I’m pretty sure I was about 11 the first time I went on a “diet.”
I was a dancer. I was programmed to want to be skinny. Let’s be honest, I was judged on my body. When I competed for a title, I donned my black leotard, suntan tights, and character shoes, I said my name into that microphone, and then I turned so the judges could see my body. Stand up straight, suck it in, downstage, left stage, upstage, right stage, back to center and walk off. I almost always got a perfect score. Gold star for Jenny for being the skinniest.
I never had an eating disorder. At least not an After School Special worthy eating disorder, but I always worried about what I was eating. I always worried about getting fat; always wanted to be thinner.
The summer before freshman year of high school I went from 115lbs in June to 132lbs when school started. One summer of Choco Tacos at Cupsaw Lake would ruin the way I looked at myself. For. Ever. That summer was the first time I noticed that my thighs touched. I was sitting in the front seat of my mom’s car. I was wearing white shorts and a blue t-shirt. My thighs spread out over the seat and the edge of the shorts dug into my legs. I remember saying something to my mom, like “what happened to my legs… how did they get so big?” I remember being stunned. Fat. They were fat. I hated it.
I would never be happy with my body again.
In high school I remember not eating pizza or drinking soda. I remember not chewing gum, because it had sugar. I remember watching the pounds creep on despite being careful about what I ate and dancing 20-30 hours a week. Most days for lunch I had a diet Snapple and side order of mashed potatoes from the cafeteria. Occasionally I would “cheat.” It would make me feel terrible. I would feel so guilty after a night chugging Cherry Coke and housing Sour Patch Kids and Peanut M&Ms and popcorn at the movies. Pizza and brownies at a sleepover came with a large side of shame.
Junior year I got mono. I missed six weeks of school. I spent those six weeks lying on my couch while my mom fed me comfort food: grilled cheese, meatloaf, pasta. I was too sick to worry about what I was eating. I gained 15 pounds. Fifteen pounds in six weeks. Not long after returning to school, I remember being weighed in gym and seeing 149lbs. I remember wanting to cry. I remember hoping no one saw. I remember lying when the other girls asked “how much?”
I took diet pills to look good for prom. In college, I dieted; I binge exercised. It was always there, the need to lose weight. I met a boy, got engaged, went on a diet for my wedding. Got married. Got happy. Got heavier than ever and tipped the scales at 156 when I found out I was pregnant with Colten. Weighed 188 the day I delivered. Dieted to lose baby weight. Weighed 148 when I found out I was pregnant with Cooper. Weighed 168 the day I came home from the hospital. After having Coop, I didn’t eat sugar or carbs for almost two years. Last year at this time I was the skinniest I have ever been in my adult life. After two kids, I weighed 135 pounds and I felt like a rockstar. Like my greatest accomplishment was not my beautiful family or my blossoming career, but that I managed to pop out two kids and end up skinnier than ever. My new goal: maintain, maintain, maintain and keep the skinny mommy crown. No sugar. One whole grain carb per day. No cheating.
This summer, the wheels came off my strict eating habits. I surprised my husband with a trip to California. We ate ice-cream on the pier in Santa Barbara, chowed burgers at Nepenthe, and ate in some of the best restaurants along the Golden Coast. I gained five pounds in six days. Buzz. Kill. I also liked having an ice-cream now and then and the freedom of not following such a strict diet. I gained another three before summer was over. I’ve spent the last six weeks trying to lose the eight pounds I gained this summer. I’m “good” for a few days and then I’ll eat a piece of apple pie or go to Indian Buffet for Sunday lunch. I’m struggling. I’m angry at myself for letting those eight pounds sneak back on. I know how hard it’s going to be and how much deprivation it’s going to take to loose them again. Perhaps even more than that, I’m mad at myself for even feeling this way.
I’m a 32 year old mother of two. I have a loving husband, great friends, a supportive family. I have my dream job and I get to stay home with my children. I am so blessed and so unbelievably happy.
Yet this morning when I stepped on the scale and saw 143lbs I got tears in my eyes, because I want it to say 135. Because the clothes in my closet don’t fit like they did last fall. Because I bought ingredients to make a kick ass pumpkin cheesecake that I found on Pinterest, but I know how awful I will feel if I eat it. Because I am a smart girl and I know this is RIDICULOUS, but I can’t help it.
I can be objective when it comes to how I look. I know that there is nothing wrong with my body. I can tell you right now that I know that I am not and never have been fat. Not once would I have been described as overweight; I’ve always been a healthy weight for my height. I can also tell you that I have a boatload of self-confidence and high self-esteem. I can look at you right now and tell you that I know I am beautiful. I really believe that. At the same time I will tell you that I wish my nose was smaller and that I was 10lbs lighter, but I can be objective enough to say: yes, I am pretty. I also have no qualms telling you that I think I am smart, and a good person; that I think I’m funny and a good friend. So why? Why this urge to be as thin as I can be? Why the game to get my thighs smaller, tummy flatter. Why does it feel so much better to put on a size 4 than a size 6?
What are we doing? We are brainwashing our girls to equate thin-ness with beauty and with power. It takes willpower to be skinny – to deprive yourself of things that taste good, to work out longer and harder. It’s become another cultural marker for success. Oh sure she takes care of children, maintains a loving home for her family, and runs her own business, but what size are her jeans????
What have we done to ourselves? To our daughters? To each other?
When will we say enough is enough? When will we be able focus on being healthy, on feeling whole, on being kind? How do we fix this for the next generation? For ourselves?
When will we stop telling these lies? When we will stop believing them?
How can a beautiful, smart, independent woman be brought to tears by a number on a scale? What have we done? What can we do?
Isn’t it about time we put an end to the guilt and the shame? Let’s not subject another generation to unrealistic expectations. Let’s teach our girls to be healthy and to love themselves. Let’s encourage beauty and love the skin we’re in.