Monday, October 5, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

I struggled with whether or not even to write this, to go there, that place where so many get stuck, the vantage point from which so many women (men, too, but women especially) derive their self-esteem, or the spring from which they nourish it, which is all too often dry.

Weight.

I’ve gone there before in these pages but not in the context of I’ve lost weight; I’m happy to have done so as I’m trying—both of which are true. My first month at the gym has been successful: I have lost ten pounds on the treadmill. But before you get mad at me for valuing this accomplishment, let me explain.

I have never been thin. Ever. I do have a memory of being my most fit in graduate school, but even then, I was only “thin” for me. Never by society’s standards have I been thin. I am a full-figured woman, and in general, have made peace with food. I don’t consider food my enemy, secret contraband to be eaten out of eyeshot of anyone whose attention I might be trying to garner or keep. (See previous posts). I think society places too much value on thinness and bombards us with unrealistic and often unhealthy images of women.

It bothers me when parents play Food Police and in this day and age don’t understand that what they create, especially with their girls, in their effort to keep them slim, is future women who will treat food as contraband and sneak it, maybe even purge it once they do. At minimum, they will struggle with food. And probably, therefore, they will struggle with weight as well. Especially since these same Calorie Cops most likely celebrate and reward their kids with food. Confusing, isn’t it? Now imagine being 8. Or 10. And a little overweight. One day you’re getting the death stare for wanting another piece of bacon at breakfast, and the next you get to go out to a special dinner for getting good grades on your report card.

That was not the case for me. In my case, I think my struggle with being weight came from being sedentary (I was not an athlete) and knowing, once I was overweight, that it was frowned upon in society. Which fueled my being overweight. I guess way-back-when I was one of those people who snuck food, who’d go to a high school party and not eat a single potato chip, afraid of what I thought people would say, and I’d go home starving. If I could go back, I’d have participated in sports. But by the time I was in high school I was already too embarrassed to try.

Eventually, fascinated by eating disorders and including obesity in that list, I did research in graduate school and wrote papers and got good and pissed off—vowing to fly in the face of the world’s warped values—as, ironically, I got into shape.

Some twenty years later, I have never gotten back to my highest weight ever, which was the beginning of my senior year in college, when I was 21. Nor have I gotten down to my lowest weight ever, which happened at 25. My weight has fluctuated in the decades that have passed, but I eat in public, and I enjoy good, healthy foods as much as I enjoy junk food on occasion. And I don’t punish myself for eating it. My greatest victory is that I have not based my opinion of myself on how much I weigh. I am smart and successful and loving. I am attractive and I dress well—even if and when my clothes have a W at the end of a number.

My efforts at the gym come from my recognition that menopause is knocking on my door…I am getting older and my metabolism is slowing and I need to keep my heart healthy and muscles and bones strong.

But if I continue to be successful at the gym, which I intend to, won’t it be nice to have an excuse to buy new clothes? And rather than go up a size, I’d can buy them in a size smaller. Even if they still have a W at the end.

1 comment:

Tam said...

Awesome post, J. Can I link to it on my blog? I LOVE THIS!!

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