Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Weight, Weight Don't Tell Me

Tomorrow I am participating in something called the Human Library. Patrons can check me out like a book and have a chat with me about my title. I have volunteered to talk about PCOS and my weight, I am terrified because this is a very emotional topic for me, but I'm going to do it anyway. 

I've been trying to gather my thoughts so I can know where to start with this, and I went back and read something I wrote last summer for a book I'll never finish. I was trying to write about difficult things...turns out writing about hard things is hard and I don't want to do it most of the time. I'm going to go ahead and be brave enough to share it in order to set a good precedent for tomorrow. I added a happy ending.

Two male employees were audibly discussing me while I was walking around a discount store the other day. When you’re the only redhead around it isn’t too difficult to pick up on the fact that, yes, you’re not paranoid, they really are talking about you. The main topic of the discussion was the fact that while I have a pretty face, I’m still a little too far on the chubby side to really be good looking. The older of the two men opined that my extra weight might be fun in the bedroom and the other man chuckled in evident agreement. I moved on to another aisle.

I wasn’t stung or outraged by this conversation in the way that I should be. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those sentiments and it won’t be the last time I hear them unabashedly communicated with strangers who can reasonably expect that I can hear them speaking. The general consensus of the type of person who will have this conversation about me, with me in earshot, is that I should be thankful for any interest at all. I’m not. Although, I will say that it is interesting that when the scale creeps up even the slightest, we’ll say within a ten pound range, I suddenly become invisible to the opposite sex. Doors are left to close on me, cashiers remain sullenly focused on bar codes, and I can more easily avoid offers of help to find things at Home Depot. At this point in my life I view these sorts of interactions the way Jane Goodall sizes up gorillas. I place a tick in my mental field journal and move on with my day.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not overweight and I’m also not going to define myself as some sort of body acceptance pioneer. The truth is that I don’t think about my weight very much these days, as either a positive or a negative, unless someone is yelling out of a car window at me while I’m riding my bicycle. My body is relatively healthy and it does what I need it to do most of the time, and that is a blessing.

It hasn’t always been this way. I became aware that I was overweight when I was in the third grade and it became a part of my identity. The shame stuck around with me when I switched schools, enjoyed a growth spurt, started to pretend I could play soccer, and throughout my gangly teen years. I wore XL shirts that swallowed up my tiny frame, even though by my senior year in high school, I was wearing size four shorts with a belt. I do not look back on this as the time in my life where I was the healthiest, although numerically, on paper, I might’ve been.

In college the shadow of polycystic ovarian syndrome started to darken my doorstep. I got engaged in January, fitted for a wedding dress in February and by May I had gained over twenty pounds and my second fitting was a disastrous disappointment. I didn’t know I had PCOS, I only knew that my breasts had tripled in size and my back hurt all of the time. I didn’t go to the doctor because it was like the weight from third grade had finally caught up with me and I assumed that I had somehow earned these extra burdens. Luckily for me, most of the people in my life were all too eager to agree. If you’re fat it’s because you are a lazy glutton who just needs to try harder. All of the commercials, magazines, and TV shows say so, so it must be true.

I tried harder.
I tried harder for ten years.

I tried Weight Watchers and the leader accused me of doctoring my journals. I sat and clapped jealously every time a new person hit goal. 

I ditched Weight Watchers in favor of tracking my own calories. Most days the computer program chastised me for not eating enough calories for my energy output.

I hosted and ran six triathlons and watched as the participants, meeting me for the first time, were confused about my size. Triathletes are supposed to be lean and mean. My weight shifted around but the number on the scale stayed the same.

I trained for and completed a half marathon. The day after it I did not wake up looking like a person who could run a mile.

Once I sat down and made a scatter plot of all of the fitness superstitions and standards I was holding myself to. It was an eye-opening experience. Don’t eat white foods like flour, vanilla ice cream, mayonnaise and potatoes. Absolutely do not eat those things mixed together. Don’t eat red meat or fried food, but make sure you’re getting plenty of protein (unless it’s eggs 'cause eggs will kill you.) Also, grilled food has carcinogens so I guess don't do that. You can have fish but not too much because of the mercury poisoning, and shellfish is high in cholesterol so watch that too. Don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat fat or unrefined sugars…or honey because a lot of it is fake, or agave because it gives you migraines. Don’t eat butter because it will clog your arteries, but don’t eat margarine because it has trans fats and that’ll kill you faster. Use olive oil…but not too much olive oil and I don't even know what the Hell you're going to put it on. Eat breakfast every morning but make sure it’s high fiber, low carb, high protein and...shit…NO EGGS…we’ve talked about this. Beans for breakfast? No. Too many carbs. Also, beans for breakfast on a very empty stomach? You’re going to have a busy morning. Don’t eat after it gets dark. Don’t eat grapes, carrots, raisins, melons or dried fruit because of all the sugar. Avoid dairy. Avoid grain. Nuts are a superfood but you can only eat a handful of nuts. No, not your hands. Your hands are too big. Baby doll hands. Avoid processed foods and also bananas….bananas have as much sugar as a chocolate chip cookie. Don’t drink juice, or sugar, or anything with caffeine and stay away from diet soda but don’t have too much water either because it’ll make you bloat…..oh man and salt. Almost forgot. Nothing with salt. I know broth was starting to seem like a solid solution but it needs to be low sodium broth. Tomato sauce has a lot of salt and sugar so…yeah don’t eat that. Soy? Forget about it. Soy is bad for your hormones so stay away from tofu and soy milk. I mean, that doesn’t leave a lot of food leftover except for commercially created diet foods and those all have sugar alcohols which everyone knows are terrible for you and will make you poop so don’t eat those either. Watery vegetables. That’s the way to go. But don’t cook them or you’ll lose all of the yeah, good luck running your triathlon. Try not to drown.

Finally, after spending a year doing bricks and eating garbanzo beans, I went to an endocrinologist that my friend recommended. I prepared a timeline with photos and brought in my painstakingly detailed food and exercise journal. We did a battery of blood tests, a week of urine collection and learned that I had PCOS, which undiagnosed for so long had led to an underactive thyroid. He put me on six different pills that were going to cure me. Nothing changed except I started to feel like my body was betraying me. At least before my diagnosis, when it was my fault, I had felt like I deserved to be fat. (Because of how lazy and gluttonous I was, obviously.) Now all of a sudden I was saddled with all of the guilt of a fat person with less hope that I could actually fix myself. 

I shopped around with a few doctors and a few doctors told me the same thing, studies are starting to show that much like hair color, eye color, shoe size and height, your body has a weight range it likes to be at too. I was in denial about that for a while but then one day I had the shocking realization of just HOW MUCH ENERGY I was pouring into fixing myself instead of just enjoying my life, and decided to adopt the radical idea that maybe I am fine the way I am. Maybe I'm good enough. 

As an experiment I stopped weighing myself, ate whatever my body told me it wanted until I was full, exercised for fun, and gave myself permission to shed the guilt. I started getting massages as a way to get over the idea that I was too gross for a stranger to touch me. I bought the clothes I wanted, that fit me the best, instead of clothes that were for when I was skinnier, or clothes that hid who I was. After about a year, I went to the doctor's office, and she weighed me, and I was bemused to note that I'd lost 15 pounds. I could care less. I could care a lot less because I actually care quite a bit, but I'm getting better at the idea that this is who I am and I'm ok with that.

And so now people are like, "Oh WOW how inspirational. You're SO body positive." And like, I know you mean well, but when I'm doing yoga it's not automatically plus size yoga. I'm in the same class as you. And if I'm running a 5k it's not for some greater statement about size-ism. And if I'm dancing it's because dancing is wonderful and we should all be dancing more. 

But here’s the thing about my weight. It’s actually very freeing to be someone who is accepted as being a little too fat but otherwise sort of cute. If I wasn’t so fat then I’d have to pursue other avenues of perfection that I, as a lost cause, can comfortably ignore. If I lost 50 pounds I’d probably have to be worried about my abs and my thigh gap. My swarthy Italian eyebrows would need to be threaded and then filled in. I’d need to work on getting a natural look on my skin through bronzer, primer, naturalizer, moisturizers, buffers, and BB creams instead of washing with water and washcloth. And if I resolved that issue I’d have to do something about my pores, which commercials indicate are too huge for me to even leave the house without a bag over my head to keep birds from flying into them. My hair would need monthly dye sessions, Brazilian blow outs, masks, products and alternate straightening and curling. (It would need the opposite of whatever state it ended up in after all that attention.) If I somehow achieved the pinnacle of external perfection? If my work was done and I looked like a magical cross between Gwynnie and Bey? Well, then I’d need to turn my attention to the configuration of my vagina to make sure that everything down there was camera ready. And that’s just crazy…so I guess I’ll continue to put off my quest for perfection because I feel like if you see anything down there that you’re dissastisfied with it’s your fault for looking. 

And that sort of sums up where I am with my body these days. I'm pretty comfy over here, my meat casing is fully functional, and if you see something you don't like, it's your fault for looking. If you see something you do like? Well then, let's dance.