Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The (Not So) Bare Bones

[Note: This a serious post, you have been warned. I put off hitting publish for days because it so emotional and close to my heart. Here goes nothing.]

Full disclosure: I have been overweight my whole life.

That's twenty years. Two decades. For some people, a lifetime.

I am staring at these words and I can't grasp thier truth. If I were to describe myself I would never say fat. 1) because it is shameful (or so the world has taught me) and 2) because I am more than my shell.

The reason I decided to write this post is because I don't think people talk about the truth of being overweight often. And those who do aren't often heard. The world doesn't seem to want to hear it.

The first truth: being overweight is painful. In the physical sense (low stamina, aching joints, muscles that cannot support their load) and the psychological sense.

As I look back on my life I am angered by how my weight has held me back. Every dream I ever had for myself has been relegated to the back of the line to make way for my most pressing dream: losing the weight.

In my head, from a very young age, losing the weight was a magical cure to all my problems. If I got down to XXX weight I would finally write that book I always wanted to. If I was normal sized I wouldn't be so shy, I would have more friends, I would become someone others wanted to know. After I lost the weight I would meet the love of my life, travel the world, discover a cure for cancer, blah blah blah. But not before I lost the weight, never before.

Somehow my weight made me unworthy of the things I desired for myself.
Me at 4 years old (in the pink)
The second truth: people who are overweight are not lazy. Everyone meets challenges in life and different people chose different ways to deal with them. I chose to overeat, to spend the majority of my time sedentary, to lose myself in the stories of others. I avoided my problems. But I never looked in the mirror and was satisfied with what I saw. For some reason I never had the tools I needed to deal with my problems in a healthy way.

So for anyone who ever thought that a person is fat because they want to be or because they don't want to lose the weight you are wrong. You are so wrong.
Our culture is very firm on the fact that to be overweight is to be wrong. From someone who has personally experienced this I would edit it to say that to be overweight is to be separated from normality. A misplaced puzzle piece, sticking out like a sore thumb, someone to be pitied or ridiculed or ignored.

I have been on a quest to be "normal" since I was eight years old. I can remember being at summer camp, looking at everyone else, feeling depressed and deciding that I needed to lose weight. I was in fourth grade. And so for the next twelve years that was my mindset. I went on diets, started exercise programs, changed my "lifestyle". I joined Weight Watchers. Twice. I lost some, gained more back, lost some, gained more back.

To this date I have never been at a "normal" weight.

Sometimes I wear a mask.
The third truth (a very recent truth to me): the number on the scale isn't the issue. And what I mean by this is that bigger people are taught that being fat is their problem, it is a result of their actions, only they can save themselves. Why is this okay?

All of a sudden being overweight is solely an internal problem and the burden of fixing it is all on you. This is very lonely. No wonder people who are overweight have higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Imagine being told to change your eye color or the way your brain functioned or structure of your bones. Science could surely offer you some drastic (and horrifying) solutions but who would you be in the end?

I have found that treating my obesity as a external problem can be very empowering. I was a child and countless adults allowed me to reach this point. The United States obsession with fast food. The thousands of channels of television. How healthy food is more expensive and harder to come by. That I was allowed to skate by in physical education. And the silence. The silence that was lent to the issue of obesity for so many years (silence that was similarly lent to teen pregnancy and homophobia and the failures of our school systems).

With those thoughts in mind I can breathe deeper, dig for more strength and see a clearer vision of my future. I am not my whole problem. Some of the pressure has lifted and I feel capable.

Me at 19 years old

The fourth truth: I don't know everything.

I am not blaming any one person or group of people for what is being called "a national epidemic". I am not saying that I, or anybody who is overweight, should be left off the hook. I am my own person, I am responsible for my health.

But I am saying that obesity should not be regarded as an individual problem and treated as thus. This is isolating and cruel and misguided. I wish that I had been made to do more physical activity, I wish that healthier food was served in my school cafeteria and I wish that as children we were taught to love ourselves and others at any size.

So many of the pitfalls I have encountered could have been avoided if I was taught to treat my health as a precious and immediate thing. As it is I have had to discover this slowly until now when I am an adult and so much less open to change.

Already, the world is so different from when I was a child. Fast food restraunts are ushering in healthier menu items, the First Lady is working hard on getting children more active and there are big beautiful people popping up everywhere in pop culture. The kids of today live in a different world than I did. But it will be decades before we see if its enough.

I am no where near a success but I am smarter and more experienced and I know I will get there.
I put off writing something like this for years. Breaking the silence feels like my first full breath. It feels like I am letting the light out.

Readers, Internet, Universe: I am ready and eager to let your light in.

I like to smile.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you see promising changes or are things the same as they always were? Would you have anything to add or something you disagree with?


  1. Wow... what a moving post. Weight is still such a taboo topic to talk about (never ask a woman her weight!), but it's something that needs to be addressed.

    Since you opened up about your struggle, I'll take a deep breath and share mine. For me personally, my weight problems ran the other way. I'm big-boned and tallish, and in high school that made me feel so un-girly. I thought that guys never talked to me because I was 'fat' and 'ugly', so I decided to lose weight. In reality, I was a perfectly healthy 140 on my 5'7" frame, but I lost over 20 pounds and kept trying to lose weight. I couldn't stay awake in class, and I couldn't keep playing the sports I loved. Did I see that? No. I saw a 'fat' girl in the mirror whose thighs still jiggled, and I tried to cut more food out of my diet. Some of my mom's friends finally intervened, and sat me down to talk to me. That was when it dawned on me that I wasn't making myself beautiful -- I was making myself sick.

    Since then, I've tried to avoid weighing myself and instead tried to peg my health based on other things -- how far can I run or bike? How many pushups can I do? I try to put the emphasis on feeling healthy instead of how skinny my bottom is.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey -- I think most people have a terrible relationship with food, and it's something we all need to work on.

    1. Thanks so much Nickie for sharing!

      It is amazing how little conversation there is on this topic.

      You want to know the scariest part? It wasn't hitting publish but sharing it on Facebook. This is a completely different environment than Facebook where all your friends and family are. For some reason I was afraid that people would see me differently. Instead people seemed to really admire me for it. Its amazing how being vulnerable is as beneficial for you as it is for others.

      I have definitely noticed how the scale is some strange psychological torture device. I think that all teenagers (and perhaps adults too!) should be banned from using them. Your health can't be defined by a number.

      It is wonderful to hear how well you are doing. You definitely inspire me :D

    2. @_@ I don't know if I can share that on FB yet! That's a huge step, and kudos to you for taking it. Like you said, it's hard to know how people will view you. My family knows it was a struggle for me in high school, but none of my college friends know. It feels like a weakness, and like I should have been smart enough to NOT do something like that. The feminist in me also goes ballistic at the thought that I succumbed to a patriarchally defined ideal of beauty.

      I love Laura's advice, though. I have to remember to love myself!

      PS -- Keep smiling, you've got a pretty one :)

    3. :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

  2. You're gorgeous! Seriously. You must be pretty young to be concerned about your weight. I struggled with weight a lot when I was young. I was a singer/dancer for many years and was always dieting for the stage. I couldn't eat bread, chocolate, cake, fried foods and only a minimal amount of pasta and rice. I hated it. Dieting made me depressed, made my nails and hair weak, and took all the fun out of my life.

    Now I'm 51, retired, fat and happy. I don't 'overeat,' but I eat anything I darn well please and lead a pleasing sedentary life. My high BP (that runs in my family) has gone down since I gained a lot of weight in the past 3 yrs. Why? Because I do what I want, eat what I want, and don't stress about it. Moral: Don't stress out, live your life, and most of all, love yourself.

    1. Hey Laura! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your kind words.

      There is definitely a connection between being young and body image. Its the pressure and the constant changes and the uncertainty. Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing? How do I go about doing that? Our cultures focus on physical perfection concentrates all that stress.

      "Don't stress out, live your life, and most of all, love yourself." I love that sentiment, we should all be told that every day :D

  3. Hey Megan,

    Thank you for this post and for all of your honesty. I have so many friends who are "bigger" than me who are also more active and have better muscle mass. It's bizarre how obsessed we can be with our bodies in any direction.