A memory of her walking across the stage in that beautiful dress popped into my head as I walked by the nearby middle school this morning. My dress that day was not strapless. It was a shapeless green silk sack with brown buttons down the front and cuffed sleeves. There was only one good thing about it. Inside of it I could be shapeless, too.
By the time I was 12, I'd been dragged by my parents through multiple divorces and breakups. By the time middle school graduation rolled around my mom and I had transitioned from a illegal second floor apartment with a hot plate to a legal second floor apartment where the only upgrade was a real stove.
I came home every day to an empty house. Food was a friend, and it showed.
There was an 8th grade formal, too, and I remember shopping for dresses with that best friend. She tried on this knockout form-fitting thing, and it looked so amazing that I wanted to try it on, too. I didn't even make it out of the dressing room. It wasn't the dress that was a knockout, it was the body it was on. On me that dress was all mounds and rolls.
But that's not when I became a fat kid.
I'd already been on the receiving end of a fat talk thanks to a concerned mother who'd never had her own weight issues and so didn't get it. I'd already had a summer growth spurt that prompted the school nurse to send an obesity letter home. My concerned mom had plenty to say about that.
In a moment I went from being just a kid to being a fat kid.
Suddenly I noticed how my thighs rubbed together. How much bigger I looked in a bathing suit than most of the other girls. Suddenly I could see all the ways I was not cute and did not measure up. I noticed how chubby I looked in my dance show costumes. How squishy my arms were. My big ol' fat face.
I lived with all that for years. I tried Weight Watchers at 12. Tried to force myself to throw up around then, too, but bulimia is harder than it looks for some of us even when you're using a Sharpie instead of your fingers. Then I went away to live in Germany for a year abroad and while I did slim down - or maybe sprout up - thanks to the magic of puberty, it wasn't the end of an era.
Because even though my pants size changed I never stopped being the fat kid. As we all know now but didn't know back then the shame spiral of overeating and starving yourself is a fairly effective way to drop a few pounds in the short term but hell on your metabolism. In high school my weight was like a yoyo - and being that it was high school, people had plenty to say about it. I didn't do the freshman fifteen - I did the freshman forty. Even my twenties were a struggle with ups and downs. Fat months and thin months.
Now at 34 I'm aware enough of my habits to see when I'm about to stumble headfirst into a mac' and cheese binge. I discovered exercise. If I were to step on a scale right now - which I won't - I would be in a healthy BMI category. Unless I am bloated, which I sometimes am, I could probably put on a knockout form-fitting dress without the rest of the world seeing the mounds and rolls.
But here is the thing. I would see them.
I do see them.
I force myself to wear short shorts and leotards in dance class and skinny jeans and fitted tops in real life because I hate the fact that when I look in the mirror, no matter how many years go by, I still see a fat kid. I see mounds and rolls and squishy arms and that big ol' fat face - I literally see them even though I also know that they are not there. It's why it's mostly me behind the camera. Why I usually only share photos where my chin is out and my arms are up and I'm wearing my most flattering smile. I hate it.
But what I especially hate is that I hope, hope with a manic kind of urgency, that my kids never get fat because I don't want them to see themselves as ugly, gross, and less than forever. I hate it because I know fat is not the worst thing a human can be. Fat should not be a value judgment. After all, I tell my kids all the time that people come in all shapes and sizes and isn't that great?
Empirically speaking, I am not the skinniest mom on the playground by any stretch. I am not the biggest person waiting on the grocery line. I am somewhere in between and I am healthy and all my parts work well enough that I can run and jump and dance and play without having to think about it too much. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that was that?
Maybe someday it'll just be me in my body instead of who I am now plus who I was 20 years ago. Right now I'm working on it. It's a slow process, but maybe someday.
“Body acceptance means, as much as possible, approving of and loving your body, despite its “imperfections”, real or perceived. That means accepting that your body is fatter than some others, or thinner than some others, that your eyes are a little crooked, that you have a disability that makes walking difficult, that you have health concerns that you have to deal with — but that all of that doesn’t mean that you need to be ashamed of your body or try to change it. Body acceptance allows for the fact that there is a diversity of bodies in the world, and that there’s no wrong way to have one.” ― Golda Poretsky
P.S. - Check out my 14 things you should never say to a pregnant woman!