If you hang around a group of women for longer than ten minutes, the topic is sure to turn to weight- who is losing, who is gaining, what the latest secret to weight loss is, who has recently been on a binge so you don’t feel so guilty about your latest fall from the wagon, etc.
It so strange that this single number conjures such complex feelings. On the one hand, I believe weight can be an indicator of health, and we are each responsible for caring for our bodies. The problem I have is the connection many women feel between weight and worth.
About ten months after my first son, I was invited to a frock swap. If you haven’t done this before, it is a pretty fantastic way to get a new wardrobe for free. Each woman brings clothes she no longer wears but that are still in good condition. The clothes are mounded in a big pile on the floor, and everyone picks and chooses what they want to take home. Whatever remains is given to charity.
I knew I would be one of the larger ladies at the event, and thus my clothes’ pickings would be slim, but I was hoping to make out with some handbags or shoes. I made the mistake of weighing myself that morning, and the scale and I were not on good terms that day. I left for the event feeling like a bloated whale. I imagined myself to be one of those ladies at Wal-mart who’s belly squeaks through the opening between her too-snug tights and her belly baring top. I was almost in tears as I drove to the party, knowing I would be surrounded by women gleefully trying on their size six dresses and jeans, cooing to each other about how cute they looked.
I arrived and started to sort through the pile of goods. I found a miniskirt I liked. To my surprise, it fit. It was a size ten. No matter that it was another girl’s “fat” clothes. To me, it was a size I had not worn in over a decade. My entire attitude changed. Suddenly, I felt as svelte as a supermodel gorging on a head of lettuce.
On the way home, I pondered how one stupid number ruined my day, and another made it. I determined I was sick of numbers- calorie counting, fat grams, sizes, pounds, ages, all of it. My life was not going to be ruled by numbers.
Hold it there, cowgirl. Sounds great, but not so easy to actually make good on.
Over the past six months or so, I have managed a series of fitness competitions for ladies in my mom’s group. My original plan was to create competitions that were focused on health, not weight. The first contest was to see who could improve the most on their time for walking/running a mile, completing pushups in a minute, and situps in a minute. Over eight weeks, I improved my mile time by about a minute and a half, and my pushups by about fifteen. Many of the ladies improved as well. I came away feeling very positive about my body and what it could do.
The next competition was a “Biggest Loser” contest. I had some reservations about participating in the contest, but I also knew yet another number, BMI, showed I was still not “healthy.” I determined I would participate in the contest, but I would not count calories. I would simply try to eat healthy and exercise.
The problem is I kept track of all the numbers. I was the keeper of secrets- I knew everyone’s starting and ending weights. I know how difficult it can be for women to disclose their weights, so I took this responsibility seriously. But I knew all their weights, which meant I also knew that I outweighed most of them. I was prepared for this, as I can physically look at most of them and see that I am larger.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how harsh they would be on themselves when they reported their numbers to me each week. I would get emails stating “I’m up to 133 lbs this week. I’m so huge. I really have to get serious about this.” Meanwhile, I was clocking in at 155. It became a bit rough on my esteem. I knew if they weighed what I did, it would be nothing short of a catastrophe. When I reminded them that their pregnancy weight is what a lot of women like myself call normal, I was met with some interesting responses. “Yeah, but you are so much taller than me.” (I am 5 feet 5 inches tall). Or “Everybody is different.”- as in, perhaps it’s ok for you to be a cow, but I’m not really into that. Ok, that’s not what they meant, but you can’t see how easy it might be for me to go there, especially with my own esteem issues in tow.
Let me clarify that I do understand the desire after pregnancy to want to feel like your body looks like it once did- or at least as close as it can. I am not saying these things because I think I am better than anyone else. If a fairy godmother could wave a magic wand and I’d lose 20 lbs, I wouldn’t admonish “No, no. I’ll just remain chubby and principled.” I’d have her waving that wand like a windmill.
I just hate to see so many gorgeous women feeling less than beautiful because of a number. I despise that there is such a narrow interpretation of beauty. I wish my friends could see themselves through my eyes. Women are so much more supportive of their friends than they are of themselves. I don’t believe any of my pals looks at me and thinks “oh, she’s a bit hefty.” I think they all see me and think I look great. I want those same eyes to look upon themselves with approval.
During one of our competitions, one mother was talking about struggling to lose weight. She responded how it is difficult for her because she has a daughter to prepare meals for. She didn’t want to send a mixed message by fixing a meal for her daughter while she ate a salad. Even though I have two boys, I worry about similar things. I do not want them to see a mother who loathes her body, and think that is what women do.
My friend, Kristie, sent me an awesome article on how important it is for our children to hear us say “WE are beautiful.” We tell our children how gorgeous they are on almost an hourly basis, while we critique ourselves daily for gaining half an ounce. They need to see us as confident, accepting, strong women. Let’s be that example.
I am not saying don’t count calories, don’t weigh yourself, don’t look at the numbers. Just don’t let your whole perception about yourself be based on a number. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors- and that means your shape too.