I have never been a skinny girl. For as long as I can remember, I have known about my good birthing hips and how much I loved hanging out by the fridge on lonely days after school. While all of my friends were transitioning out of the awkward years and getting boyfriends, I was melding in to the crowd with wit and humor, and a smoking hot…brain. I had a group of friends who I trusted, but they were my buddies and beyond that, I wasn’t asked to school dances, no one delivered carnations to my desk and by the time I was 17, I journaled frequently that maybe “if I just lost weight” then I’d have a chance at getting a lead in the school play (because nobody casts the short, chubby girl as the heroine). The world was free for the taking for those who could shop at Abercrombie. This didn’t destroy me, but it did cement things in my mind that society said to me. Things I didn’t want to believe were true. My weight became my arch-nemesis. My greatest threat to happiness was my own body.
I come from good Irish and Polish stock; from a long line of curvaceous women who loved fiercely, and worked hard carrying baskets and babies on their hips for generations. When I graduated high school, the freshman 40 hit me. I kid you not, I gained 40 lbs in the course of a couple months. Chalk it up to late night meals of fettuccine alfredo, my first boyfriend, and being away from home, but I didn’t even realize it was happening until I literally couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. This pattern continued through my 20s. Lose 5, gain 10, lose 5, gain 10. By the age of 25, just six years ago, I was 80 lbs above my highest weight in high school and I hated myself.
I knew that my self-worth issues went deeper than the size of my jeans, but I honestly figured the two were at least in some kind of tandem, proportional relationship. Last year, I stood in front of my mirror, looked in my own tear-filled eyes and spoke all the things out loud.
“You’re worthless,” I told my curly-haired reflection. “No one will ever love you. Everyone is lying to you. Look at you. You’re hideous. You’re ugly. You’re worthless.” And then I laid down on my bed and cried a whole lot of tears. The girl in the mirror is the one who didn’t attend her best friend’s bachelorette weekend because she didn’t want them to see her in a bathing suit. She’s the girl who hides whenever someone pulls out a camera and is scared to death of getting tagged on Facebook. She’s the girl who used to run and play sports, but now is scared to mention it because someone will say, “YOU used to run?”
A few weeks after that night, I signed up for Weight Watchers. While I don’t like to admit that I do things out of sheer panic, that’s why I did it. Not a lot of forethought. A good deal of nudging from family. And utter panic.
Since last March, I’ve lost around 50 lbs. I weigh less now than I did in High School. I’m back to my pre-fettucine alfredo size and I feel healthier than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve learned a little about myself and I’ve realized that I can love cake AND lose weight, and this has been some kind of unexpected joy.
But can I be honest? Like, whispering this low and telling you with a little bit of tears in my eyes …that kind of honest?
In my heart, nothing has changed. I still see the girl in the mirror who I learned to hate. I have shed the weight of my body, but the weight of self-loathing feels the heaviest. When I see photos of myself, I see no difference now. I see the same girl. Even my mother will hold up a photo and say, “WOW! Look how much you’ve lost.” I shrug and say, “I look exactly the same.”
And I’m starting to think that maybe it’s because when I see pictures of myself, I don’t see grace and victories. I see numbers and the ways I’m not measuring up. I see a girl I don’t really like. I see her mistakes. I see her fears. I see her ugliness, her selfishness, her broken heart, her weariness. That’s who I see and I don’t like her.
“Oh mom,” my daughter says with a big sigh. “YOU ARE JUST LOVELY.” She shouts this to me from the living room.
I half believe her because just last week, one her friends in Kindergarten said to me, “Remember when your daughter said you were fat? You’re not! You’re not fat!”
“I was talking about your WATER BOTTLE,” my daughter shouts across the room, and I’m laughing and a little sad. Sad that this is a thing at 5. Sad that this is a thing in me. Sad that again I feel a deep fear that maybe no one is telling me the truth, not even my own child.
I fear I’m being lied to when someone gives me a medium shirt, and in my thrill of it fitting perfectly, she replies, “Oh I must have bought it too big. I’m so glad it fits you.” This is when I want to pull my arms in closer and inside, I agree, because there’s no way I can actually fit into this.
Everyone tells you that losing weight will not change anything about the way you feel inside. They say beauty is skin deep, but self worth is at your core; the size of your jeans has nothing to do with feeling beautiful. I kinda sorta believed them. I nodded and agreed, but eagerly awaited this day when I could shop in the “medium” section of a store and even, on occasion, snap up something sized “small”, and I hoped that when day that day came, it would be the one I’d feel amazing, powerful and loved.
This is what they tell you, but you never believe. That it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh. The scale, the size, the measurements, the miles. You can earn them, lose them, work for them and feel proud at attained goals. But that moment of “having arrived”? It never comes with those things. No amount of compliments, affirmations or items bought on a size rack will change that haunting feeling that follows around the girl who doesn’t believe she’s worth anything.
As I mark a year of weight loss and start working toward a new set of summer goals, I’m also going to stop saying things to myself that I would never say to another person.
No more scathing mirror speeches. It’s time to speak gently. Somehow it’s time to start making peace with the girl I am now — in size, in heart, in goals, in dreams. And it’s time to cheer on the girl I will become. Who I was, in so many ways, is gone. And who I was, in so many ways, I wish to never find again. But the earth is new this spring and I feel it in my bones, and as I pass the mirror today, I turn my head to say “Enough.”
The thing about losing weight that people tell you but you don’t really believe? You are not that number on the scale. High or low, large or small, up or down, that is not who you are.
Let’s speak kindly, seasoning our words with gentleness. And that darkness that looms where self-hatred grows? Light a candle of Grace and dive into it. It has no size limit and no measurable weight, and it might feel like a dark vacuum, stealing every thing good thing you have, even your lightweight light. But there are no bottomless black holes in the Kingdom. Only places, (and as John Legend sings) “curves and edges”, that the immeasurable light has not yet touched.