The first time she criticized my weight, I was 104 pounds. It seems weird that I would remember the exact number, but it’s not something you forget – the first time the one person who is supposed to see you only in the best light looks at you with disdain. It was the beginning of my long struggle with my weight. Not physically – I stayed thin for many more years – more than ten. It wasn’t until after I met my husband and stopped working two jobs and going to school and started cooking gourmet meals and eating at nice restaurants that the extra pounds found their new home on me. But mentally – emotionally, my issues surrounding weight and food started right there, in my living room, when my mom was disgusted that I was 104 pounds, but my friend Kelli was only 103.
Suddenly, she was aware of every inch of me, every pound, and every morsel of food that crossed my lips. She turned me into a closet eater – figuratively, as I snuck around with my friends to the local pizza shop, or diligently searched the car for McDonald’s sesame seeds before returning it, and literally, as I hid food in my closet, to be eaten away from her judging eyes.
In those days, I never really believed her accusations that I was fat, but I knew she believed them, and that was enough. I avoided getting undressed in front of her, I sat on the couch or in the car with a pillow or my purse in my lap to hide what I knew she perceived as my bulging thighs.
I became a liar. I lied about what I ate, answering salad to every (inevitable) inquiry. I ate salad for lunch, salad for dinner, always salad. Afterwards, I spent years hating salad – not really hating salad, but the idea of salad – no matter how much I really liked it, I refused to have it as a meal. hated myself for lying (I hate liars and I am terrible at it), but self-preservation was key. There were too many Christmases with a huge pile of new clothes bought a size too small because she “though I was on a diet.” There were too many screaming matches as I was trying to leave the house for school in the morning, because I was “too fat to wear that” (usually the clothes she herself bought me and said looked good). There were too many threats that we “wouldn’t go on vacation if I didn’t lose five pounds by Friday.” There were too many humiliating meetings with the majorette captains or sponsors, begging them to bend the rules and allow me to march in that night’s game or parade, despite the fact that I didn’t wear the required sweatsuit (size extra small) – after all, it was white and everyone knows white makes you look fat – she couldn’t allow me to leave the house looking that way. So I lied.
Even as I got older and started obviously gaining weight, I lied. I was an adult, living away from home, and still she controlled me. I reported all the “salads” I ate. I cut the tags out of my clothes before I went home to visit, because “they were itchy,” (but I assured her, they were a size eight. Or ten. Or twelve. Whatever size was one or two smaller than the tags in the garbage truly said).
Over the years, I lost and gained what feels like a million pounds. The first time I joined weight watchers, I easily (I was in my 20s) got down to a size four. I looked great. I felt great. Until I didn’t. I was proud of myself and I liked the way I looked. But then I noticed how much better my relationship with her got and it made me mad. Instead of appreciating the positive change, I felt ripped apart. It was more clear than ever that her love was conditional. It would have been easier to accept that she just didn’t like me. But it turned out that she didn’t like fat me. After years of calling me fat, I became fat, and suddenly skinny me was OK to love. And it pissed me off, because the “me” in fat me and skinny me was the same. I was still me – still a kind, loving, companionate, sensitive person – only in a different package.
It’s not as if I literally said “screw it, if she can’t love me fat, then I don’t want her to love me at all,” (after all – I liked being skinny and I wasn’t kidding anyone – I wanted her to love me), but that’s where I ended up. A little part of me kept testing the hypothesis, always hoping that it would change – that I would feel worthy even though I wasn’t skinny. But again and again, that hypothesis failed. For the next 17 years, I lost weight and then gained it back, each time gaining a little more than the last, until I almost couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. Until I started avoiding mirrors completely. As they left me feeling sad and sick. Look through my photos from the past 6 or 7 years and you’ll be hard pressed to find many of me. What a horrible way to live – what a terrible legacy to leave my kids. Memories of a mom who hated herself and no photos to remember the person they loved and who loved them the most.
And that right there – not my own feelings, definitely not her opinion, but the love I have for my children is what has motivated me to try again. To succeed. Never again will I let myself go down that path. Never again will I look in the mirror and cringe. Never again will I refuse a photo of me with my children. I won’t let diabetes or heart disease or hypertension ruin my children’s lives. I am making a change in my life and in theirs. I am proud of myself and they are proud of me. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve come a long way already and I plan to succeed. I look in the mirror and there I am – the me I remember – the me who disappeared under the weighty issues – and I like what I see.
This is what losing 18.2 pounds does to your face: