As much as I enjoy advocating men’s and women’s acceptance of their bodies and the pursuit of health rather than a beach bod, I often have days when the beach bod takes precedence.
Ever since I was 7 years old, I’ve been terrified of gaining weight. The thing that started it? My dad took my sister and me to lunch at a buffet with some of his friends. I grew fast at that age, and I loved food. When I returned to the table with my piled-up plate, one of my dad’s friends commented that my plate looked like the plate another of their friends might have gotten if he had been there. The friend he referred to was morbidly obese. I barely touched the rest of my food and fought back tears all the way home. Beginning that day, I equated even one meal of excessive (by someone else’s perspective) food consumption with uncontrollable weight gain and ostracization. Looking back now 18 years later, I’m sure my dad’s friend was just teasing, but I’ve never forgotten it. I have fought overthinking my portions and food choices nearly every day since.
That’s a hard habit to break.
I played soccer from the time I was 5 until 18 as a senior in high school, so I considered myself pretty active. But I was never thin, and I was always the second-slowest runner on the team. Being constantly surrounded by my wiry, toned teammates caused my body image to further plummet during my vulnerable teenage years.
I got a boyfriend my senior year, and I felt happy. After a few months, we began the inevitable process of growing apart, and I was devastated. I dropped approximately 20 pounds in two to three weeks. But then something strange and unexpected happened: although I was losing weight because of a depressed state, an underlying elation at my “finally normal” body swelled.
I was convinced that all my grade-school self-esteem classes had been wrong: being thin did equal happiness.
I’m going to come clean here: I’ve operated under that assumption for years. Even though I know being healthy is always the key, I’ve continuously had a goal weight in mind and an image I want to see in the mirror. When I gained weight a couple years ago and slipped into another depressed state despite my joy that came from being with Cory, I believed more than ever that a thin me meant a happy me.
Over the past year and a half, I have met and exceeded my goal weight. I *usually* like what I see in the mirror. And yes, that has made me happy. But on Wednesday morning, after I stepped on the scale and saw that I was another pound and six ounces lighter, I was quickly reminded that weight loss doesn’t equal happiness.
Just a few minutes earlier, I spotted my nearly full carton of milk I had left on the kitchen counter all night long, so I had to pour it all down the sink. I had woken up with the outside corner of my left eye stinging because makeup remover wipes had dried it out and caused it to crack and nearly bleed. Then, as I got ready for work, I splattered liquid makeup on the white front of one of my favorite dresses, which resulted in me fighting back girly tears as nothing – not soap, not cold water, not hydrogen peroxide, not dishwashing detergent – seemed to get the spot out.
Even though the scale told me I was thinner than I had been in two years, I stood in my bathroom whining like a displeased toddler over a stain the size of the end of a ballpoint pen. Yesterday morning proved that life goes on and sometimes you stain your favorite dress. Life doesn’t care what your scale said.
When my weight loss was new, nothing could get me down. No matter what happened throughout my day, if the scale had made me happy that morning, I could simply tell myself, “At least you’re not chubby anymore.” That is not a healthy way to think. I was wrong.
Moreover, you’re not guaranteed happiness, no matter what you look like.
As hypocritical as I feel for having this unrelenting fixation on how my body looks while constantly praising acceptance of inner beauty and self-love, I think it’s necessary that I admit this. Because I don’t think I’m alone. I think a lot of us – men, women, fat, thin, old, young – fight the same demons every day; the same sneaky demons who creep into our minds and try to bring us down.
I have a 9-year-old niece who notices food portions and desserts and other people’s bodies, and it breaks my heart to think that she might be comparing herself to a pretend image she thinks she should achieve. She’s a beautiful, fun, precious, thoughtful little girl, and I want her, my younger nephew and niece, two nephews-to-be and other boys and girls to feel like they’re worth it no matter what size pants they wear or what their favorite food is.
And that’s why body image is important to me, despite my own struggles.
Now that this information is out there, bear with me when I make future posts about body image. I’m trying. I know we’re all trying.