One of the things that the SFWA bruhaha in recent weeks has made me think about is me as a woman and about weight and about body image. Then Cat Valente posted this amazing blog about her own trials and it’s very honest, very personal, and made me think about myself more. Then another friend posted about her own body images struggles and in the course of that post, someone posted this link which I found sad and so true and is very much at the heart of what has been changing for me.
I’m going to talk a bit about my own weight issues here. If it’s not interesting to you, it’s okay if you don’t bother. I won’t mind. But Cat’s post made me realize I’ve never spoken even to myself about it in any honesty, so I’m going to try to do that here.
I have always been big. And by that, I mean tall and built like a football player. I have ‘thunder thighs,’ which mean they rub together and I will never lose enough weight to stop that unless I also am dead. I have broad shoulders, big bones, big feet, and I take up space. I will never wear single digit sized clothing. I remember having body issues all the way through grade school and high school. I felt big, just by virtue of towering over people. I didn’t really pay attention to weight, but I was always on the outside looking in and I connected that with my size. I wasn’t petite and cute, I was a dinosaur in a room full of kittens. Or so it felt. I didn’t attract male attention, and of course that made me feel ugly.
We didn’t talk a lot about looks in my house. But I picked up on it at school and so while at home I felt strong and didn’t think about my body when I was riding horses or doing things like that, when I was with friends and school and public, I was self conscious. I felt fat. I look at pictures now and wonder how the hell I could feel fat. I wasn’t. I wore size 12 or so, but I was 5’11” and I carried it well. But all the same, the fact that I couldn’t attract the boys that I crushed on meant there was something wrong with me, and I chalked it up to both looks and personality.
Just before I went to college, I went to the doctor who told me I was overweight. At that point I weight about 180 and wore a size 16 I think. So my freshman year I lost weight. Got down to 155 lbs. I wore a size 11 and I looked slightly anorexic in my face. A bit skeletal. But I felt empowered and sexy. And still didn’t get the boys I wanted. I just wasn’t that good looking. Again, I connected it with weight and personality–like they were one and the same and of course, I couldn’t fix my personality.
I met my husband shortly after that and over the years I put on weight. I learned later that I had a thyroid issue and a severe anemia issue, but a lot of it was eating bad food and not exercising, and eating to self medicate and so on. Eating to fix myself. I still don’t understand how that works or why anybody would do that, but I did.
Slowly I ate my way up in size. 13 years ago before I had my son, I weighed 250. (I have never, ever, told anybody my actual weights, except my husband. This is painful. And I’m not getting to the top weight yet). I was wearing size 20, and I didn’t feel too bad about it. I felt heavy, but I was busy and didn’t let myself think about it. Plus I could eat myself into ignoring it. So then I got pregnant and had gestational diabetes. Let me say here that I had never participated in organized diets. I just couldn’t manage that. I tried to focus on eating healthy. I tried not to look at myself in pictures (I still do, but now I become achingly aware that I want pictures of me and my family. That these are memories I want to keep).
With gestational diabetes, I had to eat a very specific diet. The idea of passing a large baby through my vagina was very motivational. Go figure. I gained a total of about 14lbs and lost those pretty much at childbirth. I didn’t gain weight after that and managed to get down to 248 and stay there. I remember that because it was the lowest point I’d been at for a long time.
I then got pregnant again. Again I had gestational diabetes and again I gained very little weight. But in the years after, I started gaining in leaps and bounds. I remember going to Worldcon in Glasgow in 2005 and weighing 276. Or 279. One or the other. I had to buy some new clothes just for travel. Now in this time period I’d had some back surgeries and other health scares with arterial blockages, and I’d definitely eaten to self-medicate and not exercised as much. Work was toxic, so I ate more. I then had another serious back issue and had to have my neck fused. All of those surgeries meant steroids and other drugs and no exercise. So I sat and I wrote and I ate. I also had a period where I gained 10lbs in a month. I thought for sure this was not good and I went to several different docs who blew me off until I found one who told me that I had a thyroid issue and severe anemia. The anemia was a significant issue.
I got those taken care of, but by that time, I had hit my all time high: 313.5. It’s really hard to say that. I have never told anyone but my husband that. I was also showing signs of becoming diabetic. I wasn’t physically capable of certain every day tasks and that both unnerved me and humiliated me. That’s when I started trying this thing through campus, which didn’t work. It was sort of a counseling thing and I saw a nutritionist and went back to the diabetic diet. But it just wasn’t working for me. So I flailed about and called myself a lot of names that didn’t help at all.
Finally several things sort of clicked. One was that I really needed to lose weight for health. I *do* want to look better. I want to shop for clothes easier. I want to not be fat. But more than that, I want to be able to *d0* things with the kids. I want to not pant when I do things. I want to not die early. I want to not be a burden on my family because I let my health slide.
I started to catch myself when I called myself names and tell myself to stop it. I absolutely don’t want to create body issues in either of my children. The world will do enough of that and I am working hard to innoculate them against it. I started to exercise, partly for weight, partly to feel strong in my body. I never complain about my body in front of my kids and I avoid the mirror whenever I’m feeling not so good. It incites me to call myself names. And then I started paying attention to my body more and my eating habits and as I’ve said, i’ve slowly lost weight. I’m now at 276.5. My initial goal is to get down to 250. That’s partly because I can remember being that weight, and partly because I think my sugar numbers were healthy at that point. But realistically, I want to get to between 200-20. I don’t anticipate really getting below 200, though I suppose it’s possible. What I really want is to buy clothes in any store without needing the plus size section, and I want be able to move and fit in narrow spaces like airplane seats, and I want to be healthy as I get older.
I want to stop cringing from pictures and from looking at my own pictures. But that isn’t about weight. It’s about me feeling good in my own body, and I really am working on that. I have moments where I start to really hate my body, and that really annoys me. This is my body and it’s reasonably healthy and it has done well by me for 45 years, and it will hopefully do that for another 45 if I take care of myself. It has given me children and it has given me a great deal of joy. It’s a fabulous body and I need to remember that always.