This isn’t my term; it’s from a “Hungry For The Truth” reader who sent me a beautiful letter today. She’s frustrated with herself because she hasn’t ‘gotten it’ yet. And she knows where I was three years ago – at a place that seemed like a million miles away from ‘getting it.’ I don’t even know if I’m comfortable with the term ‘getting it.’ I don’t want to put that much pressure or adulation on myself. The only thing I’m an expert in is my own f*&k-ups and victories. Just my own. It’s not easy trying to define an issue that’s too vast and nebulous to define. But here’s what I know, based on a quick outline of my life:
Childhood – The normal, happy kid had no idea when she stepped onto the school bus that her largeness was a crime against humanity punishable by emotional torture that was to be administered by secretly (but profoundly) insecure and unhappy boys and girls for the remainder of her years in the public school system. (By the by, I wasn’t fat. Larger and taller than most of the kids, yes. But I wasn’t fat. And there are pictures to prove it.)
Adolescence – After years of hearing the verbal reinforcements that I was fat (and ugly and stupid) I began to become that. Try focusing on math and social studies while putting your back into the construction and maintenance of a massive front that tells the world, ‘Oh everything’s just fine…” Pain…What’s that? But inside I was hurting. Significantly. And what do fat slobs do? They eat like pigs. May as well enjoy some food if people have already decided I’m fat. An added bonus: it dulled the pain and made me feel better.
20’s – Teen years of crash dieting and bingeing, sneaking food, and despising myself with a passion leave me burnt out and hopeless. Life intervenes with a hypnosis tape for weight loss given to me as a Christmas gift. I fall asleep to it every night for a year and drop 100 pounds. I’m delighted with the transformation because now it means I’m OK. As in, a valid human being worthy of respect and (at long last) admiration…and maybe a few bushels of rose petals showered before me wherever I walk. Ah, but there’s a snag. I haven’t changed on the inside. I still see myself as the fat, hideous creature that was singled out on the bus. The one my mother was ashamed of. The one who weighed more than most football players. And wait a minute…why are people being nice to me now? I’m the same person…and I’m not sure I like all these guys suddenly leering in my direction. See ‘ya.
30’s – After a second 100-pound-weight-loss-and gain-back, I’ve had enough. Doesn’t Life have more in mind for me than loving food more than everyone says I should, weighing more than everyone says I should, and hating myself exactly as everyone says I should? Haven’t millions of years of intelligent life evolving on planet earth led us further than this? I decide there’s got to be more to the human experience and give up dieting and the desire for other people’s approval for-EVER (interesting how these both had to be disposed of in tandem, isn’t it?). I create a new syllabus for my life. A course outline that includes radical self-acceptance which begins with getting to know who the heck I am without the labels and stereotypes put in place by the fat-phobic culture that’s uniquely American. And I realize that part of the flowering into acceptance includes eating. Without shame. Sans remorse. No self-recrimination allowed. I learned to eat out in the open. Even (GASP!) in public. Even in front of my mother. And about those knuckle-draggers who thought it was appropriate to verbalize their disapproval of my size during this era... Let’s just say I enlightened a few of them along the way. I may not have reversed their opinion, but they encountered me at a point where my rage was ready to come out and play. The scathing words I unleashed in their direction left them smarting enough to at least shut up. Some even scurried away like terrified dogs with their ears back. And I have no problem admitting I loved that part.
40’s – I mastered self-acceptance with flying colors. Easier said than done, I realize, but here’s a hint to get you started: You decide you’re tired of carrying the load around and put it down. By load I don’t mean what’s on your hips or stomach. I’m referring to the vitriolic load of crap put there by society, your family of origin, spouse, the Fashion Police on E!, and the most relentless chorus of all, your own inner critic. You may very well not be tired of bearing the load. I thought it was my duty for years, but everyone has their own timetable. I also enjoyed food fully during this era. And in a more healthy way than in my teens and 20’s. I no longer ate in hiding, but with friends and family in ways that were celebratory. I nurtured my love of cooking and travel and ended up a food writer. I was fortunate to be doing what I loved for a living but there was one problem – I’d eaten my way into a prison – one that made movement in general much more labored than it needed to be (no surprise there), as well as subtle things like sitting and sleeping. I wanted to be lighter and freer but had no clue how to do it – not by dieting – the mechanism that made me imbalanced from the get-go. So it was the classic case of the student being ready and the teacher appearing. Corny as it sounds, sometimes the most significant roads really do lead to Oprah. After seeing Carnie Wilson interviewed on Oprah in January 2009, I tracked down Dallas Page, the guy who helped her. Dallas Page and Terri Lange of YRG Fitness took me on as a project of sorts. They saw I meant business and gave me their guidance carte blanche. The ins and outs of the food choices and exercise is another topic, and I’ve blogged about it extensively. Today I want to address the importance of the inner work my reader refers to:
Dear Stacey –
I hope I can find what works for me soon. Personally, I think you are making such great progress because you have done the very hard internal work necessary to overcome that heart hurt that keeps us all from respecting and loving ourselves enough to really care for ourselves.
This spectacular lady hit it on the head. I have done the hard inner work. I had to. I had to be my own advocate in a world that said I wasn't deserving of dignity or respect because of my size. It was crucial that I feel and believe I’m a valid human being no matter what size I order from the Lane Bryant catalog. It’s amazing how life can shift when you summon the courage to question the status quo. I could have gone on believing society’s craziness. You know, pearls of time-honored wisdom such as a woman should be treated with scorn if she doesn’t look good in a bikini and stilettos, Kate Winslet’s chubby, and Marilyn Monroe is officially rotund. It took a considerable amount of unmitigated will and unflinching courage to swim upstream. I had a choice stay where I was and be miserable or kick my way out of it. If anyone’s crapping on you now, question it. I did, and it saved my life. I don’t know if I’d still be alive if I didn’t intervene on my behalf. It was that dire.
Now - Thanks to doing the inner, the outer was finally able to welcome the healing forces that led to a 140-pound weight drop. Being 12 sizes smaller hasn’t erased pre-existing problems from my life but GOD it feels great to be free physically. Losing the equivalent of three runway models (and having 20 inches disappear from my hips) doesn’t mean pain and problems don’t arise. C’mon, you know better than that. Just last week I had some painful stuff crop up out of nowhere and push my buttons like they haven’t been pounded in years. It’s not really suitable for public ink, but let’s just say I was deemed to be, well, not quite good enough because I’m not (and probably never will be) suitable for a starring role on “Bay Watch.”
Ah well, just another wake-up call about human nature. As hurt as I feel, I know it’s truly the other party’s issue. There will always be men who view life as a wet t-shirt contest just waiting for them to judge it. As for me, I couldn’t be more OK with who I am…inside and out.
Epilogue: In the spirit of loving myself no matter what the scale says, I’m posting an old picture from my 40th birthday. I’m well over 300 pounds…still in love with pink…and know without question my true worth.