yesterday, i read this incredible, moving, maddening, saddening piece of work on xojane. it made me feel a giant complex ball o’ feelings, an amalgamation of hurt and shame and pride and anger that reminded me of my favorite quote from jeffrey eugenides. in particular, one section stood out:
Before I got on the plane, my best friend offered me a bag of potato chips to eat on the plane, but I denied myself that. I said, “People like me don’t get to eat food like that in public,” and it was one of the truest things I’ve ever said.
how often have i uttered that same exact sentence in my head? how often have i not eaten something i wanted because i was afraid of what people would think? or, on the contrary, how often have i tried to squelch my feelings of shame and eat exactly what i wanted, only to feel overwhelmed by thoughts of, am i being judged for eating this?
i’ve written on here before about my struggles with my weight. i’ve talked about my new year’s resolutions, which include learning to love my body. i’ve written about the f word. i’ve written about finding acceptance on a hike in nicaragua. i’ll probably continue to write about my struggles for the rest of my life, because lord knows i’m never going to be a size 2, or probably, even a size 6. but i’d like to someday get past the shame of that fact, to feel as though i can consume a bag of potato chips, or a bar of chocolate, or a plate of fries, without imagining that i’m being judged for doing so.
i know the feeling the author speaks of above. i understand what it’s like to not sit down on the subway because you’re worried you’ll take up too many seats. to not opt for certain outfits, or bright colors, or tight clothes, because you feel you haven’t earned the right to do so. i know what it’s like to want more than anything for your body to be invisible, to be whisper thin, to disappear inside itself, to just, for one single moment in your life, live without being conscious of how your body takes up space in the world.
i’ve been going to bar method for over three years now; this summer, i’ll mark a year of thrice-weekly soulcycle classes. i know, somewhere in my heart, that the bar method soho community loves me for who i am and doesn’t think, “fat girl” when i walk through the door. but i do. deep down, i still think it almost every class i take. i look at my legs and my waist and my chest in the mirror, and i look at my arms when we raise them above for balance, and i survey those body parts next to the rest of the pin thin women in class and i judge myself, and the little voice in my head tells me that all those women around me are doing just the same. they’re looking at me, up on my tiptoes, and thinking, what is she doing here? she’s been coming for 3 years and she still looks like this? she must eat like a pig. she clearly has no self-control. you’d think she’d have lost more weight given that she’s here 5 days a week.
you would think that, wouldn’t you? i would. i wish i had. but i haven’t, mostly because i refuse to deny myself the things i truly love. contrary to popular belief, most overweight people DON’T sit on their couches stuffing their faces 24/7. many of us actually eat quite a healthy diet, one filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and peppered with quite a bit of exercise. some of us are genetically pre-disposed to have a larger ribcage. some of us won’t ever have a thigh gap, no matter how much we want it.
when i was younger, i used to wish i had the self control to starve myself. i would scold myself for my lack of discipline, my inability to do what it took to be thin.
i’ve done enough work on myself (the inside, at least) to know that’s not a healthy attitude. but i’d be lying if i told you i don’t feel shame every time i step into a soulcycle studio. i’d be kidding myself if i said i haven’t tried many of the fitness classes i’d like to try for fear that i’m too fat to try them.
most of the women (and men) who ride at soulcycle have bodies that amaze me. they have not an ounce of fat on them, their muscles are carved into their skin like ancient stone statues. their sweat trickles down the cuts in their abs, the rock solid dips in their shoulders practically vibrate with strength. they appear to be the sorts of people who’ve never once had to worry about their weight. they flaunt their thinness in sports bras and tight yoga pants (not that i blame them; i’d do the same if i could). and i look at them, and all i can think is, are they looking at me and wondering what the hell i’m doing here? when i check in at the front desk, i wonder if they think i won’t make it through class. when i clip into my bike, i wonder if the person behind me sighs and thinks, ugh, great, the fat girl is in front of me.
i try hard, so hard, not to think like this. but it’s been ingrained in my mind that because i am greater than, i am lesser than. my weight isn’t just the ball and chain i wear around my ankles, dragging behind me with every step i take, it’s a scarlet letter on my ample chest, telling the world i’m no good. i’m lazy. i eat too much. i don’t exercise. i don’t deserve that bag of potato chips. i don’t deserve to ride in a class of athletes when i’m not one myself.
when i catch myself feeling pretty, feeling good, that feeling is often quickly squashed by my inner hatred, my inner shame. i can’t possibly look pretty, can’t possibly feel good – not if i’m still fat.
the only thing greater than my shame over my weight is my shame that i AM so ashamed of myself. i don’t want to live like this. i don’t want to think like this. i don’t want to be like this. i am far from perfect, but i am also far from a failure, inside and out. sometimes, when my favorite soulcycle instructor isabel says things like, “be proud of where you are right now, how strong you are,” i have a brief moment where i truly feel strong, and truly feel proud of my body and what it can do. but all too quickly, i let myself get bogged down by my insecurities, and my shame, and that feeling of pride dissipates before i can catch it and bottle it up for future use.
i want, so badly, to accept myself for who i am. i know, deep down, that no one will accept me until i can accept myself. i’m making progress, showing up to class each day even though i feel so decidedly out of place, and working through my feelings by writing about them. i’m making progress by buying clothes at lululemon even though their founder says fat women shouldn’t shop there. i’m making progress by trying new things, and meeting new people, and for the most part, wearing the things i want. i’m making progress by having small moments where i allow myself to feel pretty, to feel wanted, to feel worthy of someone’s attention.
because at the end of the day, i won’t be young forever, and even if i’m pretty now, lord knows i won’t be when i’m old and crotchety and bitching at my cats on my front porch at the ripe old age of 85. it’s not just my body that counts. it’s that i can love with all of my heart, and take care of the people who mean the world to me; that i can bake a mean chocolate chip cookie and can sing karaoke with the best of ‘em.
and you know what? when i let that side of myself take center stage, and i push that judgmental little voice out of my head, things are okay. and if i want the potato chips, i’m going to eat the damn potato chips. IN PUBLIC.