This Is 300 Lbs.: We Are More Than A Number On The Scale

This Is 300 Lbs.: We Are More Than A Number On The Scale

Brynn Burger

I am baffled by how many comments I get from readers who applaud me for my vulnerability on this blog. It is funny, in part, because I wouldn’t describe myself as vulnerable at all. To me, vulnerability suggests the ability to allow people to see your emotional parts — you know, like when we ugly cry on the bathroom floor so no one else in the house will ever know it happened? Girl, I hide that kind of thing like I’m smuggling something through customs.

Being accused of allowing myself to be vulnerable seems foreign to me. I would simply describe myself as honest — sometimes painfully so. It comes naturally to me to tell the truth, which seems virtuous until you tell someone something they didn’t want to hear or when you describe something that happened to you, assuming “it happens to everybody” only to realize that your worst nightmare is true: It’s just you. Telling the truth indeed has set me free from a lot of things that have otherwise been overwhelmingly unbearable.

Raising an extreme child is painfully isolating until you start letting people into your real life. It is messy and they don’t have to understand it, but being honest can allow them the opportunity to try. Downsizing and going tiny gets us a lot of strange looks, judgments, and unsolicited opinions on how we should be living our lives, but allowing people to see our day-to-day has turned skeptics into believers, or at least “agree-to-disagree-ers.”

But this — this part into which I am about to venture with you — is like the deepest, darkest, most cobwebby painfully vulnerable part of my life. This isn’t something that seems easy or natural. In fact, quite the opposite! However, if I have learned anything in 35 years of crazy hilarious and awkward living, it is that when God puts something on my heart, his purpose is bigger than my doubts or fears or concerns so I need to just suck it up and follow through. He will work out the details, and I will live through it.

So, buckle up ladies (and guys whose wives asked you to power through reading this because she felt something when she read it and hopes you will empathize and see her in my words — hint, hint).

This is 300.

I haven’t always been the size I am now. Currently, according to the the scale in my aunt and uncle’s bathroom,  I am EE — which I assume is an acronym for Extremely Eloquent. Nailed it!

I weigh 300 pounds — 304.1 to be completely accurate.

It is important to note that I have been fighting the urge to write this post for weeks because of my own insecurities. It seems contradictory (read: painfully hypocritical) since I remind my high school students all the time how important it is to be proud of yourself at every stage and to own your insecurities. I explain how much my husband loves me and how powerful my body is for having brought two children into the world.

All of that is true. I believe every word. However, I had to bring myself to the realization that hiding behind layers of jokes and not owning that number; not being my true, authentic self — regardless of what the scale said — wasn’t going to make me any less overweight. Let me be clear: I don’t want anyone to pity me any more than I want someone to judge me, but maybe being honest — that to-the-core, makes-you-want-to-barf-a-little level of truthful — will help someone else.

People need to put a face on obesity. We need to be responsible enough to educate ourselves and our children so they can understand and begin to be sensitive to people’s struggles. We teach this with racism, sexism, and even poverty-sensitivity, but somehow it is still acceptable to gawk and stare at a person who is overweight eating at a restaurant like they are some circus sideshow. Maybe if my story can be heard, people can begin to see that we aren’t monsters. In truth, many people who struggle with their weight are sufferers of disease or survivors of abuse and their weight is merely a symptom — a side effect of what they have been through.

This is 300.

Brynn Burger

It should be noted that, while I am using my number so that I can begin to own it, many who echo my feelings are much smaller. Every person’s prison looks different.

My weight gain started in about fourth grade, but back then — before the instant spread of information — it was much easier to be blissfully unaware of your shortcomings because someone needed to be looking you in the face to make fun of you. I had no idea I looked any different from my friends until two years later, in sixth grade, when I found out a boy in my class was paid in a bet to ask me to be his girlfriend and then give me a pack of SlimFast as a Valentine’s gift…in the hallway…in front of all of my friends. Yeah, not one of my finer moments. (Sorry, if I never told you that, Mom.)

To be honest, it wasn’t really the end of the world for me. I have never been like most girls who fawned after boys and wanted to be trendy. While I totally rocked the curled forward/curled back and feathered bangs of the ’90s, Guess jeans (which were from Goodwill and I eventually tore the business end out of during gym class), and silk shirts (mine were short-sleeved and from the men’s department)… You know, now I don’t know where I was going with this because, reading it back, it seems clear I should have known how different I looked! Hilarious. Either way, I didn’t do makeup and boyfriends, Barbies, or dress-up. I did goals and involvement, jobs and volunteering. (Seriously, how did I manage to have friends!?)

It occurred to me later in life that I must have had some level of awareness that I wasn’t physically acceptable when I recalled a time in the fifth grade when I wrote a fan letter to my ’90s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas (don’t act like you didn’t buy his issue of Teen Beat) and I asked my beautiful, cheerleading best friend to send her picture in place of my own. I must have known that I had no chance to hear back from him with a picture of myself in the letter.

Fast-forward through high school and college where I tried billions of diets, fad meal plans, pills, drinks, meetings, calorie counting, and starvation (I’ll pause for those who know me to laugh at this one because I am next-level mean when I’m hungry so they are picturing how that must have gone). None of it worked. Shocking, I know.

The crazy thing is that, like most of you, when I look back at the pictures from those formative years now, I would pay good money to look like I did back then. But at the time, I wanted to crawl in a hole in most social settings because I felt like the biggest cow in the room. I put on a super-believable front of confidence and hilarity, but it was painfully isolating to feel that way about myself. I hid behind books, jobs, sports, and layers of clothing — because obviously a tank top and three T-shirts convinced people that I was only wearing that fat suit from The Nutty Professor instead of it being my real body under there.

Somehow I got along by being the “guys’ girl.” I played football with the boys, was a soccer goalie in college, and was usually one of the first picked for intramurals because I wasn’t afraid to get dirty or hurt, but I really just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. How could I have fit in while simultaneously feeling like I was watching it all from the outside?

I killed it in the gym before getting married and walked down the aisle, slaying it if I do say so myself, at a solid 175 pounds. Anyone who was there would have been shocked by that number, but guess what? Americans are idiots. We are so insanely naive to what real numbers look like spread across bones and muscle that we all assume 175 is the size of a grown man. Not always, my friends. I terrifyingly rocked a bikini on our honeymoon at 175 and would do it again in a hot minute if I still looked like that!

Brynn Burger

I packed on 50 pounds in our first year of marriage because, well, marriage. I gained 80 more pounds with my first pregnancy since, as a lifetime overeater, this was a license to eat donuts for every breakfast and wear stretch pants to work because no one could say anything to me. Herein lies my greatest regret in life. No kidding.

The bounce-back from post-wedding weight and two near-death childbirths hasn’t been the rebuilding year(s) I thought they’d be. I mean, how long is it acceptable to wear maternity clothes after your baby is born, really? Like, will anybody really notice if I rock a nursing bra to my daughter’s graduation…from college?

This is 300.

What most people fail to recognize is that, when you are overweight, you have to think about things differently every single day. It isn’t only the obvious considerations like seatbelt extenders on airplanes or a van over a compact car. Please understand what we see when we look at the world.

When we were deciding to downsize our living arrangements and go tiny, I was nervous because of my size. Could I navigate a ladder if we had a loft bedroom? Would I have to turn sideways in the hallways because Shakira was dead-on when she sang these hips don’t lie? Would I even fit inside the shower or on the toilet? Turns out, it is perfectly fine. It is certainly noticeable, but we make it work.

In a movie theater, music venue, or restaurant, I have to consider how wide the arms of the chairs are because slamming my hips into them is like pouring Play-Doh into one of those spaghetti-making factories, if they have plastic seats because those babies don’t stand a chance, or if they have tables instead of booths because those suckers were made for infants. I refuse to eat at buffets because, even though my large frame usually consumes small meals at a time, I feel like I am on display. It is as if I am loading my plate at a feeding trough and all of the average-sized patrons are watching and snickering to themselves about me getting seconds, failing to notice the first plate had only a small salad and vegetables.

This is 300.

At home, in our tiny bathroom, the floor is riddled with small flecks of white surrounding the teal rug — the remnants of baby powder to ensure that everything moves smoothly throughout the day, because without it, the chaffing that can happen behind the scenes is horribly painful. My husband asked me the other night if I somehow had gotten deodorant on my pants. I lied. Baby powder.

This is 300.

More fit people look at me when we are at the park with our kids, and to me, their glances feel like the weight of 1,000 pounds of judgment. Why isn’t she jogging instead of walking? Why did she wear a tank top in public? Why is she pouring her dumps over that bike seat so we have to all look at it? While their stares may be innocent, I feel the shame of a guilty verdict.

To say that my body is a prison would be a gross understatement. The analogy does no justice to my daily life because prisoners, even those doing time for crimes they didn’t commit, have no freedoms and little idea of the world outside. I am forced to watch it pass by while my mind tells me I should be able to do, run, go, play, but my aching joints, bruised ego, and post-baby belly flap suggest otherwise. If you haven’t lived this life sentence, please accept that you cannot possibly understand what we are going through. And we wouldn’t want you to feel this. It is painful — all the time.

This is 300.

When weight-loss success stories begin with their rock bottom moments like when their kid told them their friends called their mommy fat, or when they were made fun of in public, or when the scale would no longer register their weight, I smile. Good for you! Inside I somehow accept that I can never accomplish what they have. On some level, I wonder if I self-sabotage because I feel like I don’t deserve to be successful. I have gone through every one of those scenarios — most more than once, but here I am.

To those of us who need to loose 100 pounds or more, it seems unachievable. Let’s be real. That is the size of a person. “Set small, attainable goals. Exercise. Take in less calories than you are burning.”

“You don’t say! Well, that is brand new information! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

If you are fit, or even one of those blessed with a unicorn metabolism that burns off your daily Taco Bell fourth meal so you still make it into your size nothing skinny jeans, I applaud you. But I don’t understand your life. I can smell your burrito and wake up 4 pounds heavier for it.

This is 300.

I hate shopping. No, seriously. It is the worst. I have always hated it because 10 years ago, when I was 175, it was even less acceptable for females to be larger so my size 10–14 may as well have had to be special ordered Big and Tall catalog items. I wore a small or medium back then, but folks still pictured a woman nearing 200 as some type of reincarnated Sasquatch.

Now, at 300 pounds, I shop exclusively online and happily pay the fee to return my unwanted items through the mail instead of awkwardly finagling my way around a fitting room only to leave disappointed, feeling even worse about myself.

To the precious women of Victoria’s Secret, it isn’t great when I walk in and you look me over and instantly assume I am buying a gift or direct my sizable self to the lotions and fragrances. I notice. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the stores who advertise their plus-sized clothing on hungry models who look likely to blow away with a swift wind. “Um, thanks Monica, but I won’t look like you do in your high-low top and skinnies on page 28.” If I wear a shirt that is shorter in the front than the back and my lower half has been slammed into skinny anything, I will look like a honey-baked ham on top of two smoked sausages. If everything has been suctioned from south to north into denim tubes, it all must overflow somewhere.

It kills me that stores have started changing their sizing from 14/16, 18/20, 22/24, and 26/28 to 1, 2, 3, and 4. While I appreciate your attempt at sensitivity, I know if there are any single digits on my clothing tags, they had better be followed by an X. Get serious! Nobody believes this shirt is a size TWO! And the day my pants are a size anything below a 16, that long, narrow sizing sticker is staying on this leg, honey! All. Day.

“Ma’am, did you know your tag is still on your pants?”

“Why yes, innocent bystander at Starbucks. What is that number? Read it out loud. Tell your friends!”

The hilarious quote from Mean Girls — “Sweatpants are all that fit me right now” — isn’t as funny when its true.

When you are larger, it is difficult to feel like you look good in anything. It is laughable to watch movies whose leading ladies come out after a night of bad decisions in their man’s sweatshirt or — my personal fav — button-down dress shirt. Pardon me while I contain my laughter. I don’t own anything button-down because that is a big person’s clothing oxymoron. Those won’t button! At best, I can get the one under my boobs buttoned, but then it just looks like it could give way at any moment and be a threat to any life within 40 feet. My husband is a solid medium on a big day and nothing but muscle. If I wore his shirt, it would look like I just robbed a Baby Gap!

This is 300.

Many of us have been told our entire lives that we are different, gross, or wrong. So when the kindness of a well-intentioned friend or husband pays us a compliment, our sensitive minds distort it into some kind of backhanded joke or slight about our looks.

Just because we had a grandpa who made crass comments about our size or a boy in grade school who bought us SlimFast as a prank, doesn’t mean the world sees us that way. Some do, but that is our reality. They are obviously inept. We are people. We have feelings, and families, and hopes for the future.

Just as smaller people should learn to walk a mile (okay, like a block) in our Sketchers Shape-Ups, we need to learn to let it go! Laugh so you don’t cry, call it what you want, but loosen up! Odds are you won’t wake up tomorrow miraculously killing it in a supermodel frame so we need to embrace it and decide where to go from here. But let’s at least agree to enjoy the journey…even the bumpy, cellulite-filled parts.

But seriously, skinny people. Please, for the love of all things holy and good, stop telling us, “Oh, you have such a pretty face,” or “You’re not that big.” Newsflash: We know what you mean. That’s like saying we are the skinniest kid at fat camp. Just save yourself the embarrassment and bury that deep down inside.

This is 300.

Unlike other addictions, we need food to survive. The reality is — our reality­ is that we know our bodies shouldn’t run on a steady stream of cream-filled coffee, donuts from the office, and the Taco Bell Happier Hour dollar burrito we bought on our way home from work and trashed the bag so our family members didn’t know we ate it. We have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else.

“Oooh, that girl is wearing one of those step counting watches! She’s probably on her way to eat kale and run at the park in some trendy yoga pants and one of those tank tops with the built-in bra!”

Folks, my Fitbit ain’t fooling anybody! I bought that burrito and ate it like a boss! What even is kale, other than the name of a kid who I imagine has friends with other pretentious names like Heath and Talon? And I don’t even attempt Spanx, much less spandex yoga pants where other humans could see. Those shelf bras!? Ha! They hold up nothing and just spread over my back fat so I look like I am smuggling a pack of sausages.

This is 300.

Brynn Burger

It is up to us how we move forward from here. Some of us will continue to wallow in our self-pity. Some may choose surgery, starvation, or a reality show that works you out 12 hours a day to trick real people into feeling like that is attainable. (You know, those of us watching enviously as we devour an entire bag of chips and imagine what our life would be like if we lost our excess weight.) Many of us will continue to struggle. This is a lifetime sentence, even if you are successful, because 20 years from now french fries will still be more delicious than carrots.

I still don’t know my choice. I don’t want to just see my kids grow up. I want to be a part of that. I want to climb and race and do the crazy things I used to be able to do when I thought I looked like a monster. I want to feel like my husband is proud to walk alongside me in public (he totally is, by the way, I just constantly worry about that) instead of feeling like 20 pounds of potatoes in a 10- pound bag. I want my family and his to be proud of their daughter and my kids to look up to me as a role model who lived what I said. I want to live free from the binding anxiety that people are constantly staring, judging, and assuming that I am excusing away my size.

I did this to myself. No matter how you slice it, this was a series of choices. And here I am, wondering how I get to where I want to be and only being certain of one thing: The road will be a long and painful one; one riddled with fear, doubt, and disappointment but also with joy, excitement, and victories.

While the endless stream of Pinterest images inspiring me with “A year from now, you will thank yourself for making the choice today,” and “When you feel like giving up, remember why you started” plays on a loop in my brain, I am still faced with where to go and how to get there.

What I am certain of is this: I am 300 pounds, and I have a face and a name. I am not a monster. I have made mistakes. My life is hard, but not impossible. My days can be happy or sad. Just like bananas over burritos, I have the power to choose. I just hope I can find joy when I make the right decisions, and when I don’t, that I remember how blessed I am to have a husband who supports me beyond what I even understand and that I never forget Whose I am. The number isn’t what we should fear. We should slap that puppy on a flag and walk it around the block. It isn’t the digits that make us feel the way we feel and letting people in won’t make us any smaller.

You aren’t alone. Just don’t be fooled into believing that confidence equals comfortable. Some of our masks are paper-thin and ready to break. Throw those suckers down and own it.

I am the real-life face of 300.