For as long as I can remember, the words “Fat Free” were a part of my everyday vocabulary. I am not sure when the switch to fat free milk was made in my house but I don’t remember any other kind as a child. It was in my elementary school years where cookies became bad, cakes were evil and chocolate was a swear word. All of these possessed huge amounts of calories. It didn’t mean too much back then as a small child. I had frequent birthday parties that I went to where I had the “sinful” cake. But it was starting, the body shaming, and I was learning it like every female before, from their mother. I watched her turn down sweets, make lighter meals with every fat-free ingredient possible and often went with her to Ideal Weight meetings. I even attended a few aerobic classes. This was back in the 80s when Richard Simmons promised you a great figure if you just “Sweat To The Oldies”. People only looked at the words “fat free” and “sugar free” , knew it wasn’t going to taste as yummy, but would be a good healthier version of the real thing. So many times I tried to convince myself that those Snackwell cookies really did taste like chocolate heaven. What the heck was I thinking?!
My body shaming started around my pre-teens, eleven, twelve years old. It may have been a few years before. I started to compare myself with my friends and couldn’t help but notice I was a little bit chubbier then they were. While a few of them were still in kids sizes in junior high, I had hit adult sizes and weighed almost 100lbs in my small 4′-9 1/2” frame. I looked at my thighs when sitting and just noticed how much they spread out. I saw the blob of knee fat I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. I critiqued every aspect of my body. I was absolutely ashamed. I started dieting in high school. Every summer I would follow Weight Watchers, nitpick at what I was eating, tell myself to do more exercise… still nothing was good enough. My size in clothing just went up to about a women’s 8 and I was at my max height of 5′-1″. Nothing that is really of a huge concern weight-wise but my mind was already made up. I was fat. I would never get a boyfriend, never be popular, never succeed. Of course the media didn’t help. Everywhere from magazines to TV shows, women were shown as toothpick skinny and still are. Even as the years passed, it seems we have become comfortable showing bigger men on shows but the women seem to get skinnier. What kind of message is that?!
So I kept myself busy. Like I do now to keep my anxiety at bay, I do anything that prevents me from thinking. I volunteered for the high school paper, the writing anthology, theater, anything. Then I became sick April of my senior year and dropped ten pounds in a week due to a kidney infection that prevented me from keeping anything down. I thought it was the greatest thing to happen to me. Losing 10lbs in 1 week! That was awesome in my teenaged/young adult mind.
Just when I thought I had this weight thing worked out, I went away to college and put on the freshman fifteen, but thankfully, lost it with Weight Watchers over the summer. This cycle repeated my sophomore year. Unfortunately, the losing part stopped with junior year. By the time I graduated, I was thirty pounds heavier then when I started college and feeling like a big fat pig. I could’ve taught a class in Body Shaming 101. This weight stayed on me when I married my husband and was still there when I was told that I couldn’t continue living with my current resting blood pressure of 150/90. I had to do something especially since we wanted to start a family the following year.
My PCP put me on a blood pressure medication, but basically told me I had to cut out all salt and actually perform some type of exercise activity instead of dreaming about it in my head. Sure, sure, I can do that. Day one, I put my sneakers on, disgustingly stared at myself in the mirror and did 15 minutes of Wii Fit. Thinking some sort of weight loss miracle occurred in those 15 minutes I ran up to the bathroom and went to look at myself in the mirror again. Nope, no change. Why was I doing this?! I was never going to be happy with body. But I continued and worked my way up over the next few months to exercising 4 times a week for at least 30 minutes. And, I lost weight. I was thrilled!
Then I got pregnant with my daughter and was even more ecstatic until I hit that period in my pregnancy when I didn’t quite look pregnant yet, I just looked fat. Great. Now sporting a size 12 in pants to accommodate my little jellybean, I had to keep telling myself that there was a baby growing inside and that I wasn’t fat. A few weeks later it was very apparent that I was indeed pregnant. Once my daughter was born, losing the weight became very simple, but not healthy. I developed postpartum Depression and Anxiety and was vomiting. By the time she was a month old, I had lost about 30 of the 40 pounds I put on while pregnant. I also was being hospitalized. After twelve days there, I was now eating and eating a lot and gained fifteen of those pounds back. A few months later, I started attending Weight Watcher’s meetings with my mother. And the cycle continues.
I had a great few years when the stars were aligned and my mental, emotional and physical well-being were an amazing trifecta of strength.
Then, my mental leg slipped and dragged my emotional leg down with it. I was hospitalized again for Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder in January 2015. I saw my body go from 104lbs from not being able to eat when I entered the hospital and gradually rise the months following. I had hit 130lbs, 15lbs more than I wanted to be because to me 115lbs was my ideal. The weight only added to my Depression. I was stagnant… no energy to do anything and eating too much. A year later, this past January, I started counting calories. Still nothing. I kept up with walking at lunch, did Pilates at work, tried some fitness classes… nothing. Feeling hopeless, I turned inward and started to blame the most logical source, the 3 medications I was on to keep me sane. All 3 of them can cause weight gain.
What I didn’t see was my daughter. I didn’t notice her there when I would question my husband on how exactly he cooked dinner down to every ingredient and amount used as I entered in the calories. I didn’t see her when we went out to eat and I ordered a salad mentioning I wanted to lose weight. I didn’t notice she was there and at the prime age to take in and absorb what I was saying. I had continued and passed this thinking down to her.
“Mommy, I’m fat!” she told me one day.
I stared at her quizzically, “Where? Where is there fat on your body?”
My daughter is tall and slender like her father. She then proceeded to point to her stomach and the inherited knee fat. What have I done?! She’s only 9! I don’t want her to grow up like me constantly looking for body approval and yet it has already started. But I didn’t wake up that first time. After brushing the comment off I still continued to track my calories, discuss my exercise, and turn away those sinful foods… still in front of her.
Then I weaned off one of my meds, the medication I thought for sure was causing the weight to stay on. Yet, the weight didn’t come off. I became sad and only discussed my weight obsession further in front of Sophia until I read the following 2 articles:
“I’m Afraid My Daughter Will Think It’s “Normal” to Hate Her Body — Because of Me” written on Babble by a friend from high school whose daughter is only a toddler and “Why I’m Accepting the ‘Weight Gain’ Side Effect of My Psychiatric Medications” on The Mighty.
I reread them both and thought a lot about them over the last few days especially when my daughter complained she was “fat” again. If I continued to shame myself, I was not only hurting myself, but affecting my daughter’s way of thinking about her body. And why was I doing this? Because I was 10lbs away from my goal weight, my perfect weight of 115lbs? I am still on 2 medications that cause weight gain that I am nowhere near ready to get off of. These meds help me live a typical life. I am eating well, exercising when possible, basically doing everything I can do. I can still fit it to XS and S shirts, still am a 0-4 in pants depending on brand. I am still relatively skinny.
As I thought about all this, I thought about how I could execute the “No More Body Shaming” plan. I have been shaming myself for around 30 years. It would not be easy. But like my friend Marisa states in her Babble article, I can try to not say anything in front of my daughter. I am happy to report that for the last couple of days I have kept my mouth shut. I still log my calories but am now doing it when she is not around. I am learning to accept my figure and its “flaws”. It is a start that I hope will reverse some of the damage I did to my daughter and create an appreciation for the amazing thing my body actually is.