Sometimes stories frustrate me. If a character that initially seems to be extraneous or if a secondary character is given too much screen time or too memorable of a personality, I just know with my spidey sense that they’re going to come back into the story in a significant way. And that frustrates me, because I still optimistically believe that I can be genuinely surprised by stories if I just don’t try hard enough.
And when I am not surprised, it seems almost disappointing. My bubble of hope is burst partly because I’ve read too many books–story mechanics dictate that we have to care about a character before we give a shit about whether they live or die. Or get Avada Kedavra’d by Snape. Or sacrifice themselves to Darth Vader so that Luke will realize his true Jedi destiny.
Like a seemingly offhand joke told by the murder victim that will be discovered in the next scene, this post is an attempt by me to make myself seem more human and therefore more deserving of your empathy, dear reader. Like the celebrities in People going about their business buying groceries and posting letters, I’m just like you! And you should care about me!
Well, maybe that was too
desperate transparent of a dramatic introduction. The truth is, this is the post where I reveal a bit about myself so that you know that I’m not just another “fitness” blogger just trying to make it in the big, bad blogosphere. Actually, I kind of just want to elaborate on why I’m doing all of “this” in the first place.
A few years ago, I had a bit of an eating problem. That alone probably doesn’t differentiate me from a lot of women. What almost makes me stand out is that my weight woes didn’t really hit me until college–not because I didn’t have any weight issues but because I was fortunate to be too distracted by other stuff I was doing to really take stock in what I looked like and–this is the crucial part–compare myself to my peers.
I have always been tall. Aside from a short stint around puberty when I just wanted to be like everyone else instead of a Hanson brother, I enjoyed the illusion of specialness offered by standing head and shoulders (sometimes literally) above the crowd. And–although this didn’t hit me until my 20s–weight can go a longer way for an Amazon than a person of more limited height. (The converse is also true, that losing weight does not have as significant a visual impact as on a shorter person.)
I made it all the way to college before I started feeling self-conscious about my body. This was partly because body image had never been a topic of conversation amongst my friends in high school. This was also partly because I fell in love with Arizona iced teas, which are like 300 Calories each–so in a way, drinking too much did lead to my freshman 15.
But the biggest reason I had escaped the usual teenage torments that lead many young women towards eating disorders, stuffing their bra*, or smelling like a baby prostitute was because in high school, I characterized myself less by what I looked like and more by what I could do and what I was good at. I mean, what I was good at was band, of all things, but I was good at band. Music simultaneously formed my identity and provided me with confidence. Plus, most of the dudes I dated in high school were in band too, so…
Despite being tall, the weight eventually caught up with me, coinciding with a total lack of dating prospects. I lamented my weight while doing almost nothing (effective) about it. Weight Watchers points tracking didn’t help. A fancy gym membership really didn’t help. Grad school stress and a “writing diet” of predominately sugar did more harm than good, and by graduation I was up about 25 pounds from my freshman college weight. Graduate school got me a couple of degrees, a lot of debt, and no job prospects. I had taken out loans when interest rates were at their peaks and graduated into an economy where employers told me to my face that they couldn’t give less of a shit about my education. I was still fat. And my welcome home actually found me suddenly single, yet again passed over for someone else. Receiving messages of inadequacy at me from every facet of my life was debilitating. I actually made myself sick; my uselessness was disgusting to me. It literally churned my stomach to the point where the thought of even a sip of water was nauseating. The only thing that seemed to quell the nausea was maintaining an empty stomach.
I essentially stopped eating. For months. This was a pretty big deal, guys, but no one really said anything about my lack-of-eating habits at first. Maybe that was because they didn’t feel like they should. Maybe that was because I was really good at hiding the fact that I wasn’t eating. Maybe that was because for the first time in years, I was no longer overweight. I hope I don’t seem like I am blaming them because I am not, not at all. I don’t think I’d know how to bring it up either.
I should probably add a disclaimer in here about how I don’t recommend this method for weight loss. I really, really don’t. For a long time I was weak, I would get dizzy walking up a flight of stairs, my hair was falling out, and I looked exhausted though, yes, thin. Even now, I don’t enjoy it when people compliment the transformation, because the change occurred during and because of a really low period in my life and I’m not proud of it. Anyone can starve themselves to death as long as their head is screwed up enough.
All in all, I lost about 40 pounds over about three months, but it was a bit longer before people started saying, “Hey, um, are you okay?” or informing me that I was thin in a less-than-complimentary fashion.
But by that point, a weird thing had happened: I enjoyed the feeling of control that not eating gave me. It was like a daily competition to see how much I could deny myself, and I caught myself thinking things like, “Do I really want to eat this? I’ve already made it this long on nothing…” I remember thinking that 40 pounds was a lot, but it wasn’t enough. I was still useless and fat, but if I could just be thinner, then everything would be okay. If I could just be thinner and perfect, then maybe I’d be worth something, maybe I wouldn’t ever get passed over ever again, and maybe my life would just fall into place.
Eventually, I realized that this could not go on indefinitely. I don’t remember what it was that flipped the switch. It wasn’t my doctor telling me I’d likely have to start worrying about organ failure if I kept losing weight at that rate. I still think she was being a bit alarmist. It wasn’t my then-roommate telling me that I was shriveling up. It wasn’t my then-boyfriend implying that my thinness was actually robbing me of my ass, apparently my only attractive asset. I honestly don’t remember. I just started eating again, but I didn’t eat a lot and I didn’t eat well. I was still treating myself like crap, and I had quite a few relapses. It’s actually strangely difficult physically and emotionally to start eating like a person again.
For the past two years or so, I’ve been living with the threat of gaining all that weight back hanging over me. I’m already up about 15 pounds from that lowest point, something that I’m acutely aware of because the thinness was defining me, however temporarily. I am still a little worried about what gaining all of it back would mean for my self-identity, and that worry is what worries me. That worry is what started this blog–because I want fitness to be a vehicle that helps me accept myself for who I am and what I am good at, not what I am and what I look like.
I don’t want to think about weight loss or even building muscle as a solution to unhappiness. I don’t want to obsess over every pound gained or lost. I don’t want to suck in or flex when I look in the mirror. I don’t want to beat myself up over every cupcake consumed. That is no way to live.
I want to get away from the Calories, pounds, and progress pics of fitness. I want to not be embarrassed by my body when I go out onto the beach in my swimsuit–not because I have a “bikini body” but because I genuinely don’t care. I want to eat a cookie when I feel like it. I want to hike or run with my boyfriend without becoming instantly winded. I want to open jars and rearrange furniture without having to ask a strong person to help. I want men to stop warning when things I’m about to pick up are “heavy.” I want to be a runner because I’ve never been able to run. I want to earn my 20-minute shower. But most of all, I want to get back to basics and be defined by what I can do.
I didn’t really intend for that to become an autobiography, but there it is. Shit just got real. To answer the question of my first post, that is why I am doing this to myself. Sometimes I feel like I’m about 85% of the way there, but I still have bad days where fitspiration photos rob me of all of my self-confidence and the futility of fitness becomes overwhelming. I have a long way to go!
* All right, so I might have stuffed my bra.