I'm a liar.
I've told you that I have battled my weight my entire life. That I was a fat kid and that I have always struggled. I've told clients that I don't really remember ever being a normal weight. And then my aunt decided to text me, probably in a drug induced pain medication stupor, an old picture a few days ago. "You weren't fat, Cass. Here's the proof."
See that girl on the right with the purple terry cloth tank top, skinny legs and massively thick hair that looks like a brown football helmet? Yeah, that's me. Normal sized.
The picture has to be before 5th grade so at most I'm 9 here. Other than the obvious lack of puberty I can tell the timeline because we are on my grandmother's driveway. Two of my uncles, an aunt and my future uncle-in-law are visible. I can't be sure if it's before or after the time I fancied myself a skate boarder and took that skate board to the top of the hill in our neighborhood, though given the amount of skin I still have on my arms I'm guessing it's before. I also see my grandmother's future step-daughter in the picture which means it won't be long before my entire family moves away and I go to another school where I know no one. Also, I think I see a thumb-war going on but that's neither here nor there. The entire point is that for at least 9 years in my life I was of a normal weight.
My aunt has made me the Milli Vanilli of bloggers. Girl, you know it's true.
My first reaction to the picture was, "Wow, I actually was skinny at one point." My next reaction was tears. Keep in mind that I had just been through an excruciating work week of probably 65-70 hours at my computer. I had a bit of a breakdown last week while feeling overwhelmed with my job, kids and my general lack of caring for myself properly. I haven't been eating the greatest. I've certainly had no time to workout in forever. (Or, more accurately, I should say I haven't taken the time away from my other obligations.) This breakdown happened the night before I was to have my 5 month follow up appointment with my surgeon and knowing how little I've cared for myself lately and how abhorrent the idea of taking off my clothes for "after" pictures was for me I broke down and said some horrible things to myself in front of my husband. One of these things was calling myself a "fat fuck" which makes me a double liar now because I promised to not talk that way to myself anymore.
So anyway, it's been a shitty couple of weeks. But the reason I teared up when I saw the picture is that I saw my battle with weight as a betrayal to my body that started as a normal, healthy size. I did this to me. I wasn't always like this.
It's funny how skewed our own views can become of our bodies. Being overweight has become such a prominent part of my life, such a huge element in how I think and feel and remember things that I have actually created a prequel to my fat in my own head that never existed. For the most part I can tell you my weight from almost every year of my life. Except for the ones where I wasn't overweight. Huh. I wonder why that is?
I can tell you that when my extended family moved away and my mom and I moved to another home that this is where my weight gain started. I'm guessing I felt the absence of the only family I had ever known, my equivalent to brothers and sisters, and the pressure of starting at a new school. I stayed inside with my great-grandmother after school and watched game shows with her and I must have snacked a lot though I don't remember doing so. I do remember being weighed in school a year later in 6th grade and being horrified and embarrassed of my weight , I think for the first time, when it was read aloud and charted. 103.5 lbs, 5'-0". I was over one hundred pounds? None of the other girls were.
No wait. I do remember the first time I was ever aware of my weight being a problem. It was the summer before 6th grade so a full year after everyone moved. My mom sent me out to visit my family in South Dakota for several weeks. It was a trip full of fun and new adventures and some terrifying things for this suburban girl suddenly living out in the woods of the Black Hills. But one of the things I remember most (other than falling about 12 feet out of a tree house, camping out in a lean-to on a hill and seeing my first and only Sturgis motorcycle rally) was playing "spy" with my uncle, Dereck, who is 12 days younger than me and was like my brother. He had rigged up some walkie-talkies so that one was in the "talk" position and hid it in his mother's (my grandmother's) room. What he didn't know is that she was in there talking to a friend about me. I listened to her say, "Well, I'm glad Cassidy finally grew in to her head but I didn't expect her to get THAT big so fast." That's my first real memory of being ashamed of my size. I don't know why, in later years, I've assumed my shame about my weight went farther back than that. And, yes, I did have a large head. Still do. These brains take up a lot of space and this hair wouldn't fit on a tiny head.
I don't think I ever have a really clear idea of what I really look like. I'm always skewing it somehow. Sometimes I think I'm looking like hot shit and then I'll see a picture of what I really looked like that night and scare the crap out of myself. Is this like a reverse body dysmorphia? Most of the time I think I look worse than I do and that I look much bigger than I do. I'm kind of ashamed to admit this but as I was losing weight I would make my husband play a game with me whenever we went out. It was kind of a "Is she bigger or smaller than me?" game except no one really wins. I wasn't asking to put other women down. I was truly trying to change the picture in my head because to me I was and always would be 308 lbs. My brain had so much catching up to do to match my shrinking body and sometimes this game helped. Sometimes it didn't (see previous "hot shit" days). The one who consistently lost the game was probably my husband. Poor guy.
Now you don't even need to play the game with someone else. If you really want to see a plethora of body shapes and sizes at your weight you can go to My Body Gallery, type in your stats and see women from all over the world. The idea is that seeing all the variety that there is in the world will help women see their own bodies more clearly and I think it could be useful as long as you don't get down on yourself for not looking like some of the women there. Interesting note: when I put all my information in I got "No Results Returned". We aren't going to talk about that right now.
There is a name for this skewing and it's called "Normative Discontent" or body image dissatisfaction. It's the little sister to Body Dysmorphic Disorder and it's often fueled by unrealistic expectancies, pressure in the media to look a certain way and eating disorder-type thinking. I think it's just a fancy name given to what almost all women and a lot of men struggle with regarding their own self-image.
About an hour after my aunt sent me the "skinny" picture an old Weight Watcher friend of mine posted the only "full body" picture of herself. She posted it because it was taken with a dear friend of hers and she wanted to share it, albeit with reservation. She said "after a grievous refatting a few years ago" she had a "lot invested in not letting anyone see how bad I really look." She also spoke of shame and you know that's a hot button for me. She said, "This is me and my gorgeous friend. I'm the fat one." But you know what? She looked normal to me. Skinny? No. Normal? Healthy? Happy? Beautiful? Yes. My favorite part was when one of her friends said, "your body doesn't match how you often portray yourself as some freaking linebacker with the body dimensions of a refridgerator." She totally nailed her on that one. That's exactly how she speaks about herself.
And then I realized that's exactly how I speak about myself, too. And her posting that full-body picture really put my own little picture freak out in perspective.
I've been actively trying to change the way I think about my body. I really have - I'm not lying about that. I work on my inner dialogue. I am careful of what information ends up in my inbox and I'm following some fantastic women online that are in synch with my current goals of body acceptance. I've worn a two-piece swimsuit *gasp* to a public water park. I wore a dress that I believed was too short for me and that I had no business wearing because I don't have nice legs. I've worn heels with god damned ankle straps, people! I'm trying to step out of the box I've put myself in because of my weight. I plan to do things and wear things and say things that I never thought I was entitled to because of my size. But I'm baby stepping it. My 39th birthday is next month and I'm working on a bucket list of sorts for my 40th year that includes things I never thought I could do or should do because of how I looked. I've got a big project planned for myself in August that's really scaring the shit out of me but that's a surprise for later. But now I see I also have to stop attaching this imaginary fat to every aspect of my life and history as if it is the one thing that defines me and all my experiences and pain. Because it doesn't, you know. I am not my weight. I promise you I will not remember this blog post according to what I weighed today.
So... what have I learned from this picture of my youth? First, I need to realize that my normal size back then is a good thing. It means that even though I have compromised my body because of my emotional needs that it still has the ability to maintain a normal, healthy weight if allowed to do so. It also validates my suspicion that one of my trigger issues has to do with people abandoning or rejecting me, which I just wrote about, and knowing that gets me closer to healing. I've learned that I don't have to take all my painful experiences and stuff them in a box labeled "fat" as if that's the worst thing I could be. And lastly, as I look at that picture in my purple tank and lavender track shorts I know this for sure. I have always had and hopefully will continue to have a "voluptuous backside", as my aunt so loving pointed out. Vanilla In The Front indeed.