and kind of relieved. I almost died and was rushed to the ICU without my babies, immediately after an emergency C-section. I’d take any silver lining I could get. Just as I suspected, even after hearing most of the story, my family saw my silver lining to a very dark cloud as nothing but a boon and was congratulatory of my weight loss.
It’s no mystery why I have issues with my weight, but now I find myself with two perfect little girls, who will look to me as an example for how they treat and talk about their bodies. While I’m not convinced I can ever overcome my own hang ups, the least I can do is commit to hiding them. When I was a kid and we’d go swimming at the lake or my grandmother’s pool, the adults never got in the water. When pictures were taken, they shielded their faces or asked to be cut out, especially the women. By middle school, I did the same, refusing to get in the water at summer camp and begging my mother to let me call in sick the day of our 7th grade field trip to the pool. I wore baggy clothes to hide my body, avoided having my picture taken, and wore my hair in front of my face when I couldn’t I don’t want my girls to be ashamed of their own bodies, no matter what shape they take, like I was and still sometimes am.
I am not a “health at every size” girl. It’s simply a fact that being overweight, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, and eating poorly are unhealthy, especially if someone carries their weight around their mid-section. Acknowledging that, I don’t want my girls to think that being a little heavier equates with the killing curse, either. Sometimes life has fat seasons and that’s okay. People put on weight when it gets cold out, when loved ones die, when work gets stressful, when money’s tight and healthy food is out of their price range, after a breakup or a divorce. Some women are just built curvier and some men are naturally heftier. There are so many worse things to be than fat, from suffering from uncontrollable physical ailments like being mentally ill, chronically sick, or disabled, to character flaws, like being angry and bitter, irresponsible and apathetic, or a bad friend or loved one. I remember watching Gilmore Girls and being awestruck by the idea that Sookie could be fuller figured and still marry a good looking and kind man, have a thriving social life and a successful career. That was contrary to every idea my parents had given me, and I was an adult before I realized that men can find heavier women genuinely attractive. I don’t want my daughters to think that fat automatically equals unattractive or unhappy any more than I want them to think that living an unhealthy lifestyle is unavoidable. I don’t want them to cry because they’re fat at thirty or thirteen, let alone three.
So, even if I’m, admittedly, pretty messed up about weight, I’m more motivated than ever to fake it ’til I make it. I gained ten pounds after I left the hospital, what with no longer being on death’s door. I fear that this will be the time I look back on, the start of becoming Fat Again. Will I wish I could rewind and make healthier choices? Will I ever lose that last 10 pounds and perhaps the 10 I gained during Covid-19 infertility treatments, my Pandemic Pudge? Will I look at photos from a time when I feel fat and wish I were this size again? I can’t help but obsess over it and then I remember that my girls will be looking on, giving me even more reason to make truly healthy decisions, physically and mentally. I have to at least pretend to be confident and self-assured if I want to raise confident and self-assured children.
I was 21 when I realized that people go to the gym even when they aren’t trying to lose weight, that many of them enjoy physical activity, that exercise isn’t limited to the sports I hated as a kid. I have to make sure my girls know these things, by encouraging them to be active themselves, by being active with them and their father, by not forcing them to take part in physical activities they despise. I have to teach them that healthy foods taste good and Foods With Gravy are a wonderful treat. I have to make sure they know that bigger isn’t beautiful and real women don’t have curves, but that bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and Godly creations. I have to show them that memories are worth having, even when I don’t feel at my most confident during that family photo or really don’t care to be seen in a bathing suit, in part because no one is thinking about anyone as much as they fear and also because people without perfect bodies can enjoy life, too. I have to demonstrate appreciation for my body and the amazing things it can do, by never letting my girls hear me deride it or show disgust for features they share, like my round face, big feet, turned up nose, or broad shoulders.
So many aspects of parenting are a charade, as we all play the part of healthy, well-adjusted individuals, to set good examples for our kids. This one might be one of the most important lessons of all to me, making sure my girls love themselves. It’s a good thing I’ve got a few years to improve, though. As messed up as I know it is, here in my new post-twins body, I can’t shake the worry of becoming Fat Again.