From third grade to high school, I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself.
We got a new baby in fourth grade, after all. Maybe we were too busy taking pictures of her instead?
Well, yeah, of course. And she was a cute baby.
Maybe I’m just choosing not to remember the photos because I don’t like the way I look in them.
I don’t even know when the weight started to come on. I just remember looking at a photo of me at the end of third grade with my teacher Mrs. Bartch, and thinking, That’s a lot of chin.
I don’t even know if the photo still exists, but it’s burned into my memory. The buck teeth, the floppy bow, the limp, ratty hair, the puffy cheeks, the wobbly chin. It’s all I can do to keep breathing when I think about it because I still remember the horror I felt when I looked at that photo for the first time—and realized I wasn’t beautiful.
What a tragedy. Here’s an earnest, bright little girl who loved her teacher, who was so proud to stand next to her in that photo. And all she could think about is how she didn’t measure up to her own invisible yard stick, crafted by who even knows.
I was hyperaware that I was not an attractive child, especially at that age. I looked around and saw girls who had the trendy clothes, the painted nails, the layers in their hair (so grownup! like shampoo commercials!).
I was just the fat loaf eating an Arby’s chicken tender 4-pack and curly fries on Wednesdays and two slices of large Village Inn pepperoni pizza on Fridays and stuffing my friends’ Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls into my mouth whole every single day.
No wonder they called me “The Garbage Disposal.”
Bless my parents. Bless them. They had no idea how to help me. None of their other children were having these issues. My brother was fine, and my older sister was (and is) a beautiful gazelle. And lucky for me, the Atkins Diet was all the rage, so that’s what they decided we should do to conquer my weight demons.
At school, I went from my cafeteria junk food paradise to pulling a Tupperware of wilted iceberg lettuce with $1 Kroger ranch dressing with bacon out of the school fridge, sometimes accompanied a bland, smelly hockey puck disguised as a plain hamburger patty, and sighing while the other kids gulped down their Fruitopia and Dunkaroos.
There’s a reason why I don’t eat iceberg lettuce or reheated hamburger patties to this day.
I have been acquainted with food deprivation and demonization and reward for a very, very long time. I have let the scale dictate my self-esteem. There have been many years of my life where I defined happiness by how thin my face looked in the mirror, how loose the waistband of my jeans.
8 years old is way too young to think about being attractive (for what? for who, at that age?). About losing weight. About counting carbs (“You can only have 20, Amy.”). About demonizing fruit because it has too much sugar, but here is this low-carb cheesecake made with Splenda, would you like to eat that?
I can’t blame my parents—they were doing the best with what they knew how to do. Each of them have their own hangups with nourishing and loving their own bodies. I’ve seen both of them go up and down the scale, make snide comments about themselves. It’s no wonder I fell into that trap too. I was just as vulnerable weight issues as they were.
How could I honor my body when no one showed me how?
Maybe something would have been different if I’d have stayed in team sports, though honestly, I didn’t really have the talent to keep playing. But if I had kept playing past 5th grade, would I have adopted a workout routine? Would I have learned the discipline of moving my body, how much that would make me feel good, let alone look good?
Thank God I finally cracked the code to my body’s health.
I was 25 when I finally began to take control of my weight. After an Alaskan cruise and reading a 600-page Jim Henson biography, I decided it was time to change my life.
I threw myself into the Diet of the Moment that made sense to me: paleo. Eat what your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Eat what God put on the earth.
Okay, I can do that.
Start to exercise for thirty minutes a day, four times a week.
Okay, I can do that too.
I did this for months. And finally, finally, the weight started to come off.
And even though it’s been four years, I’m still learning I can relax, just a little bit, since I have a handle on what my body likes (protein, vegetables, healthy fats) and doesn’t (gluten, sugar, dairy, soy). I can incorporate exercise into my life without feeling like I have to go to the gym constantly. I do things I enjoy. I go for walks with the dogs. I spin. I go hiking on the weekends. I love hot yoga (who would’ve thought?), and know I should go more often.
But I use the word “should” lightly. When I really want to go, I will go. And that is enough for me.
This mindset, for me, is revolutionary.
I still don’t like photos of myself. I would much rather point the camera elsewhere, there’s so much else to see, to think about. But I’m getting better about it. I’m kinder to my body, more empathetic.
So very proud of the arms that can carry too many bags of groceries from my car. But since I’m addicted to Sprouts and getting everything inside on one trip, I’m not that sorry about it.
I’m proud of the hands that, for years, have practiced preparing healthy food and learned how to make it delicious.
So very proud of the legs that carried me 22 miles on a single day and climbed a rock wall at mile 20 as my motor skills were beginning to fade.
My body works. And for that, I am so thankful.
I am not my body. It’s something I’m still learning, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.