I used to think I was fat. I thought I was fat in the same way that a child can claim that he is starving, when in fact, he has never experienced starving at all. So, basically, not actually fat.
And then I had children. The first pregnancy brought about a weight gain for which I was wholly unprepared. Pro-breastfeeding propaganda promised me that the weight would just fall off.
And then I had a second pregnancy that was long, difficult, and directly followed the death of my dad. It felt nice to drown my sorrow and grief in pregnancy cravings. But then, more weight. Even once the baby was born, the number on the scale shocked me. My reflection in the mirror didn’t even look like me anymore.
In those years that passed between my first pregnancy and now, I gained something besides weight. I felt something that I had never really experienced about the way I look. I felt shame.
I felt ashamed that I had not followed through on my intentions to exercise regularly. I felt shame that I had eaten so many carbs. I felt shame for every donut, every indulgence. I experienced guilt over the fact that I never even lost the weight from the first baby. I was ashamed of the size printed on the tags of the clothes I fit into. I felt like everyone who saw me took one look at me and thought, “Goodness. What happened to her?”
I had good reason to think this. People were far more free with their remarks about my body than I expected, pregnant and not pregnant. After the birth of my first child, a new coworker viewed some of my older photos on social media and commented “Oh my! You used to be so thin!” as if it were a compliment.
It makes me sad to admit that the way I look has such a drastic effect on the way I feel. When I look back, I would have never guessed that my confidence was so fragile. That it rested so delicately on my reflection. I didn’t know I was susceptible to that depth of insecurity.
I started to avoid people. There were social engagements I did not want to attend because I didn’t want people to see me as I was. I did not want to be tagged in photos because, oh my goodness, what if one of them — or all of them, really — was unflattering? The unflattering ones outweighed the good ones. All of this was so incredibly humbling. It was hard to feel so far from the person I used to be.
One day last fall, I went shopping — desperate to find something that would conceal what my body had become. I knew looking like my old self would be impossible right then, but I kept thinking there had to be something that would make me look at least 20 pounds lighter. There wasn’t. In the end, I decided that I just better go ahead and lose that 20 pounds. And so I did.
I still have more to go. Lots more, if I am honest. I am almost halfway to my original weight loss goal. I am excited that my hard work has paid off in big ways. I feel better. I look better.
But, I am almost mad at myself for how closely those two things are related. Because my feeling better isn’t just physical, although it is that, too. It’s emotional. I am emotionally better because I find the way I look more acceptable. And that is hard. Because for all the self love we read and talk about, I can still look back at a photograph of me from my 20s and believe that version of me is better. Simply because she is thinner.
Let me tell you, friend, that girl is not better. The girl that I am today — the wife, the mother of two babies on earth and two in heaven, the woman who endured two C-sections and nursed her babies because it was best — this version of me is far better. The me in the mirror today is wiser and kinder and gentler than that 20-something girl was. I have more compassion and fewer answers to everything. I am a better listener and I am far more open. I am a better person today than I was then. I have to remind myself of that.
My journey isn’t over. I am still changing on the inside and on the outside. I am growing stronger in all kinds of ways. I am learning to silence the voices that speak negativity when I look in the mirror. I shush them kindly and go about my day. I am learning to let go of the expectations of what I should be and what I should look like. I want to focus on what I am today and where I am going.
This is what love looks like. Being kind to myself right here, right now.