When I look at photos of my elementary school years, there are a number of adjectives that come to mind. Young, innocent, gawky, and dare I say.... nerdy. My long, stringy hair fell limp onto my shoulders, while my horrible vision dictated the need for glasses so large they framed half my face.
However, there is one adjective I would not use when I see the face of my former self smiling from the pages of decades-old photo albums. That adjective is "fat".
Quite simply, as a young girl, I did not have a problem with my weight. Yet at the time, I felt like a whale compared to my peers. Taller than most of my fellow students, I went through the grammar school years convinced that my body took up much more width and depth than those of my classmates.
At no time did this feeling become more pronounced than when the school nurse performed our annual physical exams. A homely looking woman in her 60's, she checked any semblance of compassion at the door prior to entering the building each morning.
She had us all stand in a line, waiting to take our turn on the scale. I cringed with terror as my turn to step on that dreaded apparatus inched closer and closer. It seemed my waif-like classmates barely weighed enough to be alive, while the number on the scale that described my body weight might as well have been 3,752 pounds.
Making matters worse, the school nurse insisted on announcing each student's weight with a voice that echoed off the walls with such force that everyone in line, yes, even the boys, now had knowledge of the deepest, darkest secret I swore I would take to the grave.
I suppose it didn't occur to her that it really matters to young girls if others know what they weigh.
It certainly mattered to me.
It mattered a lot.
And unfortunately, it still does. That is why my 16-year old daughter Melissa calls me a hypocrite.
Yes, that's right. A hypocrite.
Seems I earned the hypocrite title during my attempt to explain that teenage girls shouldn't focus so much on body image, but rather on all of the wonderful things about themselves. I told my daughter she is beautiful, has a radiant smile that lights up a room, a singing voice as sweet as an angel, and a passion for guitar that has pushed her to develop into a musical talent in her own right.
In response, she said, "Mom, how can I think positively about myself when you are always commenting on how fat you are?"
I had to admit, she was right.
I experienced my heaviest weight the year following Melissa's birth. Seems I still considered it "healthy" to eat an entire bag of Oreo cookies, even though I was no longer eating for two. Thanks to the arduous task of giving up nearly all carbs, I eventually shed the pregnancy pounds and then some, dropping two clothing sizes in the process. Yet despite my best efforts, while walking the path on my life journey towards the inevitable "change", some - not all - but some of the weight came back to stay, resulting in sagging in parts of my body that had never sagged before.
Today, at age 48, I wear the same size clothing that fit me at age 16. I felt large then. I feel large now.
However, Melissa's eye-opening revelation forced me to take a step back and reevaluate my perception of my middle-aged self. I have a wonderful husband who loves me, a good job, dear friends, an amazing step-daughter and the most incredible teenage daughter any mom could hope for. We have a roof over our heads, we are healthy....we are happy.
So why should body image matter?
The answer? It shouldn't.
And I'll try to remember that every time I look in the mirror at my magnificent middle-aged self!
|Enjoying a spectacular autumn day with my beautiful daughter Melissa!
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