I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years on the Fourth of July. It was hot and humid here. My sweaty hair was stuck to my face. My brave little boy was in my big yellow double running stroller, the strap tied a bit too tightly around my arm, digging in.
My oldest son was running behind me with my husband. I was surrounded by an amazing group of people representing the church we attend, showing love for our community by passing out a few thousand popsicles in the parade.
My face was flushed from the heat and exertion of running to keep up while pushing a nearly 100-pound load and simultaneously handing out popsicles with one hand while steering the stroller with the other. I handed this person a popsicle, smiled, and offered a short, but enthusiastic “Hey there!” As I turned away from them to continue, I heard ever-so-faintly “she put on a lot of weight.”
I felt my face flame up with embarrassment. My pulse quickened like it would if there was an impending physical attack. I was stunned for about a half-second before I realized there was no time to dwell on it. I had to keep moving and stay with my group even though I wanted to know so badly if there was going to be more to this conversation about me.
I sat with it for two days. I didn’t say a word to anyone about it, not even my husband, because I was embarrassed. Because I felt ashamed. Because most of all, they were right. I mean, yes, they were right. But in those short few seconds they saw me, they didn’t really see me. They chose to see just one thing: My weight. Not me. They only saw my weight.
I wanted to go back and tell them. All the things they didn’t see, that is. All the things they couldn’t even begin to understand. All the things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. All the things I have overcome to be here today, standing happily in front of them and offering them a popsicle. All the times I almost didn’t make it. All the ways I have struggled and failed and got back up again anyway, refusing to let that be the way it ended.
So, yes. Yes, I have gained weight. And it would be so easy to make excuses and offer justifications. This is what insomnia can do to you. This is what it looks like when you watch your heart and soul — your child — suffer from unimaginable pain. This is what long-term chronic stress and worry looks like. This is what someone who has been on the edge one too many times looks like.
But it wouldn’t be the whole truth.
The whole truth is that I have done this to myself. That’s the whole and embarrassing and painful truth. I have struggled, and I have done the very best I could over the years — and this is where I have found myself. I have tried and tried and tried. I really have. And when all else has failed, when I have prayed and run, and wrote and read, when I have cried and screamed and still felt the world spinning out of control in front of me, I have turned to food for comfort. And just because I have put on this weight does not make me any less of a person. It does not mean I am not worthy, not interesting, or not important.
I wanted to go back and tell them more — like how I just ran 100 miles two weeks ago, for the third time. And while some would attempt to diminish these accomplishments because I was not “fast,” I stand proud knowing the truth of the matter. It takes a level of endurance and grit I never knew I had to run for a day and a half straight. It takes a hardened will, a determination to go forth despite the burning pain, the deep ache that settles in all of your bones, the beaten-down body, and the discouraged mind. It takes dedication and passion. It’s all about heart. It’s a feat of strength, not just physically but mentally too. And just because I have put on this weight does not mean I am weak, out of shape, or unhealthy.
I wanted to tell them all of this and more. I wanted to make them see how much more I am than someone who has put on weight. But the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Why does it matter? Why do I care what these people think of me? Why do I look at myself in the mirror more critically after a mindless comment someone made by the side of the road? Why do we let people do this to us? Who is anyone to judge you or me that way? Why do we dismiss a compliment so easily but let an insult stick to our ribs?
So I came to a realization, and it is that I need to be a better friend — to myself. The next time I look at myself in the mirror before I leave, I will not throw in a biting comment about how I look. The next time I am discouraged because I cannot zip up my favorite pair of jeans, I will not berate myself.
The next time I hear a less-than-flattering comment about myself, I will not let it take root in me. I will not give it the satisfaction. I will dismiss it the way it should be. I will love myself more. I will look at myself the way a friend would. If I would not say it to a friend, I will not say it to myself. I will cut myself some slack and acknowledge that I really have done the best that I could. I will believe my own words. I will know that I have not failed anyone and that I am not a failure myself.
I will honestly and truly treat myself like a friend would. That’s what I want for you too. I want you to see yourself for how amazing you are. I want you to see that it does not matter if you are a few pounds heavier than you want to be. It does not make you any less beautiful. What makes you beautiful is you. Who you are. Not some arbitrary number. Not the way your critics may see you, but the way the ones who love you see you. What an amazing thing that would be — to finally see ourselves the way our loved ones do. The way we should be seen. That is the hope. That is the goal.