In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
I was a fourteen-year-old aspiring ballerina when my mother cautiously relayed my ballet instructor’s so-called constructive critique: “Lose two pounds, and you’ll be perfect.”
Lose two pounds and achieve perfection? Easy enough, I thought. I stepped on the scale and discovered I carried 109 pounds on my five-foot-seven frame. Until then, I’d had no idea what I weighed.
I became obsessed with calorie counting and consumed no breakfast, a ritualistic two-hundred-calorie lunch, and just enough dinner to avoid drawing attention to myself. Two weeks later the scale read ninety-eight pounds. Although I had no energy, my friends were jealous, and my instructors were clearly pleased.
“I said two pounds!” chided the teacher, pretending to scold me but beaming with pride.
My mother struggled with obesity throughout my childhood. I was thin and judged her harshly for being heavy. I would stand in a corner of a store’s dressing room while she contorted herself into a girdle that would hold in her stomach. I don’t know which was more unforgiving: the fluorescent lighting or my stare as she said, panting from the exertion, “I’ve got to lose some weight.”
When I was younger, my judgment was driven by embarrassment. As I grew older, it was driven more by fear: of her clogged arteries, her diabetes, the poor circulation in her legs — of her impending mortality.
What was she driven by? An unhappy marriage. An abundance of processed foods. Tragedies early in her life, of which I was unaware until much later. She often complained about physical problems but, to my eyes, did little to improve her situation. She would order the creamy pasta dishes when we went out to eat. She’d say, “I really need to walk more,” as she sat on the sofa with her magazines.
I suggested new foods for her to eat, old foods to give up, occasional walks. I gave her words of encouragement, then lashed out when my patience ran dry. Over time she had five stents inserted in her arteries, knee-replacement surgery, multiple falls, and eventually dementia.
My mother was weighed down by her body. Now, as I struggle to maintain a healthy weight in middle age, I am weighed down by my shame.
Los Angeles, California
I’m thinner than most people, and rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t comment on my size. My coworkers call me “Skinny Minnie” or “Bird Legs” and make comments about how little I eat as they take another doughnut. I feign laughter, knowing it is somehow acceptable to make vicious remarks about thin people’s bodies if you disguise them as compliments.
As a toddler I lived in an orphanage in South Korea and didn’t know when I’d get my next meal. After I was adopted by an American family, I would go around the table at the end of dinners and finish the leftovers on everyone’s plates.
My body has stayed more or less the same since childhood. I don’t monitor what I eat or try to lose weight, but I do have irritable bowel syndrome, which limits the nutrients my body absorbs and makes a lot of foods difficult to digest. I struggle with a lack of appetite and worry about choking because I also have trouble swallowing. Sometimes it’s a challenge to eat enough calories to make it through the day. I’ve never explained this to the people who call me Skinny Minnie.
When a large person is commenting on my weight, I often want to say, “Hey, Fatty Patty, let’s get lunch.”
When my mother took my brother and me to shop for new clothes at Sears in the 1970s, I’d have to look in the “husky” section, whereas my brother needed “slim.” He’d eye my belly in the fitting room and hiss, too quiet for our mother to hear, “Fatso.” When he called me “pig” at home, my reaction was to reach for a bottle of soda and a package of cookies. When kids at school bullied me, I’d slink off and find a quiet spot in the shade to sulk.
Something shifted for me in early adolescence — hormones, maybe, or perhaps I just had a moment of clarity. Sitting on the sofa eating seven doughnuts during an episode of Dallas, I was hit with a stomachache that was ephemeral and a feeling of shame from which I haven’t yet recovered.
I began exercising the next day, and eating smaller portions. By the time I entered high school, I was six foot seven and weighed 140 pounds. Still, I believed I was overweight. I learned to loathe food but feigned interest in it so my parents would leave me alone. It seemed not to have occurred to anyone in the early 1980s, when singer Karen Carpenter was the public face of anorexia, that young men might suffer from eating disorders, too. Even my doctor never said a word about it.
After some health scares, I finally figured out how to maintain a healthy weight. To this day I monitor it carefully. I need a scale to tell me I’m not overweight because I can’t trust my own judgment. I still see my adolescent self every time I look in the mirror.
Last week I broke my wrist in a cycling accident. I haven’t taken a day off from the gym in months, but now it might be half a year before I can weight train again. Housebound and with extra time on my hands, I pore through old childhood photos and come across some from before my weight loss. I had a little belly, and my cheeks were round, but I wasn’t fat.
Annandale, New Jersey
It’s hard for me to take seriously the vet’s complaint that my ten-year-old dog is too fat — until I have to lift all seventy-five pounds of her into an SUV. I can feel my back begin to give out. I’ll be seeing the chiropractor soon.
It’s not her fault. She’s a “stocky” breed. She likes food even more than I do. Still, the weight chart at the vet’s office fills me with guilt.
My dog had surgery on a knee last year, and now she needs surgery on another. The extra weight doesn’t help. While she heals, she’ll gain even more weight because she’ll be exercising less. I’ll be exercising less, too, and eating more, out of frustration. I’ll eat a cookie; she’ll limp up to me, and I’ll reach into the box for another Milk-Bone.
Now we stand beside the open car door before another vet appointment. She looks at the seat above her head and doesn’t even try to jump in. I grab her around the middle and lift with all my strength. Finally she’s in.
Years ago, when my husband was still alive, he and I had another large dog with bad knees. He floated her into the seat as if she were a Chihuahua. I don’t have his strength, but since he died, I have learned to do a lot of things I didn’t think I could.
Sue Fagalde Lick
South Beach, Oregon
I was having a hard time getting pregnant when my OB-GYN suggested I lose some weight. Heartbroken, I thought, Here it is again, the presumed root of all my problems: my two-hundred-pound body.
I lost twenty pounds and eventually did get pregnant, reveling in how my stomach protruded and my breasts swelled. Giving birth and breastfeeding my son were two of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had.
When my second son came along, I looked forward to cultivating that same sense of empowerment, but this time, due to medical complications, I was unable to breast-feed. Frustrated with my body (I was 220 pounds), I tried something new: I started weight training at a woman-owned, woman-focused gym.
It felt great to keep track of the inches I lost, but I soon realized that my weight fixation was preventing me from having a positive relationship with my body. I began to combat the critical voice in my head and instead marveled at what my body could do. I loved the sexy feeling of being sore from a tough workout.
The weight inevitably came back, but by this point, it didn’t hold the same power as before. In fact, as an obese athlete, I now have other numbers that better reflect my physical and emotional well-being.
The number of 5Ks I’ve run: one.
The number of female coworkers who do lunch workouts with me, all of us chipping in to bring a personal trainer to our workplace: twelve.
The number of 10Ks I’ve run: two.
The number of personal trainers I’ve worked with since my younger son was born in 2015: three.
The number of half marathons I’ve completed: one.
I would add one more number, but I long ago lost count of how many times I ignored the critical voice telling me I couldn’t do one more rep, one more mile.
Union City, California
“Weight?” asks the man sitting behind a plastic folding table piled with forms. He has a square jaw, a buzz cut, and a face as expressionless as a fence post. The name tag on his camouflage shirt reads: BRAD. “It’s so we give you the right parachute, ma’am,” Brad says.
My boyfriend and I are in line for a skydiving course. No one who knows me would believe I’m doing this — I get vertigo on a playground swing — but I really want to impress this guy I’m with. So here I am. My plan is to get injured during the afternoon practice session so I’ll have an excuse not to jump.
Since my boyfriend is within earshot, I whisper my weight to Brad.
“What was that, ma’am?” His baritone voice is so crisp, he must press it along with his pants every morning. Everyone in line appears to be listening, so I give Brad a number that is ten pounds lighter than my actual weight.
He scribbles it on a form. “Next,” he says, looking past me.
As the training proceeds, my boyfriend and I watch hours of safety videos. We are informed of common problems that might occur when leaping from a plane: parachute failure, getting tangled in the static line before it pulls the rip cord, and so on. As I watch people plummet from the sky and break bones on landing, I ponder the virtues of honesty.
Later we practice landing by jumping off picnic tables. The tables are surprisingly tall. Over and over I leap off, bending my knees and flopping on my side. I manage to bruise my right side, but fail to injure myself. I scramble for a backup plan.
All day Brad repeats his mantra: “When everything is calibrated with precision, things seldom go wrong.” He seems to stare directly at me as he says this. “Problems are rare,” he says. (Then why are they called common problems? I want to ask.)
I try to catch Brad for a private conversation about my weight, but he is busy, and the right moment never arrives. My boyfriend thinks I have the hots for Brad because I’ve been staring at him.
I am hustled onto a plane with seven other people plus Brad, and I find myself 12,000 feet above the ground. Brad opens a door, and wind howls into the plane. I review my new plan: I will ask to go last, then chicken out. I will return to the ground the sane way and eat crow for dinner.
The other passengers go to the door one by one and step into the sky. Strangely, they smile before disappearing from view.
“All right,” Brad says to me and winks. I am the last person on the plane. “Good to go?”
I want to tell Brad about my lie, but the words catch in my throat. I stand on a strip of metal just wide enough for my feet. My hair whirls around my face, and I cling to the plane, surprised that I would rather risk death than admit I lied about my weight.
I close my eyes and step out.
Vernita Lea Ediger
Our sex life had begun to cool, so my lover and I planned an erotic weekend. I thought a break from our daily routine would help, but when we got to our destination, he seemed resentful. After a sexless night I told him I was disappointed. With the same hand that had often given me pleasure, he grabbed my belly and shook it, telling me how “repulsed” he was by my fat.
Though I was no heavier than when we’d first gotten together, I lost twenty pounds. It didn’t magically bring back the passion between us. He said I needed to lose more before he could become aroused. He said he would love my body when I loved it.
I was incredulous. How did he expect me to be happy with a body he shunned? His disapproval poisoned my confidence. Even though I knew better, I internalized his judgment, and it became a wedge between us.
Eventually I accepted that I would never be the person he desired, and I moved on to more-affirming relationships. I think about him sometimes and wonder if he ended up with a leaner woman. Even if he did, I doubt he stayed satisfied.
Fortunately I have learned to celebrate my body as it is: Healthy, round, plumpish. Womanly.
All my life I’ve climbed. When I was a kid and afraid of being hit by my father, I bailed out of the kitchen window of our apartment and climbed the drainpipe to the roof.
By adulthood I’d learned to rock climb — often with a partner on the other end of the rope that would catch me if I fell — but I still had trouble trusting anyone, so I chose climbs where the chance of my falling was unlikely.
One day my regular climbing partner, Julia, and I were exploring a local crag. She fell unexpectedly, and, as usual, my rope caught her. (We were tethered together for that reason.) She was shaken and bruised but otherwise OK.
That evening, as we talked over burgers and beers, Julia asked why I never fell. I asked her what it would be like to catch my 200 pounds when she barely tipped the scales at 110. Julia shrugged and looked away. I sensed she knew it wasn’t our respective weights so much as my mistrust of people. As a kid I’d vowed never to allow myself to be vulnerable. But I offered to test it out at the climbing gym.
In the gym Julia and I put on our harnesses and tethered a rope between us. As I climbed the wall, I clipped carabiners around my rope along the way: ten, twenty, thirty feet above her. I paused. I was supposed to let go on purpose, to free-fall through space and let her catch me. Julia gave an encouraging smile. She looked awfully small from all the way up here. My leg began to shake like a sewing-machine needle.
“This is bullshit!” I called down.
“Fletch, I’ve got you!”
A thin film of sweat greased my chalk-whitened knuckles. I closed my eyes and let go.
I fell backward about ten feet before the rope snapped taut. Julia was lifted several feet in the air, but she’d caught me. She was laughing hard. I couldn’t help but laugh, too — from gratitude. I was beginning to let go of a lifetime’s worth of mistrust.
I’ve never been happy with my size and don’t like seeing myself in photos. When I decided to live abroad for two years, however, my friends were always taking pictures. I thought I could live with this — until I saw a photo that completely dismayed me. A friend of a friend had posted it on Facebook. I looked like a dumpy old lady.
To make matters worse, I had feelings for a much younger man at the time. I had no illusion that this man would return my affection, but I did not want him to see me as a dumpy old lady. That photo startled me enough that I changed my eating habits. I even gave up my nightly beer. I walked enough to wear out my shoes. Another picture taken around that time highlights the wrinkles on my face. (Nothing much to be done about those.)
A year has passed, and I am still infatuated with this man, who I know will never see me as a love interest. I’m also still committed to becoming thinner. The family I’m living with is concerned about my weight loss. People in the community ask if I am ill and whether my hosts provide me with enough to eat.
My belt that buckled at the second hole when I arrived now buckles at the sixth.
I’ll go home in another year. Eventually this man will fade from my thoughts, but he will have had a profound effect on me.
© Edis Jurčys
I can still picture my mother at the front door. “Are you sure you don’t mind watching the girls?” she asked her much-younger boyfriend.
Bruce stood at the top of the stairs with my sister, Jenny, and me, ages four and seven, clasping our hands in his.
“I don’t mind one bit,” he said. “We’re going to have fun — aren’t we, girls?” He looked at us and winked. Then, with a curl of both his biceps, he lifted us until our legs dangled in midair and we laughed.
We did have fun. We danced to Beatles records and wrestled on the floor. Bruce tickled us until we were breathless, and then we cuddled on the couch while he read us stories. At last Jenny fell asleep against the arm of the sofa.
“I bet you’re tired, too,” Bruce said to me. “Why don’t you lie down on the other end of the couch.” He leaned over me and smoothed my hair.
Suddenly he was on top of me. “You’re so pretty,” he said, kissing my forehead and cheeks. “I love you so much.” Now he was kissing me on the mouth.
The weight of his torso forced the air from my lungs. “I can’t breathe,” I finally managed to say.
The next day I told my mother that Bruce had kissed me. On the lips, I said. She acted as if she hadn’t heard me. I have since wondered if those words were just too much for my mother to bear.
Bruce eventually shipped out to Vietnam and disappeared from our lives. For years afterward I had trouble distinguishing between abuse and love in my relationships with men. In the worst situations, I felt as if a heavy weight was pressing down on me, making it difficult to breathe.
One summer in college, I worked at an amusement park helping people on and off a small roller coaster. The ride’s safety equipment consisted of a seat belt and a bar that snapped down over riders’ laps.
With heavier riders, securing the safety bar could be a challenge; even the loosest setting pressed uncomfortably into some people’s thighs. Really large people simply couldn’t ride, and regardless of how tactfully I broke the news, it usually caused a scene. Some would plead with me to keep trying; others would yell obscenities or threaten to have me fired.
I had only thirty seconds to get one set of riders out and the next buckled in, and I was always on the lookout for large people. If a patron had trouble navigating the turnstile due to size, the worker stationed there announced a “Code 88” over the PA system, followed by the color of the patron’s shirt.
One busy afternoon a “Code 88 Brown” alerted me to an obese man on the platform. Though I’d warned him about the tight fit, he stuffed himself into the seat and egged us on as two, then three, of us struggled to lock the bar. When it clicked into place, the man howled in pain, but there was no time to investigate: a full train was waiting to pull up and unload.
The operator hit a button, the brake released, and, while that poor man continued to wail, we pushed the train out of the station. Then we high-fived each other for a job well done.
When Mr. Code 88 Brown arrived back at the station, he was still screaming. Our efforts to secure that safety bar had broken his leg.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
The story my mother told was that she had gained a hundred pounds when she was pregnant with me. She never lost that baby weight, and my father left her for another woman.
My mother was handsome nevertheless, with kind hazel eyes and a big, toothy smile. People found her enchanting. I would often come home to find someone on the sofa who would stay for hours just to talk with her.
Sometimes my mother looked at me with a pained expression. “Are you ashamed of me?” she’d whisper.
“No,” I’d always say. “I think you’re ashamed of yourself.”
Her question made me wonder if my judgment ever showed on my face. She did have a strange hump on her back and couldn’t walk to the mailbox without getting winded. She was quite the spectacle in a bathing suit. At the beach a young man once walked past us and said to his girlfriend, “Please don’t ever end up like that!”
After I had children of my own, I became obese, too.
“I’m glad that you’re so heavy,” my mother said, “because now you know how hard it is.”
I did. It was hard. I weighed 245 pounds when she died of meningitis on New Year’s Eve.
The day they told us she was a candidate for hospice, I’d climbed into her hospital bed and cried. “I love you, Mommy,” I said.
“I know you do,” she replied. “You just never loved me the way I wanted you to. You never thought I was beautiful.”
I’m often asked how I stay so fit. I never answer with the truth: That I work out obsessively for at least ninety minutes every morning, then bike to work and live on Diet Coke and Skittles until I get home at 8 PM. That’s when I allow myself salads, fish, air-popped popcorn, and crackers. If I have too much, I throw it up. Other days it’s just Twizzlers, a protein bar, and riesling. See, easy!
Instead I answer the question with a cocktail of lies: an active job (massage therapist), high metabolism, good genes, a love of exercise. Or if I’m feeling sassy, I say, “Gotta keep running from the voices in my head.”
My weight was always the one thing I could control. Is Mom’s boyfriend drunk and sulking around at home? Head to the gym. It’s safe there. Didn’t get accepted to a sorority? If you can’t be as rich or as pretty as they are, you can be skinnier. Worried about fitting in at that new job? Make sure you go to the gym before and after work in case you eat a big lunch with your new colleagues. Best friend die? At least you got your workout in that morning before they found his body.
I managed to keep my weight around a hundred pounds for twenty-five years. Once, when I didn’t monitor it closely enough around Halloween, I was stunned to discover at the doctor’s office I was 105. I took a pregnancy test that night to ensure the extra five pounds wasn’t a baby. Through lots of running and going to bed hungry, I was back down to ninety-seven by Christmas.
I lowered other things, too: my heart rate, bone density, muscle mass, estrogen levels, number of friends — and my overall happiness.
In exchange for controlling my weight, I ceded control of everything else to my eating disorder. Like any addiction, it always needed more to satisfy it: lose more weight, run more miles, throw up more food. I had a caring husband, a great job, and good friends — but my disorder was the most important relationship in my life. And then, after twenty-five years, I just couldn’t keep it up.
I checked myself into an inpatient recovery center last year. I’ve never been this happy or this scared. I now have curves in place of sharp angles. I get my period regularly. I have a butt! I keep a journal. I see a therapist and a nutritionist. I’ve gained so much. I have no idea how much I weigh.
Falls Church, Virginia
I joined the Peace Corps right after college and spent the next two years in the Republic of Moldova, a former part of the Soviet Union. I lived in Orchul Alb, a medium-sized village where homes had electricity but no running water. In the developed world we don’t think about how much water it takes to meet our needs, or how much that water weighs. We don’t understand the effort of hauling two full five-gallon buckets a quarter of a mile every day.
Rain, snow, ice — it didn’t matter. If I wanted to have tea, boil noodles, or wash my face, I had to carry those buckets. Even when I was sick, I still had to haul clean water to wash my hands.
I returned to the U.S. with a new appreciation for how hard it can be to live someplace else. In this country, where many take running water for granted, I’ve tried to remember my time abroad. I know others in the world are acutely aware of how much every drop weighs.
I used to be so skinny that my father said if I turned sideways when he was cutting the grass, he’d think I was a weed and mow me down. I was also often sick with colds and bouts of influenza. When I was six, my tonsils and adenoids were removed, and my health improved. I also gained weight. My mother took me shopping and was told I needed a size 6X.
From that day on, in my mind and in the opinions of my mother, my aunt, and my sisters, I was fat: “You have such a pretty face, but you’re too fat.” “She moves gracefully — for someone her size.”
My mother put me on diets, had my metabolism tested, and urged our family doctor to give me diet pills. I dressed in baggy clothes to hide my body.
One day my father drove me to school. Before I got out of the car, he pointed to a student approaching the building. “Do you see that girl?” he said. “She’s fat. You are not fat.”
But I still believed the others who said I was.
In my early fifties, after another failed relationship, I started to talk to my therapist about my weight.
“You’re not fat,” the therapist said.
I looked through old photographs and saw my therapist was right: I had never actually been fat.
Shortly before my mother died, one of the last things she said to my older sister was “Remember when you were skinny and Jackie was fat?”
“Yeah,” my sister said, looking smug.
“Well, now you’re both fat.”
Santa Cruz, California
Over the years I have tortured myself with food, gaining and losing hundreds of pounds and spending thousands on weight-loss schemes. More than once I joined Weight Watchers, where women line up like cattle to step onto the scale, smiling whether they have lost or gained. I tried Overeaters Anonymous, adopting a diet that forbade sugar, flour, and wheat. I logged every bite in a food diary until, after five years, I grew weary of such an ascetic life. I regained forty pounds, then eighty.
My war with food sent me to an inpatient unit in 2001. For three weeks I lived with binge eaters, bulimics, and anorexics. We carried our shame in different ways: in the flab at our ankles; in our bellies that jiggled as we walked; in our porous bones or the caverns of our cheeks.
Most of us had been abused or neglected, some raped or tortured. We cried in group sessions, and we wrote in our journals at night. We gathered over three paltry meals a day, and we prayed and repeated affirmations before bed. We danced with our eyes closed during body-image class. But three weeks of soul-searching did not stop me from bingeing. It did not spare me the degrading stares of people who watched me gain and gain. It did not bring me closer to making peace with my weight.
In 2003, at 251 pounds, I underwent gastric-bypass surgery, refashioning my stomach into a pouch the size of a shot glass. My weight loss was immediate.
Fifteen years later I have maintained a loss of one hundred pounds. I finally won the battle with my weight — by cutting open my body and forcing it into submission. It is an uneasy truce my stomach and I have forged, but the surgery liberated me from the obsession that had imprisoned me for my entire life.
Tricia E. Bratton
Standing in a crowd under the Eiffel Tower or in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, I surveyed the English-speaking tourists and furtively played “Find the Fat Person.” It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
But back in Toulouse, the city my wife and I temporarily called home, finding an overweight person among the locals could be a challenge. How was it, I wondered, that with a diet of pastries, cheese, wine, cassoulet, frites, and crème brûlée, the French remained so fit and trim? My fellow expats were full of explanations: They don’t eat processed food. They don’t snack between meals. They eat smaller portions.
Toward the end of my first year in Toulouse, I was surprised to find that my previously gut-hugging T-shirts now hung loose around my midsection. I was notching my belt one hole tighter. How could it be that, with no concerted effort, I was finally getting to my ideal weight?
When my wife and I moved back to the States, I was determined to maintain my new French physique. No fast food for me! Much to my dismay, however, I was soon latching my belt buckle back in its familiar, well-worn hole. I tried to suck in my gut, but any pretense evaporated after I posted a picture online from an outing with our grandson at the zoo. Underneath the photo of me, a friend from Toulouse commented, “You’ve been eating well!”
I dreaded elementary-school physicals. The school nurse would ask each student to step on the scale near the teacher’s desk, and then she would call out the number of pounds in a megaphone-loud voice.
Where I grew up in Texas, there was a chain of grocery stores called Piggly Wiggly. Since my last name was Higley, I was given the nickname Piggly Wiggly Higley. When it was my turn to weigh in, my classmates would whisper their guesses. My thighs would rub together as I shuffled to the front like a prisoner before a firing squad. A hush would fall over the classroom. As the nurse reported my weight, I longed for the Soviets to drop a nuclear bomb. The school alarm would sound, everyone would dive under their desks, and no one would hear how much I weighed.
To compensate for my appearance, I became a good student and teacher’s pet. Fortunately I had some friends who would come over after school to play. Invariably we would gravitate to the kitchen to snack on homemade cookies. My mother baked rich, delicious desserts and didn’t believe in portion control. I inherited her predisposition to obesity, just as my sister had inherited our father’s thin build. A neighborhood boy’s taunts might hurt my feelings, but I knew my mother would offer comforting words — and milk and cookies — when I walked into her kitchen.
I now exercise daily, teach indoor cycling classes, and have been told that I look great for my age. I never believe it, and I still get anxious when my weight goes above a certain number. No matter how thin I get, in my mind I will forever be Piggly Wiggly Higley.
When I was six, I weighed sixty pounds and was put on a diet. The goal was for me to stay at sixty pounds until I turned seven.
When I was thirteen, I weighed 135 pounds: the top of the “normal” range, according to the doctor. My goal was 130.
When I was nineteen, I restricted my food intake until I weighed 128 pounds, but I thought my thighs were still too fat. My goal was 120.
When I was twenty-five, I weighed 167 pounds and my boyfriend called me “zaftig.” But my goal was to weigh less than that. When we broke up, I weighed 192. I didn’t set a new goal for a long time.
When I was thirty-six, I weighed 240 pounds. On an online dating site I posted a picture of me from when I was dating the boyfriend who’d called me zaftig. I told myself that if I dressed in slimming clothes, I could look smaller in person. But the eyes of my first date told me that my tight black skirt wasn’t fooling anyone. My goal was to be zaftig again.
When I was thirty-seven, on the morning of my weight-loss surgery, I weighed 299 pounds. My doctor gave me a goal of 167.
Over the next ten years my weight rose and fell, but my goal was always the same: less.
When I was forty-seven, I began a recovery program for food addiction. I stopped gorging. I stopped restricting. I learned to accept my weight, whatever it was.
A friend of my mother’s looked at my younger sisters and me and said, “Such beautiful children! Except the oldest, poor thing. She has her father’s figure.”
My father is football-player big, and I inherited his genes; at sixteen I was almost six feet tall and weighed 183 pounds. My wrists are so thick I can’t wear a watch without adding extra links to the band, and my shoulders are so broad that I have to purchase shirts two sizes too big. My father and I are not fat; we have large muscles, strong bones, and thick torsos. I excelled in sports. I was the power hitter on my softball team and could easily spike a volleyball. I liked my prowess on a field or court but wanted to look like my sisters: graceful dancers with slim ankles and dainty necks.
Then, when I was nineteen, I was in a car wreck: the kind that maims for life; the kind with surgeries, wheelchairs, crutches, and bedpans. The doctor said I might not walk again. Nurses predicted my legs would have to be amputated.
What saved my legs were my strong bones, which, even shattered into pieces, eventually fused back together and held me up. My athletic training prepared me for physical therapy, allowing me to push past the pain and walk again. No one had thought it was possible. Those bones, those muscles, that solid frame of my father saw me through.