Last week when I was in Puerto Rico for the first time, visiting my husband’s parents, his father was eager to take me to the stables where he keeps his horse. It was also a chance for me to see part of the Island that I hadn’t yet seen and during the hours’ drive he pointed out the many projects he had worked on as a very successful civil engineer. When we got to the stables I walked up and down the rows and rows of beautiful horses, talking to them, telling them how beautiful they were. (My husband has one fear in life and that’s horses. Apparently when he was five he was chased by one and that was that.)
The handlers readied my father-in-law’s horse, saddled him up, and rode him around a pen so I could see his unique gait. The horse is small enough and I asked if I could get on him (my horseback riding experience being limited to my time at summer camp more than 30 years ago). My husband was surprised and impressed and a bit concerned. I climbed up like a pro and since I wasn’t used to handling him, the guy just led me around for a few minutes as my husband snapped pictures with his iPhone. I smiled and felt completely at ease.
When I got off I asked to see the pictures my husband had taken. When I saw them I perished a little bit inside. A big internal wind extinguished the happy glow I experienced only seconds before. All I saw was a big, fat, amorphous shape, bad hair and a smile. How could I be smiling when I had let myself go so badly? Who WAS this person? I immediately deleted the pictures, zapped as if because they were no longer on his phone, that person no longer existed. From that point on, I remained quiet, and disgusted with myself. My husband had no idea that when we got back to the house and I got undressed to take a shower, I cried.
My clothes don’t fit, my arms are like an old Jewish woman’s, I have rolls in my midsection where there never were any before. I constantly compare my body to other women I see to give myself some perspective. When we were in the pool in Puerto Rico I would point to clearly much heavier women and ask my husband, “Are my thighs like that?” “Is her ass bigger than mine?” I admired these women for being so proud to be in bikinis looking completely at ease, laughing and drinking. In the end it makes no difference how I compare to other women. What matters is how I feel about myself.
When I was thinner, and people would think I was a bit nuts for describing myself as heavy, I used to say it was a residual reflex from being very overweight as a teenager. People would be surprised but I wouldn’t say that now because, well, I was heavy then and I am heavy now. Again.
I’m not one of those people who look at size 0 models and envy their bodies. I’ve never starved myself to get down to an unrealistic number on the scale. I know the weight my body used to bounce back to when I slacked off from exercising or stopped paying attention to what I ate. That number was bad, and I know it’s a hell of a lot worse now (My guess only. I wouldn’t dream of stepping on a scale now.) When I had a fantastic Weight Watchers success several years ago and hit my goal weight, the instructor told me that I should stop losing and focus on maintaining. I have never been happier in my life than when I heard those words.
I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of style, a look that when people see something they’d say “That’s so YOU!” I now have a harder time fitting into those things that made me feel like me, and have taken to, horror of all horrors, wearing things like gym pants and my husband’s jeans. The jeans that used to fall off me when I walked no longer fit. I look at them and tear up a bit.
This whole thing has given me an identity crisis. I have a beautiful friend whose looks are equally matched by her kindness, and when I’m with her I think that people are asking themselves why she would have chosen ME to be her friend. What a horrible and self-destructive thought that betrays my true sense of self as a person, a friend, a mother, a wife. I have more confidence around people than most, but now I find myself distracted by what I’m wearing, constantly tugging and pulling at my clothes in the hope of flattening and concealing what I assume people are looking at.
The above words are not a set-up for anyone to flatter or console me. I don’t intend for them to be as self-indulgent or even as self-loathing as they sound. I don’t know what the point of sharing these thoughts are, really, but they’ve been pinging around in my head for days and that usually means they were meant to be written about and read by others.
I am in training to run a 5K four months from now and I have every intention of doing it and feeling proud and strong. This too shall pass. I have every faith that it will.