A couple of weeks ago, Joel and I were taking pictures for my September Stitchfix post and it was not going well. I rejected photo after photo. Nothing could satisfy me. I felt slouchy and schlumpy and puffy. At the end of the shoot, half of the pictures featured me looking down, hair falling forward to obscure my expression. The others caught me frowning or half-smirking. Joel handed off the camera with a look of defeat, without comment.
When I look at pictures of myself these days, all I can see are the 10-odd pounds I have gained since moving to Minneapolis – all in my face. It doesn’t help that I’m closing in on 40 and my face is sliding downwards toward the unavoidable jowls of both my mother and grandmother. But it’s the weight, really, that bothers me.
Every now and then when I’m taking outfit pictures for Instagram, I take an extra photo or two to remind myself that I’m not overweight. I might be OVER MY PREFERRED WEIGHT, but in general, clothing still fits and looks pretty good on me. I keep these pictures in my phone for days when I’m feeling particularly bulky. They remind me to put things into perspective, at least as much as one can when one is having a body-image meltdown.
Here’s the truth about me: In 2007 I got on the scale at a doctor’s office and it said 181. It had been a long time since I’d been on a scale, and I had no idea I weighed that much. I have always been curvy, and curves hide a lot. I signed up for Weight Watchers online that very day, and between May and December of that year I lost 42 pounds. At my absolute lowest I weighed 139, which was, frankly, too light for my frame. I settled in at about 145.
At 5’8 and 145 pounds, I could suddenly wear almost anything I wanted. I was pretty reliably a size 6-8, and it opened up the magical world of vintage clothing – before, I had been too heavy to fit into vintage without really hunting. Now, I could go into any store and walk out with gorgeous pieces. For the first time in my life I started really defining my own style. I had always been particular about certain pieces, but in the year that followed my weight loss I became addicted to unexpected color and vibrant patterns and lush fabrics and the perfect fit.
Statistically, I was bound to gain back some of the weight. Eighty percent of people do. We start eating normal meals again, fewer Lean Cuisines and more foie gras. We lapse in our food journals. We have sports injuries and surgery and illnesses and go through divorces and lose friends and start new relationships and move across the country where we experience winter for the first time in 12 years.
So it’s not shocking that I’ve gained weight in the last six years. In fact I’ve gained back half. Because of my aforementioned curves, almost all my clothing still fits, but I see that weight every time I look in the mirror.
I have tried half-heartedly to get rid of it. I jumped back into Weight Watchers for a few months, and then for a brief period of time I used MyFitnessPal to track food and exercise. I bought another FitBit to make sure I wasn’t being too sedentary. I tried to limit dessert to the weekends. For one glorious month I worked out at least a little bit every day. (It helped that Joel was traveling a lot, so I was only beholden to myself in the evenings.)
The scale hasn’t budged. Even on my very best weeks when I am doing everything right, it just sits there. When I look at myself in the mirror, naked, I see all the extra me.
I first mentioned this back in August, following a total meltdown on poor Joel, who is naturally thin and can eat whatever his sweet-tooth’s heart desires without ballooning up. That particular discussion happened after he promised Claire we’d go out for ice cream – again – and I realized that I was eating a lot of not-great foods to keep up with them, feeling like I’d be a buzzkill if I declined dessert. Since then, I’ve taken to tossing out off-hand comments about being “fat,” which exasperates Joel. He thinks I am perfect as-is. I feel anything but perfect.
I never, ever talk about this stuff in front of Claire. My weight issues are not her issues, and I am not naïve enough to believe she is not already very aware of how size matters in our screwed-up world. At our house, we are not allowed to talk about how skinny she is. We compliment her on her height and strength and the callouses she gets from the monkey bars. She’s going to have body image issues on her own soon enough, but I don’t want her to get them from me.
Over the last months I’ve been undergoing a lot of tests to figure out why my ladyparts are malfunctioning. I’m going to a new doctor at an actual reproductive clinic and unlike last time, I feel like we will eventually get somewhere. (For family reading this, all signs point to nothing serious, so please don’t pre-worry.) Since hormones can greatly contribute to weight gain, I’m calling this phase one. Phase two involves a nutritionist, because I am done trying to guess how to best feed myself – and, also, it’s entirely possible that my own perception of what I should weigh is the wrong one, so I’m looking forward to talking to someone about that, too.
Like so many weight-worriers before me, I mostly just want to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I’m not trying to impress Joel or anyone else. And I want to know that I’m healthy, that going into middle age (WOAH) I’m doing pretty good, eating the right things, maintaining my bone density and muscle tone, all that stuff. I want to be a role model for Claire, not the overly sensitive person I am right now.
So, this is me, just putting it out there. I’m not super pleased with myself right now, and I have a vague plan to figure out what it might look like to change that. I have zero goals beyond understanding what it looks like to be healthy. I’m trying to let that be enough, for now.