Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love the One You're With

I'm bored of sewing. Let's talk about hot-button topics instead. Today? Bodies!

"Love the one you're with" usually refers to another person, but in this case, I'm saying it in terms of loving your own body. The idea is this: Everyone has a body, and you only get one of them. It's the one you've got, for better or for worse. And, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. You've got one, I've got one, that person over there has one, and we're all limited to the body we were born with.

I suppose talking about something like this is like ripping off a band-aid. You can pick at it slowly, beating around the bush, or you can rip it off in one go. I'm a fan of the grab-and-yank method, so I'm going to start by saying some very honest things.

I weigh 240 lbs.
At 240 lbs and 5'2", I am medically classified as morbidly obese.
I am happier and healthier at 240 lbs. than I ever was at a lesser weight.
Thin does not equal happy, or healthy.
Happy and healthy trumps size, shape, or weight any day.

Let's back things up a little and take a look. I've always been a big girl (although not blessed with an abundance of verticality), so my self-image has never been tied up in being thin, or fitting into a certain size. I've always had thighs like a soccer player (solid muscle, thank you), and a rack to match (hel-lo, girls.) For the most part I made my peace very early with buying women's sizes when my classmates and peers were still shopping in the misses and juniors sections.

For most of my adult life, I've weighed about 200 lbs. My body is happy there--it doesn't fluctuate much, and I'm able to be quite active with no health issues. That's what's important to me, not the number on the scale. I weighed around 200 for my entire college career, during which I could walk for days, climb lighthouses, tote cast iron pots around, and at one point carry a grown man down a flight of steps. Long story. Anyway.

The six months after I got out of college and got a job were pretty toxic for my body image. I got a sedentary job, and put on 10 lbs. At the same time, I was living with a woman whose entire self-image was based on her perception of herself as pretty, thin, and desirable to men. She started dropping hints that I should join a gym, lose weight, get on e-Harmony, etc...and like a sucker, I listened. I went from being reasonably content with myself to being horribly insecure. At one point, I tried on some clothes I planned to wear the next morning and collapsed sobbing on the closed toilet in the bathroom because I just couldn't bear the way I looked. I think everyone will agree that's not a good place to be with yourself.

So, I joined a class at the YMCA, which is not a bad thing to do. If you do it for the right reasons. I learned a lot, and I actually had quite a lot of fun. And with exercising for an hour or more twice a week and logging every single bite that I took, I lost weight--20 lbs in total. So, six months later, I was 10 lbs lighter than I had ever been since eighth grade. I had to go buy new, smaller clothing. I was miserable. I mean, I got a little kick out of being able to buy a smaller size, but it didn't fix anything. I was still unhappy. The holy grail of "lose ten pounds" had been achieved, and it was a sham.

As a side note, one of the things I learned was that I wasn't eating enough food. Counter intuitive, right? Eat less, gain weight. Well, your body goes into starvation mode if it doesn't get the calories it needs--that's right, needs, and calories themselves aren't evil--and it'll hang onto everything you give it. The human body is built to survive, and if it thinks it's in jeopardy of not surviving, it will hoard resources and store them for use later. Incidentally, the way it stores these things is in, you guessed it, fat. But I was losing weight, and I was skinnier, so that's okay, right?

I did finally get a place of my own not long after the YMCA class ended, and that improved things for a little while. That's about the time I started to get sick, though. That spring, I attended my first Civil War reenactment as a dressed participant. I was still on the thin end of 190-200, and by the middle of the three-day event, I was lacing my corset totally shut with room to spare. I was also completely impossible to talk to, dangerously dehydrated, hadn't eaten a proper meal in two days, and having long blackouts. There are still hours-long chunks of that weekend that I simply do not remember. I wouldn't call that healthy.

Not too long ago I talked a little bit about the ten rounds I went with depression. What I didn't talk about was that during the worst of it, I pretty much just stopped eating. Food didn't sound good. Eating took too much effort. When I got home from work,I could barely muster the energy to make myself a cup of tea, much less a meal. I would literally fall up the stairs to my apartment, stagger to the couch, and doze fitfully until it was time to go to bed for real. Breakfast was 2-3 cups of strong coffee, and lunch was...whatever I could scrounge up at the office--granola bar, hot dog, the occasional taco. Dinner? Forget dinner. Too tired. Sleep instead. Wash, rinse, repeat. After a bit, it crossed the line from "starvation mode" and into the gray area between "eating light" and "eating disorder."

November 2009, 190 lbs and down to 1 meal a day.

That is not the face of a happy person. That girl was the thinnest she'd ever been, and also the sickest. Weighing less was not a goal. It was a symptom of a larger problem. She might have been relatively thin, but she was barely functioning. Around the time that was taken, I was also 100% convinced that I was just seconds away from losing all my friends and family because of the maelstrom in my brain. Insecurity was a way of life.

Then came the better life through chemistry, also known as citalopram and trazodone. Antidepressants are a wonderful thing, and I'm fortunate in that I suffer minimal side effects from mine. However, one of the side effects I do experience is weight gain. Fifty pounds later, ask me how upset I am about my weight. Answer? Who cares?! I feel awesome. I am confident and happy. And you can take that to the bank.

September 2011; my double chin and I have never been happier.

The idea behind loving your body is not to coax, work, cajole, force, or abuse your body into fitting a perfect ideal. It's not even about trying to redefine your definition of "perfect" or "acceptable" to make your body fit into it. It's about taking an objective look at the whole package. Your body doesn't define who you are. The "fat acceptance" movement is all well and good, but more important is the idea of "self acceptance." Your body is a beautiful thing. It is a magnificently engineered vessel for your mind and heart and soul. Learn it, love it, and live in it with joy.


  1. I love this post!! I am 5'4" and over 200lbs myself, and I love myself this way. Its not about what size you are!! Im so glad that other people understand that!!

  2. You have to be happy with the body you've got. As Chalene Johnson said (and I paraphrase), it's not about the number on the scale. It's about how you feel about yourself, setting realistic goals for your health and fitness, and being happy.

    BTW, I've always thought (historical clothing or not) that you're a beautiful woman, inside and out. I'm so happy you're my friend! :)

  3. So much truth. It's beautiful. You're beautiful. You're gorgeous. Thanks, seestor.

  4. I think this essay is the best thing ever. I'm SO tired of feeling like my self-worth is tied up in my weight. It shouldn't be and it really isn't except in my head. I'm so glad you're in a good place with it, because you're so right. Being happy and healthy is so much more important that being thin.

  5. Go you! This was really beautiful to read.

  6. I agree with all of the above, and I basically restate what Jali said. You are beautiful, and I love you.

  7. Very well said. I am proud to call you a friend.

  8. That's a fantastic post ! Thank you.

  9. Beautiful post! It's so wonderful to hear your struggles and how you have conquered them. I struggle so much with my body image and my weight. I beat myself up and hate the way I look. But, then I remember how much my husband loves me and how no one will care what my weight was or how many creases and folds are on my body when I die. They only care about the person I am and how I live my life. You are beautiful and I loved reading your post. God Bless you :D

  10. I'm 5'4" and 207 pounds. At a couple of points in my life I weighed 125 pounds. I should have been as happy as a clam but I wasn't. I was a raging bulemic and a total bitch. I hated myself and every body pissed me off. I couldn't stick to any diet because they were all too restrictive. (And being permanently annoyed made me want to comfort myself with food.) So I'd fall off the diet which would trigger a huge bulemic binge. Then I'd say enough is enough and go back to eatting. I'd gain all the weight I lost plus 10 more. That would start another round of self hate/ diet/ bulemia/ off diet/ weight gain cycle...until I got over 200 pounds and I said enough is enough. Who am I loosing weight for? Not my health. My blood work and blood pressure are all normal. Sure my knees would like it better if I were lighter but my GURD issues are directly related to the bulemia. Am I going to give up one part of my health for another? That is dumb. Am I going to loose weight for my husband who is supposed to love me for me and not my body. Nope. Am I going to kill myself to loose weight for the unwashed masses...not worth it. If I ever loose weight it will be because I'm ill with something horrible like cancer (heaven forbid) or some how some way I stop associating food with love and pleasure and comfort and I stop associating exercise with pain and sweat and bordom. If anyone has that figured out let me know!

  11. Thank you for this post. It could not have come at a better time in my life.

  12. This was beautiful. I've always adored your costuming, but between reading about the depression and self-image problems, I feel like I know you for more than your beautiful sewing now. I've dealt with both issues for most of my life. Reading about someone else who has not only dealt with these issues but has overcome them - well, it's just refreshing. Thank you for taking the courage to put all of your thoughts out there; that alone can be difficult. Yet, you've come through looking fabulous and feeling great, and I'm so happy for you!

  13. Thank you for this post. I can relate to every single part of it. I too always had self image issues and at points dealing with an eating disorder because we are taught being skinny means happiness. Well go through a bought of depression and everything goes out the window. I barely was eating and like you fewer calories meant weight gain, and when I finally got on anti-depressants that worked for me I put on 40lbs in 8months. I may not be completely happy with my weight right now but I have to say I would much rather deal with that then wake up everyday feeling miserable and not knowing how to get through the day. It is nice to find someone who speaks so brutally honest about what they gone through. It is a real inspiration!