True Story: I’m A Body Image Waffler
I recently signed up for six sessions with a personal trainer, LaMarcus, and told him my goals: get more toned and lose a few pounds.
Then he weighed me. I clocked in at 125, and he asked me if that’s what I expected. “Yeah, but I’d prefer to be closer to 122,” I told him. WHAT? As the words came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous that probably sounded. Why do I even need a trainer for that? I’m not overweight. I know this (if not by looking at myself, then by furiously Googling “healthy body weights”). But that doesn’t stop me from telling myself that I am. Sometimes. I’m a pretty confident person. But, on some days, I can’t help but hate my body.
My self-diagnoses? I’m a Body Image Waffler.
As a kid, I had that awkward, too-skinny look. I was an athlete, too—a competitive swimmer, with a schedule full of two-a-day practices and weekend-long meets. I was (and still am) the pickiest eater, but I’ve always loved carbs and sweets. I could eat as many of them as I wanted, with the thousands of calories I was burning each day.
So it came as quite a shock the first time I ever really gained a concerning (to me) amount of weight. It happened when I stopped swimming after my last high school season, and registered with me a few months later, right before I went to Florida for spring break. I was suddenly unhappy with my body, and for the first time ever, I felt fat. It couldn’t have been more than a 10-pound gain, max, but it was totally new to me. I immediately went to my mom. As a family physician, she always educated her patients on losing weight in a healthy manner, and she did the same with me. She told me to enjoy my spring break, and when I came back, we’d go to Weight Watchers together to learn to be healthy and get back in shape.
So, that’s what happened. I went to Florida, didn’t worry about what I ate, and had a blast. Then, as discussed, my mom and I signed up for Weight Watchers shortly after. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to Weight Watchers. Me, the girl whose siblings had often teased her for being too skinny, the girl whose goal in elementary school was to gain enough weight to make it to 100 pounds, the athlete who swam four hours a day. But I wanted to feel happy in my body again, and this was the only way I could think of to do that. And it worked. By senior prom, I had lost all the weight I gained, and was in just as good shape — if not better — than I was while swimming.
I went to college feeling pretty confident about myself once again. Those couple months that I was “overweight” (IMO) were almost a distant memory. And then, the waffling began. As hard as I tried to put my newly instilled Weight Watchers knowledge and tools to use, it was college: gaining weight was pretty much an inevitability. (What, was I really supposed to resist late night breadsticks when all my friends were noshing on them? I don’t think so.) Throughout those four years, I regularly fluctuated by about three to eight pounds. At times, I was pretty content with my body, or at least accepted it for what it was. But sometimes I was in complete disgust over love-handles, and mad at myself for having them.
All of that was manageable, though. It didn’t really make a huge dent in my overall body image. It wasn’t until I moved to London after college graduation that my view of my physical self really started to spiral. I didn’t really notice it at first; it was a slow, gradual weight gain, after all. About four or five months in to my time overseas, I did realize that I had gained a significant amount of weight. That wasn’t entirely surprising: I was on permanent “vacation mentality” when it came to eating, and I wasn’t about to spend my traveling money on a gym membership. (This was also well before I competed in a half marathon and would never even consider running as an option for exercise.) It was really upsetting: at that point I was probably 10 to 15 pounds more than I had been when I moved to London, and it was more than enough to shake me. I was sad and desperate to lose the weight, but it was so overwhelming, I just didn’t know how. Once again, I reached out to my mom. She gave me practical advice on how to lose the weight safely and healthily. But in the end, I just couldn’t devote myself to actually doing it, and instead proceeded as I was. Right before I flew home, I went on a nine-day tour of Egypt with a friend. While it was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on, I still cringe when I look at those photos.
By the end of my seven months abroad, I had gained a solid 15 or 20 pounds, and was officially the highest weight I had ever been in my life. Once home in Chicago, I felt a huge sense of desperation and complete discomfort with my own body. Was I obese? Not even close. By medical standards, I was maybe slightly overweight for my 5’ 4” frame. But by my personal standards, it was way too much. I took bikini photos of myself as the “before,” and got ready to work toward my slimmer self. I started working out with a trainer and watching what I ate much more closely. After several weeks, I had barely lost anything. I was starting to feel like I had reached the point of no return, and I was destined to be in my new body forever.
Then I got hit by a car. It was a horrible, near-tragic accident that involved a drunk driver blowing a red light and plowing right into the driver’s side of my Ford Focus. I suffered serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis that kept me from walking, and was prescribed to four months of physical recovery. The mental recovery took much longer. A lot of deep, personal changes resulted from that accident—and one more surface-level change. In my eight days in the hospital, I shed 12 pounds without even realizing it. My weight continued to drop once I was home, until I was down to a weight I hadn’t seen since high school. I was skinny, for sure, but not unhealthily so, and that weight became my new normal.
This month will be five years from the accident. In that time, I’ve moved to New York, worked in retail, journalism, and advertising, traveled Israel, Belize, and all around the eastern seaboard, met my now fiance, (kind of) learned to ski, done two half-marathons, broken one ankle, endured Hurricane Sandy with said broken ankle, and moved back to Chicago. Throughout most of that, I more or less maintained my “post-accident” weight, plus or minus a couple pounds. And for a while, I felt confident about my body. But in the past year or so, I’ve found myself faltering — thinking of myself as “so fat” with any few-pound weight gain, and hating more pictures of myself than I like.
Like I said, I’m not overweight. That heaviest weight I’ve ever been after London? That was 144 pounds. My new normal after the accident? 118. And now? Well, I hover right around 125. And sometimes I’m fine with that, but other times I hate it. Despite the fact that my doctor just reaffirmed I’m a perfectly healthy weight — and am, in fact, on the slender side — I have trouble accepting my body. I know I’m not in danger of an eating disorder. Not just because I’ve been educated so well about them (and have even have friends who have suffered through them).
But, I know the waffling is still an issue. I fluctuate between feeling “Maybe I’m not so bad. After all, I’m still small compared to a lot of people” and “Fuck it, life is short, I can’t spend time counting calories—I need to enjoy my food, goddammit.”
The other day, I decided to see where I stood with my “bikini body,” in anticipation of a girls’ trip to Miami. I put on a bathing suit, stood in front of the full-length mirror, and snapped a cell-phone shot. And, well, I didn’t hate it. I don’t know who I expected to be staring back at me, but all I saw was me.
Tonight, I ate a cookie and insanely amazing ice cream, and enjoyed the hell out of it. Tomorrow morning, I’ll set my alarm to go to the gym—maybe I’ll make it, maybe I’ll use the cool weather as an excuse not to get out of bed. Hopefully either way, I’ll cut myself a break.
[Image of a woman in a mirror via Shutterstock]