I grew up thin without thinking about it. I thought diets were dumb, and girls who obsessed about their exercise program were boring. My best friend was prettier and more socially skilled than I, but when we stood side by side examining ourselves in the mirror (that's not weird, right?), she would sigh, "Your thighs are so thin." I was extremely pleased with this. (It took me years to realize that we didn't have the healthiest of friendships.)
When I started swim team my sophomore year in high school, my mom took me aside after the first month and informed me that I had 3 weeks to put 5 pounds back on, or she'd take me off the team. Anorexia was "new" then, and I'm sure when she read about all these middle class white girls who felt like they had to be perfect, she worried about me.
I chuckled then, and I chuckle now. I also started eating donuts after practice. I have many hang-ups and unhealthy habits, but starving myself will never be one of them.
The summer after college, I was on a beach in Cornwall, and realized that my stomach was not perfectly flat. It rounded (every so slightly) over my bikini bottom. I was mortified. Not enough to DO anything about it, but still. My days of eating whatever I wanted and being slim anyway were clearly numbered.
I was still thin. I stayed a size 10 (at 5'7") until my mid-thirties. I have never been athletic (swim team was a delightful two year aberration), but in my thirties I started hiking a lot more, and even climbed a few non-technical mountains. I was heavier than I'd been in my twenties, but also stronger and with more stamina, so I didn't care. By 35 I'd grown out of my size 10 clothes, and accepted that I was now a size 12.
My husband and I spent a year in Riga, Latvia, walking everywhere. Despite indulging freely in the local pastries and readily available Scandinavian chocolates--Daim bars! Marabou! Dumle!--I lost 20 pounds. I was still a size 12, but my pants tended to hang off my hips, clothes that had been tight were now loose, and I crudely took in a few skirts by folding the waistband over an inch and sewing it down. Then we came home, and I put the weight back on. Then I lost a chunk of it. Then my mom died, and I put some back on. Then we adopted, and I lost some again, chasing after kids and playing tag. Through all of this, I was still a size 12.
This year, however, I started to put on some more weight. Clothes became uncomfortable. I popped the (riveted!) button off my favorite pair of jeans. I started noticing lines on my skin when I took my clothes off at the end of the day. I began to favor knits and anything with an elastic waistband. As spring rolled into summer, I decided that since I would be more active in the summer, I should not buy any new clothes in size 14. That way, I wisely figured, I'd be even more inspired to lose the weight, so my clothes would be comfortable once more.
Then the hot spell hit. Day after day it's been in the 90s. I live in western Oregon, we don't have air conditioning, and this is HOT. I pulled out my shorts the other day and couldn't even get them past my thighs. I have plenty of elastic waisted skirts, but the day I found myself picking raspberries in a skirt, I decided I may as well buy a cheap pair of shorts. Goodwill, so I wouldn't be straining resources because of my temporary flirtation with chubbiness.
Today I grabbed two grocery bags of donations, made special dispensation for the kids to have extra computer time, and headed off by myself to find a pair of shorts that fit. I steered myself towards the "Large" section, then realized it went up to size 12. Extra large? Really? I pulled some 14s and the occasional 16 off the rack, and headed to the dressing room.
14's, like my size 12 shorts, couldn't force their way past my thighs. 16s could, but pushed rudely against my skin when I (breath held) zipped them up. The first pair of capris I tried on that were comfortable were size 18.
Size 18. X-Large. "Women's" section of the store.
I have friends who would kill to get down to a size 18. I have a coworker who is on a crazy diet where for 3 out of every 4 weeks she is on 500 calories a day, and she has gone from over 300 pounds to 200 in the same amount of time I've put on 40 pounds. One of my dearest, oldest friends, who has faced more shit in her lifetime than anyone ever should have to, is trying to do the same thing in a more measured, sustainable fashion. I can still fit in a regular seat, still find clothes at a regular store.
This flies in the face of my self image.
Which is interesting, because the rage my children call up in me also flies in the face of my self image.
And here's the thing:
If I were to gain another 3 sizes next year, but finally master the Scary Mean Mommy in me, I would be so happy and proud and relieved and self confident.
But if I were to get back to a size 12, and continue to have periodic bouts of insane, borderline abusive parenting, I might feel less shame.
Because people don't know what happens in my house. But they sure as hell can tell the difference between a woman who has "let herself go" and one who "takes good care of herself."
And that's kind of fucked up.