I have known my entire life that being fat is bad. My mom struggled with body image as I was growing up, and the more she talked about bodies – hers, mine, other peoples’ – the more I came to understand that bodies, including my own, were 1) under constant scrutinization, and 2) better if they were fit.
These assumptions began to translate to other stories I learned about bodies in general and my body specifically – like that any fit woman’s body was for the consumption and enjoyment of men, that my self worth was directly tied to whether or not my body looked OK, and that body fat could also serve as a form of self-protection. It’s not my mom’s fault really, we’re shaped by our environments and I have no doubt that mom learned her own body stories from the same sort of well-meaning source.
The first time I remember gaining weight was at the end of eighth grade. My family moved from San Diego to Orange County, CA with only two months left of school. My parents were going through a bitter divorce, so both my home life and my school life were in an upheaval. I ate away my anxiety, depression, loneliness, and worthlessness. Over the summer I used an exercise tape to work out and the weight quickly came off.
The second time I remember gaining weight was towards the end of high school. I had had a tumultuous relationship with my high school boyfriend, my fit body for his consumption being a central issue. The relationship ended, but not before I had alienated myself from most of my friends and quit all of my extra-curricular sports. I stress ate again, hiding in my shame, and this time I didn’t have the will to exercise.
My chaotic home life continued well into my 20s, so my weight fluctuated a lot after high school, but I regained some control of my environment when I moved out of state in my mind 20s with my then boyfriend, now husband. The third time I gained weight was just before our wedding. Neither of us really wanted the spectacle of wedding as much as we wanted to get married, but we planned one anyway. We’d eat junk food, drink beer, and plan our wedding every night for a year. Everyone knows brides need to look perfect, and I’d ordered my wedding gown in the size I was at the very beginning of the year.
Two weeks before the wedding I confessed to my sister that I still hadn’t tried my gown on again. One week before the wedding my sister came to town to help with prep. At my request she laced the corseted bodice of my dress as I stood in the mirror, willing it to fit. The gown began to take shape and look OK, so I asked for a status update (the corset took a long time to lace properly). My sister told me it looked like the dress had another 2 or 3 inches to cinch before it was completely laced. “Oh that’s totally fine! It’ll fit! We can stop now,” I said, assuring her that yes I was sure, and no she didn’t need to keep going. Her reluctance should have clued me in.
Come the day of my wedding, my dress cinched up but it did not fit. In fact, the dress was about 2 sizes too small in the bust. It was strapless. All I heard, all night long, was how huge my boobs looked. I was mortified, and I spent the next 6 to 8 months eating my way to 190 pounds, where I stayed, loathing myself – because fat bodies are very bad – and hiding, for about 5 years.
I tried halfheartedly to lose weight a few times over the years. I tried fad diets and starvation diets, I did work out challenges and personal training, but nothing really stuck. Instead, I had to come to terms with my body as it was and separate my sense of identity from my body. I had fat. I was still me, still worthy, still lovable and loved. I gave birth to a little boy, and he doesn’t care at all what my body looks like. I’m still with my husband, and he loves every inch of me. Fat is not bad. It’s just fat.
I found out I was pregnant the week after Christmas 2018. I went to my OBGYN to confirm the pregnancy and found out I was about 7 weeks along, and 208 pounds. I officially weigh the most I have ever weighed, but something strange happened when the nurse read the scale aloud – I didn’t feel embarrassment, I didn’t feel shame, I didn’t feel like I needed to hide. Instead, I was curious about what this new information meant for what I hoped would be a healthy pregnancy.
I spoke with my doctor and he confirmed: obesity in pregnancy can lead to huge complications. So, we devised a plan. My goal is to take the steps that I can to get fit and healthy while I’m still pregnant. That means a lot of walking. Pregnancy is a metabolic marvel in itself, so my body will be burning some extra calories on its own; the walking is just to condition my muscles for an easier labor. When I feel up to it, I add squats and some upper body exercises using light dumbbell. And, I’ll fuel my body by eating as clean as possible – requiring a shift in mindfullness when it comes to eating, a work in progress. My hope is that I can maintain my pre-pregnancy weight and establish some healthy habits to make my postpartum weightloss journey a bit easier.
To say that I am eager to rewrite the story of how I relate to my body is the understatement of the century. I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned about myself on the way to 208, and now, I’m ready for the next steps.