I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
This girl, the one on the left, she’s me. In the flesh, me. Five years ago, after three babies. Me.
This photo was snapped at the lake, two months before my 35th birthday. I was the smallest I’d been since I was 17. I went into J.Crew to buy khaki pants three weeks after this was taken and asked for a size 8. The kind associate told me she thought I was more like a 4. I said she was nice, but to bring an 8 anyway. And they fell down. I was 123 pounds, the thinnest I had been since I was 15.
And yet, I looked at this photo after it was taken and thought I looked fat.
Here’s the me you may recognize:
This photo was taken two months ago, four months after my 40th birthday, with my five kids. I’m the one who looks like the mother.
My weight went up and down over the years. Way up, like the “after” photo. Way down, like the “before” photo. It’s been kind of like a roller coaster, only way less fun. This is what happens when you’re at the Six Flags theme park of pregnancy: breastfeeding, nursing school, forced exercise, loathing exercise, loving exercise, and being compelled to exercise.
I attained the physique in the “after” photo after losing one sweet baby girl; after being married, divorced, married; after a half dozen moves; after a broken leg and a broken ankle; after catching a dozen babies not my own as a labor and delivery nurse; after ushering more than a dozen people into death as a hospice nurse.
The other body you see there, the body of “physical hotness,” I attained by eating a “plentiful” 1,000 calories a day; by running 35 miles a week (10 on Sunday); by sleeping an average of three hours a night; by counting every bit of food I ate, down to a single cherry tomato; by writing and tracking my weight every day for a year; by running the stairs of the hospital during my 12-hour shifts; by losing my period; by denying myself food when I was hungry; by denying myself sleep.
Are you confused?
Maybe you see where I’m going with this. I know that most will see this and say one of a few things. 1. Wow you looked HOT. What happened? 2. HOW did you get to weigh that much? 3. Wait, why do you look worse in the after picture? That’s not how this works.
Maybe a few of you will say I’m fat.
Maybe a few of you will say, “You look happy and healthy.”
I am both of those things.
I want to blow this stereotype right out of the water. Because it is bullshit. My being thin did not make me happy. My having a six-pack was, well, me having a six-pack. Being a size 4 made it infinitely easier to shop for clothes and presumably to look “better” in clothes, because let’s face it, clothes are mostly designed for people who are a size 4. Being a size 4 made strangers’ heads turn. Repeatedly. It made men in the grocery store hit on me and doctors at the hospital propose torrid affairs. It made me obsessive about every detail of my body, from my stretch-marked belly to the definition of my bicep.
It made me a lot of things.
It did not make me happy.
It made me obsessed with my workouts, with how much time I could fit in at the gym between taking care of three small kids and working 12-hour overnight shifts. It made me Google every food for its calorie content. It made me eat food I hated (rice cakes, spray-on butter) and avoid food I loved (mostly cake). All of that made me thin.
It did not make me happy.
Happiness does not require thinness. Fatness does not presume sadness.
This isn’t to say that thin people aren’t happy (duh), but this is to say that being thin is not: A. A cure for sadness or B. A guarantee of happiness.
It is to say this: Happiness does not require thinness. Fatness does not presume sadness.
I’ve been writing this piece in my head now for weeks. And today I read this. That post was my call to finish this up and publish it. We need more voices speaking out so that we can be heard over the media, over the drone that is weight loss pills and get-thin-quick cures and plastic surgery to fix things that aren’t broken.
My medication changes (to treat my bipolar disorder) have resulted in a gain of ten more pounds since that last photo was snapped. Most of my clothes don’t fit, and that is discouraging. I’m not pretending that squeezing myself into jeans two sizes too small is fun. It’s not. It’s a lot like stuffing a sausage.
But now, I see dramatic changes not only in my body, but also in my mind. There is a stillness, a joy, and a peace I’ve never had. It’s worth ten pounds. Ten pounds are insignificant when compared to my willingness to let some things go, to sit with my kids, to sleep.
I’m happy. I’m fat and I’m happy.
You want to really blow people’s minds? Try this at home: Be fat and happy. Be unapologetically fat. Wear a bikini, and mean it. Eat pizza and ice cream and enjoy it. Drink up your life and a bottle of wine, and make no apologies.
The world wants you to want to be thin. There are whole industries built on your insecurity. They are bullshit. The world wants you to believe that thin and beautiful equals happy. It wants you to believe that you’re only worthy of love, and life, if you are beautiful. And beautiful people just aren’t fat.
Or maybe they are.
This post originally appeared on Ravishly.
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