Attention: Measured By the Pound

In my lifetime thus far, I have worn my hair short and I have worn my hair long. It has been light, dark, curly, wavy, straight, razored, bobbed and layered. I have been a cowgirl, a granola and a professional. I have dressed trendy when I could afford it, sporty or provocatively when I felt like it, and something I like to call “Shabby-Midwestern-Chic” for much of the remainder.

Throughout all of these different looks, phases or whatever you wish to call them, I have never noticed a difference in the amount of positive attention I have received. But in all of my years, I have noticed that one thing, ONE, single, solitary thing seems to make a difference no matter what I have on or how I choose to wear my hair. I am talking—as can be inferred from the title—about my weight.

I feel it fair to mention that I have never really struggled with my weight in the way that some people do. For my entire life (save for a brief period between 2007 and 2009) I have never been classified as “overweight” on the medical charts. I have always been a healthy, normal weight. As a child, I could eat whatever I wanted and it never mattered. Then, like a lot of women, once I entered my late 20’s I needed to start watching it a little more closely as the scale crept ever upward after too many pizza binges. But still I managed to keep it in check.

Then one day, tired of flying a little too close to the sun on the wings of pepperoni — I decided to make some radical changes to my diet and exercise routine, resulting in a 30 pound weight loss and a rock-hard, 95-pound body. To some friends and family, I was a little “too skinny,” and technically underweight but none of that mattered to me because I felt great. For the first time ever, I completely loved my body.

However, curious things began to happen as the pounds melted away. Stranger than needing to shop for smaller sizes and having my jewelry resized was the way I was being treated by others… particularly members of the opposite sex. Suddenly I had gone from being someone who received compliments or glances once in awhile to receiving them wherever I went. And in a word, it was: intoxicating. So intoxicating in fact, that it’s a wonder I ever let the lbs. climb back into my truck. Looks, stares and some additional suitors all became part of my reality for… a time.

But that wasn’t even the half of it! People were KINDER. They smiled more and when I walked into a store of any kind I was asked immediately if I needed assistance. It wouldn’t be until much later that I even noticed the additional attention. But eventually it registered. And do you want to know WHEN it registered? It grew clearer and clearer, little by little, as the pounds found their way back onto my frame. I know this to be true as I experienced another (more milder) yo-yo in recent years. Pounds melted away again and I received more positive feedback from total strangers.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never treated poorly when I was heavier. I simply grew invisible. Which is interesting when you consider the sheer physics of it! I mean, I BECAME larger. I took up MORE space. But the more space I took up, the less people noticed or acknowledged my existence. Now some of you may say that it was/is a matter of confidence. The better you feel, the more you get noticed. And that might be true.

Except that I spoke to a male co-worker once who had experienced the exact same thing. I asked him this question about self-esteem being linked to weight and body image and thus generating positive or negative attention, and he believed that they had no link. “I feel like the exact same person” he said. “I have the same amount of confidence no matter my size… People just look beyond me when I’m heavier.” Fascinating. I thought. Simply fascinating. He’s a GUY and it’s happening to HIM too!

I wonder if I am guilty of the same behavior toward others that I’ve encounter out in the world? Whether we want to acknowledge this or not… I am officially calling it out! We are a society that is ruled by beauty and any or all of the perceived trappings thereof. It’s a shame, I know, for the outside to hold so much power over the inside — that truly unique part of us which is of far greater value. And yet I’m certain that it’s a part of our motivation at times. Whether that’s good or bad? Well, only you can weigh the importance of that.

The Best of Intentions

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

bride wolfing cake

I can’t believe it is May. The first five months of 2013 have certainly crept up on me, along with (much to my horror) a few extra pounds. Stealthily, one by one, the calendar pages for January, February, March, April and May presented themselves as did pizza, beer, wings, nachos and blueberry scones. And this is a problem because I am getting married in two months. Naturally, I’ve wanted to be a beautiful bride… a glowing picture of health in a stylish strapless dress to showcase an upper body that would make Michelle Obama proud (if not jealous).

But alas, I’ve done nothing to accomplish my goal of slimming down. I can still remember stating my intentions to do ALL that I could to look killer for my wedding like it was yesterday… I was sitting at my cousin’s dining table on Christmas night, surrounded by family and slamming cheese cubes, chips and various chocolate-covered bits of deliciousness as I talked (with my mouth full no doubt) about how this was my LAST binge before I started being REALLY careful and intentional about my diet.

Obviously, that plan crashed and burned along with my aspirations to be a size 2 again by summer. A friend took me shopping for wedding dresses mid-January and I refused to try anything on, claiming that it was futile since I would have a completely different body by June. Then February came… and went, as did March and April. With the turning of each calendar page, I would feel the squeeze a little bit more. My time to do something about this is rapidly shrinking. And unfortunately, it is the ONLY thing that has shrunk.

I’ve never lost weight or gotten in shape on a deadline before. I seem to remember reading something that said it wasn’t very effective to try and lose weight for your wedding because the stress of planning along with the attempt to be trim and sexier could potentially backfire. No $#it. My ears are still ringing from the sound of it backfiring on me. Or is that the sound of my button popping off and shattering the window?

I have been stressed. Not because of planning of the wedding actually, but for different reasons altogether. And I’ve learned that I am a stress eater. When I am happy and feeling at ease, I tend to make good choices and slim down. Conversely, when I am stressed and experiencing difficulty or uncertainty, I am lazy and eat bad food.

I wanted so badly to be able to look at the photos from our wedding 20 years from now and think: “WOW! Was I a knockout or what!?!” But then last week it hit me. Twenty years from now I’ll be 58… and no matter what I look like THEN or whether I was a size 2 or a size 8 on the big day… I’ll STILL be wishing I was 38 again. I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never get 38 back. So I ought to enjoy it as I am TODAY. I should probably stop worrying about some idea I conjured of perfection (in a Christmas-chocolaty state of bliss and denial, no less) and buy a dress that flatters the softer, slightly-rounder me and just enjoy the ride. Or in this case… the walk. Down the aisle… toward my future.

No Fat, No Carbs… No Thanks.

Like a desperate hunter setting out into the wild in search of food, I left the office desperately starving and in search of something tasty and filling. I WANTED a cheddar-roast beef sandwich from Arby’s… greasy and dripping with red ranch sauce. But there was a big deadline on Friday’s horizon and a Smoothie King just across the street from the office, so I decided to give that a try instead.

When I walked in the door I was immediately assaulted by an overwhelmingly giant and colorful menu boasting all kinds of things I could not pronounce, let alone grasp what dietary need they would fulfill. A bright-faced boy looking like he couldn’t possibly be a day over 13 leaned across the counter—beaming at me—and enthusiastically asked what I wanted. I cringed. I had no freaking idea what I wanted.

I suppose I wanted something that tasted good above ALL else and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce. But I couldn’t tell Mr. 12-year old, fresh-faced-health-food peddler that. So instead I asked for his recommendation… Which was, indeed, a colossal mistake.

Here is what he SAID: “Well, the ‘Lean One’ is great because it has protein so it helps keep you full, trims the waistline and contains no fat or carbs.”

But here is what I HEARD: “You are fat.”

Here is what I SAID: “Is it going to taste like a diet drink or like an actual fruit smoothie?”

But here is what I THOUGHT about saying as I envisioned myself wagging my index finger in his face and then proceeding to draw an imaginary circle in the air around my mid-section: “You think I am FAT!?! Listen here, String Bean, I may weigh more than you do on your heaviest day, and I certainly won’t be doing any runway modeling, ever… but I am a HEALTHY weight! You don’t know what’s under here. This is a baggy top. I might have a six-pack under here for all you know!”  (I don’t. But he doesn’t KNOW that.)

So now I am stuck. I’ve asked this zygote’s opinion and he’s pointed out that I am fat and in need of some nutritional intervention so out of sheer shame and compliance I ordered the stupid “Lean One” and hoped for the best.

When he triumphantly handed over the cup, certain that he had done a tremendous service in saving me from myself that day, I noticed that the CUP read: “The Lean One enhances fat loss, promotes lean muscle, helps suppress appetite and promotes a healthy heart.”

Now, I’m sure these features and benefits are important to many, many people. But as earlier stated in this entry… I wanted something that tasted good ABOVE ALL ELSE—nutritional value be damned—and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce.

So here is what I THOUGHT as I shuffled out of the store in my baggy top, bitterly sipping my sad little smoothie that definitely seemed like it cut ALL of the culinary corners when it came to taste: “If this doesn’t satisfy me, I’m scarfing down a bag of Doritos. I knew I should have gone to Arby’s.”

Room for Living

Once upon a time—8 years ago to be exact—I lost about 35 pounds through diet and exercise, landing me at a svelte 100 lbs. Certain I would never again see those 35 pounds, I got rid of ALL of my larger clothes… every last stitch of them. My closet was full of nothing but tiny things to fit my newfound frame.

Fast forward three years… enter a job loss resulting in crushing depression and an inability to keep paying my $55 monthly gym membership… and the 35 pounds came back with a vengeance. When those unwanted pounds returned they brought about 35 more of their friends along for the party. I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life. And having little money from my minimum wage, substitute job — buying clothes to fit my new fat @$$ was a challenge.

But I had no choice. The job required me to look professional so I had to have a new wardrobe. Little by little and piece by piece I bought back some key items in the larger sizes, but vowed I would get back into those smaller ones as soon as I regained my sanity and sense of self-worth.

Fast-forward another three years toward a satisfying new job in my career field, a supportive, wonderful family and the love of an amazing man and I lost 50 of those pounds again. I’m still not that teensy 100 lbs. but I am healthy for my age and height and I feel amazing by comparison.

For two years I have managed to keep it off. Well, most of it anyway… Save for a few of what I like to call the “fun” pounds. The fun pounds are the little cushion (pardon the pun) that I have decided to give myself without beating myself up or feeling like a failure. As long as I stay within that pre-determined range, I’m OK.

For what exactly are the fun pounds allocated? They are set aside for an 8-day trip up the New England coast where one may choose to eat lobster drenched in drawn butter, varieties of other deep-fried gifts of the sea, maple confections and saltwater taffy every… single… day. They are for summertime ballpark beers, festival food and autumn tailgating fare. They are for fun-size Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham.

Fortunately, this time I did not throw away my larger clothes. Not because I have any intention of going back to Supersized Me, but because Life does happen. The fun happens as well as the stressfulness or unpredictability of everyday life. The curveballs you get thrown so then the ice cream tastes particularly good, the nights you end up working late and pizza is an easy fix or the injuries and illnesses that can wreak havoc on your daily discipline.

And it’s good to know that if the “fun” pounds come back and pay me a brief visit, I don’t have to squeeze into that smaller size and feel like I’m going to rupture my spleen or pop a rogue button. I can slip on my jeans that have a little grace in them… a little forgiveness in the waist, butt and thighs… and I can feel like I actually have some room for living.

Supernormal?

I am not this woman. Nor will I ever be. I could torture myself for not having her 5’11’’ willowy frame or for the daylight that cannot be seen streaming between my thighs when I walk. I could curse my reflection for a lack of sinewy arms and a concave stomach. I could beat myself bloody for the dewy, pore-less skin and silky, disgustingly thick hair that I’ll never have. I could pout endlessly that I am not a supermodel…

OR…

I could accept that I was born a normal girl to a normal middle-class family in the middle of normal America. It was not my lot in life to strut down catwalks in the latest fashions, party like a rock star drinking champagne until 3 a.m. and sleep past noon for that necessary “beauty rest.” Personal trainers, chefs, estheticians, dieticians and all kinds of other “ticians” are not at my beckon call.

It was my lot in life to go to college, get an 8 to 5 job, slurp my coffee from a travel mug given to me by the bank when I opened my meager account, grab Subway on the go for my “power lunch” and watch episodes of The Office while folding laundry in my modest 2 bed/2 bath house. This was my lot… just like the other 90% of America. OK, I don’t honestly know the actual statistics. But there is some kind of ridiculous majority out there living exactly like I do.

Our idea of a good time is tailgating before watching a baseball or football game and eating pizza and drinking beer with our equally normal friends after its over. If we’re fortunate, the occasional tropical, exotic or adventurous escape is something to enjoy and forever cherish… all the while knowing—as we sit at that charming café or under that umbrella at the beach—that this is, in fact, NOT OUR REALITY. Our reality is lurking just around the corner… waiting to kick our ass upon our immediate return.

But it’s not all bad. I get to exist on more than egg whites and sugar free Red Bull for a daily diet. There is no punishment or excommunication for gaining 5 pounds while on vacation and not taking it off for another 6 months. There is no paparazzi camped outside my home waiting to snap a picture of my all-of-the-sudden-suspiciously-fat butt or catch me in some compromising situation. And no one looks at me cross-eyed for sporting last year’s trends.

I don’t know why we as women are so hard on ourselves for not looking like we stepped from between the pages of Vogue. No one asks us to. No one expects us to. We do it to ourselves. Maybe some of us do it to each other. But really… It is NOT our job. Our job is just to be “normal” so that they can be “super” — and what in the world could be wrong with that?

Now… would I trade places with her if given the chance by my fairy godmother? Probably. But until then… I’ll just get the towels out of the dryer and reach for another slice of pizza… and the remote.

"Normal" me... in a "normal" seat... at a "normal" Red Sox game.