A few years ago I took my daughter to a friend’s house for a play date. It was a hot summer day. I wore shorts.
Upon arrival a cute little four-year-old walked up to me, poked a finger into my thigh and said, “Your legs wiggle like jello. That’s funny.”
I wear capris now.
Like so many women, I’d love to lose a pound or two (or fifty). Weight-consciousness has dogged me since opening day of my freshman year of high school, when I stepped onto the scale for mandatory weigh-in.
Shock register on the nurse’s face. “That’s impossible,” she blustered, furiously tapping the read-out. “You’re not that heavy.” I could tell from the way she said it, with her face all scrunched up and her lips curled away from her teeth, that “heavy” was a bad thing and had little to do with actual weight. Heavy was a category, a state of being…and for the first time in my life I realized I was in it.
In truth I wasn’t that heavy. I was almost 5’9″ and had spent the last seven years attending home school in the mornings and caring for our horses in the afternoons. Mucking out stalls and paddocks, hefting hay bales, grooming and riding for hours – that was my phys-ed. Sure, I’d accumulated a few superfluous pounds since puberty struck, but I was tall, and I was muscled. And that’s how I’d always seen myself: strong.
Nurse Ninny changed that innocent self-assuredness when she labeled me as “that heavy.” I spent the next six years observing the unfortunate reality that only skinny girls got the boys, the popularity, and (from my adolescent perspective) the happiness.
By my junior year of college, still boyfriend-less and without prospects, I decided enough was enough. My friends were moving on from obsessing over spring formals to reading bridal magazines. Engagement rings were popping up all over campus. Debates raged over honeymoon locations and down-the-road baby names. It was do or die time: unless I wanted to end up a lonely, miserable spinster, I needed to get my act together and find a man.
That meant losing weight – a lot of weight – and fast. So I started running. I learned how to use every machine in the weight room. I cut granola bars into quarters and treated each piece as a meal. I took diuretics at night so I could flush the fluid from my system in hopes of seeing a lower number on the scale the next morning. I counted every calorie and considered myself a big fat failure if the day’s tally hit four digits.
I starved and abused my body into dropping over sixty pounds at breakneck speed.
And guess what? I got a boyfriend.
Doh! That’s not how that story’s supposed to end! What kind of message are you sending?
Don’t worry, I’m not done.
Tim (now promoted from boyfriend to husband) can’t be held responsible for meeting me when I was at my thinnest, but he does get credit for not only sticking around but lavishly loving me even when I gained back every one of those sixty pounds, plus a few extra. His unwavering devotion, regardless of the roller coaster that is my weight, has nearly (not quite, but almost) uprooted the choking weeds of insecurity planted so many years ago.
What remains is finding healing through my children. My son Liam has a habit of squeezing my arm fat whenever he sits next to me. It used to drive me nuts, as if he was somehow trying to draw attention to a part of my body that’s admittedly less than fit. Then one day he walked over, rubbed my arm, and said, “Mommy, I love your strong arms.”
He doesn’t see cellulite where there should be triceps, or a pouch where there should be a six-pack. He doesn’t care that my calves are more like cows. He sees Mommy-of-the-Squeezable-Arms: the person who kisses his boo-boos, feeds his tummy, and sings away his nightmares. In Liam’s eyes, Mommy is strong.
My son sees the same person my fourteen-year-old self saw before I stepped onto that nurse’s scale.
Comedian Gabriel Inglesias, a.k.a. Fluffy, is famous for turning his weight into a good-natured joke: “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy!” Maybe he’s onto something. While I’m committed to doing what I can to have a healthy body (exercise, moderation, nutrition, etc.) I’m also beginning to accept that svelte isn’t in my DNA. I can kill myself trying to be thin, or I can accept that my physical flaws aren’t as important as the people who embrace them.
You want to talk about heavy? My family loves me, jello legs and all. That fact outweighs Nurse Ninny’s scale any day.