I really do. When moving in with family, you wouldn’t think the thing I would be most nervous about would be sharing a house with a bathroom scale. But there it was looming, waiting to tell me that I, in fact, was the elephant in the room. I know myself. While I was pregnant, my husband wanted to get a scale for himself. I asked him not to. I was already struggling to accept my weight changes–average and completely healthy and normal though they were–and I knew I would obsessively weigh myself if we had one in the house. It was an extra vulnerable time and he graciously refrained. But here I found myself almost 2 years post-pregnancy with a similar fear.
Being a certain weight in order to be perceived as “thin” can be an idol and an identity all in one that holds the worth of your person and the happiness of your heart in it’s vice grip. Growing up, I was not called pretty or smart or complimented on my talent in any particular area. But being naturally on the slim side and then going undiagnosed with an illness that left me chronically under weight in my teen years, I got called skinny with complimentary fervor and mild jealousy on a nearly daily basis by friends, family, acquaintances, medical staff, and total strangers. It was my characteristic most noticed and commented on. Absorbed over the years, I took on as my identifying label something that had little to do with anything other than genetics. If I wasn’t skinny, then what was I?
There is a whole series of up and down stories about how my perception of my body has changed as an adult through illness, long recovery, returning to exercise, marriage, pregnancy, and postpartum. Yet I still find myself this close to thirty feeling satisfied, worthy, proud even when a few pounds melts off and chastising myself with alarming cruelty when, in the stress of some big life changes, a few pounds pile on. A picture pops up on social media of another woman, even friends, and I scrutinize myself against that standard, tearing into myself for not measuring up to them. It is unfair to both of us. None of them asked to be the measuring stick for my worth. Nobody should be that.
Almost immediately upon arrival at our new home, I weighed myself and a visceral loathing rose up in me against the weight I had gained, though more truly it was against myself for letting it happen. For failing to be “skinny” as it had been defined to me – remaining at a single weight (or less) in the same size and shape at all times no matter life circumstances. I didn’t want to weigh myself again until I thought I had lost something. Being that the scale was ever present, it was inevitable that I would waiver eventually.
It was a bad morning. The truth of it being that I hadn’t been eating in a way that made me feel well because of the deliciousness of holiday cooking. Also, my daughter had been truly sick for the first time, leaving me sluggish, sleep deprived, and having missed my workouts that week. Social media pictures had bombarded my already fragile self-esteem. My entire mindset was ripe for self-abuse. That immediate, vicious desire for vigorous activity to “make up” for it all overwhelmed me. It would begin with a weigh in, I thought. Some proper motivation to show me just how far I’d fallen. I stepped toward the scale.
Then the thought of my daughter stopped me in my tracks. She’s the most beautiful sight on God’s earth. Perfection as far as I’m concerned. I thought of her watching me step on the scale, harmless enough in itself; I wouldn’t have even said anything out loud. But it would have been in my posture toward my body. In my expression as I poked and categorized every flaw and failure. I would exude self-loathing. She might not know then, but over years and years she would absorb that attitude, the idea that I am not good enough. That is a horrifying thought: that I could be responsible for passing on a lens that would make her see herself as anything less than glorious.
What I actually needed that morning was a hot shower, some food that made me feel good, a few hours of sleep, to move my body in a way that I enjoyed, and a whole lot of grace. I need that in an abundance that is never ending. I long for a day when I step on a scale out of mere curiosity, when the number it shows me causes no negative feelings, or positive ones either. Until it is just a number and not a judgment on my worth as a woman and a determining factor on how I feel about my body that day. I want to stop those thoughts and actions in their tracks not just for my daughter but for myself too. Children are not necessary for motivation, but they fundamentally change the way we see many things, including ourselves. She makes me realize that I want to view myself through a lens that shows nothing but glory.
That starts with a lot of choices. The choice to only move my body in ways that feel good and for the purpose of feeling good, never as punishment. The choice to both let food be just food and to recognize that some foods make me feel better than others. The choice to stay off the scale. The choice to catalogue my body in facts not judgments. The choice to relentlessly question and reframe my thoughts on size, bigness, smallness, fat, strength, worth, and identity. The choice to refrain from social media sometimes and, at other times, to acknowledge that their worth and mine are not in competition. Finally, the choice to admit pride and practice gratitude instead.
The opportunities to practice choosing are abundant. There was a pair of jeans sitting in my drawer that are a size up from what I normally wear. I had purchased them not long after Aeryn was born when I was tired of having only one pair of pants to wear and didn’t think I would fit into my other jeans again. I happened to be wrong about that, and once I fit into that smaller size, I discarded that larger pair of jeans to the back of my drawer with glee. I didn’t want to get them out again because it felt like admitting a failure in myself. How could I accomplish the ever-sought-after goal of losing all the “baby weight” and then go put even a fraction of it back on again? (FYI, it’s not baby weight. I lost all of my baby’s weight the moment she popped herself out of my body. Everything left over after that is ME.)
Finally, I did pull those jeans out. And you know what? They looked awesome on me. They hugged all the right places and stretched comfortably. I liked the way I looked in them. I felt good. And it was probably true that I felt that good in them because I had put on weight. Before they had been a little saggy and baggy and didn’t make me feel good. But right now, they do. I could wear the smaller size and feel constricted, or I could wear the larger size and feel fantastic. It felt like a small triumph to make a different choice this time.