I spent a decade gaining and losing the same 20 pounds
From the time I was 12, someone has had something to say about my body. When I was in 8th grade, I was 5'7" and 100 pounds soaking wet. Now, in 2020, this may seem like what every 8th-grade girl aspires to. In 1986, I can assure you it was not.
Ruling the thigh gap was not a thing back then. We had curvier ideals we were trying to live up to. We had Madonna.
My first real taste of body judgment came when we had that dreaded class in 8th grade where they sit all the young girls down and have that frank, if not horribly uncomfortable, discussion about anorexia. Oh joy. Sidelong glances. Whispers.
One girl, who was not the sharpest tool in the shed as I recall, was the one who finally came up to me a day or so later in the gym locker room. Exactly where every pre-teen girl wants to be confronted about her body.
“Are you anorexia?” she asked. She used the noun. She didn’t make it an adjective. I was an intellectual snob even at 12 and I remember how much the syntax of the question bothered me.
Nope, you idiot. I’m just insufferably skinny. It was the first time I was really and truly aware of my body and annoyed with it. It wouldn’t be the last. Growing up the skinny girl had its benefits. I had the metabolism of a hummingbird on crack cocaine. I could eat an entire pizza by myself. I frequently did in an effort to not be the skinny girl anymore. I just wanted to look like all the normal girls in the school.
This stayed with me into my teen years and into my 20s where I then became the object of bar bathroom disdain. Snarky, half-drunk women would literally poke me in the ribs in bathrooms. I wish I was kidding.
Then something happened to me in my 30s. My body revolted.
I had my daughter at 29. There was post-partum depression. By 31, I was in the middle of full blown depression and my hormones went along for the ride. My body said, “Screw it. We’re out.”
When I left my first husband at 32, I was a size 12 and growing. Let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with being a size 12. I am not shaming anyone who is. I mention it because when you grow up a size 2 your whole life, it screws with your psyche. It had become my normal.
I had grown accustomed to being the skinny girl. It had become part of my identity. It came with expectations other people had for how I was going to look. When you gain 30 pounds as the skinny girl, people notice. They ask you if you’re pregnant. You’re not. They make recommendations for gyms. They invite you to bullshit Jazzercise classes. They are just as uncomfortable with you being plump as you are.
In effort to find myself again post-divorce, I practically starved myself and ran miles and miles and miles. In three months time, I was back to a size 2. It wasn’t healthy.
This began a ten-year cycle of me gaining 20 pounds back and then struggling to diet it away. Succeeding and then falling to pot again. Over and over.
It poked myself. I hated myself. I ran. I binged. I starved. I cried. I sought acceptance but never from myself. I took diet pills. I fad dieted. I bought clothes over and over again. My closet spanned six dress sizes.
Three years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to once again lose the 20 or so pounds. Of course, I made this decision at a bar, watching football while drinking margaritas and eating nachos. I had posted on Facebook a margarita induced rant about the fat-shaming of Carrie Fisher as the new Star Wars movie had come out. I had had enough.
I got an inbox message from an old friend who was a trainer who asked me not to be offended but that he specialized in training women in their 40s who were not happy with how they looked. I contemplated his offer as I sat at the Mexican restaurant.
My jeans were awkwardly buttoned using a hair tie to extend the space between the button and the button hole. You know, like you do when you’re pregnant and not ready for maternity clothes…
I took him up on the offer. Over the course of two years, I went to the gym four times a week. I stopped starving myself. I stopped trying to like running. I just went and picked up heavy things and put them down. Again and again and again.
For the first time in my life, I felt healthy. I ate well but not too strictly. Pounds never came off but body fat did. My clothes fit. My body took shape. I began to embrace strong as the new sexy. I gave up wanting to be skinny again. I pushed my body to see what it was capable of. I pulled a 315-pound deadlift. I went from 155 pounds and 28% body fat to 145 pounds and 15% body fat. I felt more confident than I ever had.
One thing never changed. People still felt the need to comment on my body. I was too muscular. I was too strong.
I actually had a date that reached out and touched my shoulder and said maybe I should stop now. Maybe I should just focus on doing more cardio. Do you even lift, bro?
It was at that moment that I stopped caring. I told him he didn’t get to have an opinion about my body. It wasn’t his. It was mine and I loved it. It’s not perfect. I have stretch marks from having an enormous baby. Things are no longer in the same place. There are places that have never and will never change. I’m okay with it.
It took me 44 years to learn how to take body commentary with a grain of salt. And every now and then I still put that salt on the rim of a margarita glass.