I have this habit.
When I sit down, no matter what type of shirt I’m wearing, no matter what material it’s made of or how large or small it is, I pull my shirt away from my stomach. It’s almost an unconscious gesture, an action repeated so often that it seems as natural a part of sitting down as bending my legs. Pulling the shirt is an effort to hide my size, to hide the way my stomach bulges over my waistband as my body bends. It’s an effort to disguise my body and to try to dissociate myself from it.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t pulled my shirt out like that…probably because I almost don’t remember a time when I haven’t been overweight. Even in pictures of me as a toddler and young child, it’s clear that my body never got the “she’ll grow out of those Michelin-man-baby-leg-rolls” memo. In middle school I made horrible clothing and hairstyle choices that only emphasized my size – and I was duly teased.
High school – that purgatory of stereotypical despair, soul-searching, and social struggle – marks up and downs for everyone, but the “ups and downs” were not merely metaphorical in my case; they reflected my weight. After a lifetime of childhood obesity, dieting, and feeling outcast, something allowed me to lose weight. When I was 15, I began a weight loss journey that began positively and healthily and progressed to rapid weight loss, depression, and something remarkably close to (if not actually diagnosed as) anorexia. The summer following my sophomore year of high school, I began to eat again – and to binge – and I put on 75 pounds in six weeks. In seemingly no time at all, I gained it all back, and for a little over a decade now, I have been trying to lose it again.
From obesity to anorexia and back. At my heaviest documented weight, I was 272 lbs., and the lowest I remember seeing on the scale is 107. I know what it feels like to try to squeeze into a pair of size 20 khakis, tears rolling down my cheeks, and I know what it feels like to foolishly delight in the looseness of a size 00 skirt on my bony hips. I understand the pain of feeling less than human in a clothing store because nothing will fit, and I understand the pressure to be thin – especially the pressure from myself. I have felt the shame of overeating or eating poorly, and I have felt the twisted pride of spending a day eating virtually nothing at all.
Needless to say, I am an extremist. My personality tends towards overachievement and perfectionism, and when those lofty standards are not met, I feel acute failure, and I give up in despair. These traits and this history has made weight loss extraordinarily difficult for me. Everyone tells me that I am too hard on myself, and I know they’re right, but that hasn’t changed my actions, and it hasn’t led me toward a healthy lifestyle of moderation.
As I begin this blog, I am somewhat in between those high and low weights, and I wear a 10-12 (though that is rapidly tightening). My main struggle is binge eating. I have lived a lifetime of “sneaking” food that I wasn’t supposed to have, and I cannot seem to convince myself that I’m strong enough to break that habit now that I’m well into my 20s. But the oppressive need to stop and the pressure to lose weight from both my culture and myself causes me to collapse into old (bad) habits.
My other main struggle is honesty, especially with myself. I’m not going to pretend that I am really brave for co-creating this blog or that I am OK with admitting all of this. I’m not going to pretend that I have a new healthy attitude and that I don’t sometimes wish that I could be nearly anorexic again. Even saying that I struggle with binge eating – a practice that I associate with heavy shame – took a lot for me to write and publish on the internet; I’ve spoken about it only to two counselors and a handful of friends, even though I’ve been struggling with it for years. I am so afraid to call attention to my weight that I refuse to tell friends that I’m dieting, and despite the anonymity of this blog, I refuse to show pictures (yet) for a future before-and-after. I have chosen the pseudonym Elle (ironically, a lá “The Body” Macpherson) to even muster enough courage to write on this blog. People who read or follow us might want those shocking (and, yes, inspirational) photos, but pretending that I am OK with that – not ashamed – even now would be dishonest; I hope for acceptance even with that limitation.
Being overweight (fat, obese, heavy, different, what-have-you) has shaped the person I am today – and in some ways, it has led to good personality traits such as humor and compassion. But it continues to factor too strongly into my self-identification, and that’s what I want to change. That is why Naomi and I talked about and began this blog. It’s crucial that people understand how integral my size has been to my development and personality; it needs to be talked about in ways that help me and others like me overcome unhealthy habits and embrace fitness and nutrition. I am an external processor; I understand and begin to deal with my thoughts and emotions through sharing with others – through writing and conversing on this blog with you, our followers.
My personal goal is to weigh 135 when all is said and done. I want to be able to wear a shirt without a shapewear undershirt beneath it. I want to feel like I’ve had a good workout not despite but because of my fitness level. But more than that number, I want to be fit, to be healthy, and to be a person who can accept her past, the ever-present fact that I’ll always have to be conscious of what I eat and how much I exercise, and my future as someone who can replace the habit of shirt-pulling with habits of health and happiness.