Saturday, October 30, 2010

My big, fat history

3rd or 4th birthday
I don’t really remember the first time I became aware of being fat.  At this point in time of my reflection, the memories of my childhood and teenage years are clouded with my memory of being fat.  I find it very difficult to separate the two.  However, looking over pictures for this blog post shows me that my memories are, for the most part, worse than the reality. When I think about times when I was 5 or younger, I don’t remember anything related to weight.  I remember playing, swimming, exploring, riding my pony, and doing other things kids do.
6 or 7 years old

When I was 6 or 7 years old, I was sexually abused by the pastor’s son of our local church.  I think he was somewhere around 14-15 years old at the time.   Our house was right across the field from the church and parsonage, so we were within walking distance. I think it instilled in me early on that I needed to deflect attention from myself, and, while I couldn’t name it at the time, that anything sexual would endanger me or get me into trouble.  I also think that was when I started to believe I wasn’t safe anymore, that if I couldn’t be protected by my parents that close to home or in my church with people who were supposed to love me, then there was nowhere I could be safe. [any wonder, then, why I’m doing my Ph.D. dissertation on protective hospitality??]  I think I also learned then that if I needed safety, I would have to be the one to provide it. 
Me (8) and my Shetland pony, Rusty

I can’t remember the first diet my mom put me on.  Was it the low-carb diet full of poached eggs and turkey bacon prescribed by the doctor (because of whom I had to endure painful blood tests – because he was awful at drawing blood from a child – and humiliating office visits where he and my mom discussed, as if I wasn’t in the room, my weight and how horrible it was)?  Or was it the grapefruit diet?  Or was it the one where I had to eat beets at each meal because of some mysterious chemical reaction they’d cause in my body that would burn all the fat away?  I must have been between 10-12 years old.  I remember losing some weight because I had a pair of turquoise-colored jeans I had been
10 or 11 years old
given for Christmas that were too small and a few months later I could wear them (albeit for only a couple weeks because I must have gained back the weight).  They were my first pair of skinny jeans.

Out of the humiliation I felt, as well as the attempt to take control from me, I’m sure I felt the need to sabotage my mother’s attempts.  I found it hypocritical; her weight had yo-yoed all during that time as well, so while I didn’t name it at the time, I know many of my issues were really her issues.
Me (15 or 16) and my mom

But it would be unfair to only blame my parents.  I liked food.  A lot.  I remember the comfort of food.  I remember the satisfaction of particular foods: a grilled cheese sandwich made with so much Velveeta that it oozes, a sandwich slathered with real, full-fat, tasty mayonnaise, pop tarts fresh from the toaster spread with melted butter, and so much sweet tea that we went through a 5lb bag of sugar in little more than a week.  I remember looking for the biggest bit of bread and the cup with the largest amount of grape juice in it during communion at church.  I was greedy.  Every time someone in the house ate, I ate, whether I was hungry or not.  I remember my mom saying that I “live to eat” instead of “eating to live.”

I remember being called fat at school, but I don’t remember any big crises related to it.  I quickly learned not to put myself in situations where I would be put down because of my weight.  I learned to be smart, to be funny, to be able to help others, to lead or take control – basically, to find ways in which people would pick me for their team and want me around, or convince them to just leave me alone.

Me (12) and my dad
But to be completely honest, most of my memories of being young and fat are connected to my mom and my dad.  I remember being made to feel ashamed.  I remember the conversations about my weight and how much better things would be if I were skinny.  I remember their bribes:
-    “If you lose this much weight, I’ll buy you that leather bomber jacket.”
-    “If you lose this much weight, I’ll buy you the best horse I can find, even if I have to rob a bank.”

Me (12) at KY State Fair Horse Show
I didn’t believe them.  And while I struggled with it internally and at times badly wanted to please them and be skinny, for the most part, I liked my life and what I had set up for myself.  I was safe.  No one could hurt me.  And I was confident in my abilities.  I may not have been the fastest runner, but I was good at strategy and I was strong.  I may not have been a star athlete, but I was a star pupil.  I may not have been the fastest barrel racer, but I could understand, train and work with horses better than most kids my age. 

As a teen, I was active in my church youth group and in my local 4-H equestrian club.  I remember being able to wear my mom’s clothes and my dad’s 38 waist buttonfly Levis (oh, to be able to wear those now!).  I remember looking fairly androgynous and being secretly happy when the woman at the checkout in Wal-Mart mistook me for a boy and say, “Here’s your change, sir.” 

Me (12) & Sundance at KY State Fair
That spelled ultimate safety to me.  I remember thinking, “Yes. No one is going to touch me if I look like a boy.  I’ll get more respect.  It’ll be easier for me if I pass for a boy.”  I wasn’t queer; I had just acknowledged that it was more socially acceptable for a boy my age to be overweight than a girl, and that boys were allowed to do things that I was discouraged from doing.  But my mother was, of course, horrified. 

My weight didn’t stop me from liking boys in those years, though.  I had crushes on different guys throughout junior high and high school (although, for a period of that time, I was home-schooled which carried with it its own particular horrors and social isolation).  But I never had a boyfriend.  No one was ever interested.  And during that time, I began to fight with myself about my weight.  Do I lose it and put myself out there to be hurt or keep it and be able to remain safe and keep people at a distance?  Do I deserve something more?  Safety, distance and lack of confidence won, but it was frustrating.  I so badly wanted to be noticed, but I wanted someone to look beyond the fat and see the real me. 

I remember being at the county fair one evening with friends and I saw a skanky-looking guy lead this heavy-set girl by the hand into the woods.  I remember wondering what was going on and being suspicious of him and why they were going back there.  And a few minutes later, they came back out.  He wasn’t holding her hand anymore.  She came out first and was crying.  Then he came out and was buttoning his pants.  And I knew.  And I was glad I wasn’t that girl and resolved to myself to not be her in the future.

About 22 years old (1998)
Me (22) and my colleagues at Camp Nada in Croatia
So I remained fairly androgynous.  I dressed like a boy most of the time.  I abhorred the traditional markers of femininity such as jewelry, nail polish, dresses, high heels, etc.  (I still feel uncomfortable in them, to be honest).  I remember my mother telling me I wasn’t feminine enough, that no guy was going to like me because I dressed like a man.  So I kept at it.  I enjoyed the attentions of the opposite sex through close friendships, and for the most part, that was enough.  Part of me wanted more, but not bad enough to make any changes.  I became the buddy, the wingman, the observer, the advice-giver, the bag-holder and seat-warmer, for both my male and female friends.  The always-dependable, always-loyal Jayme.  That state of affairs mostly remained in place throughout university and beyond. 

As I got older, the struggle between the need for and fear of intimacy got stronger.  I craved touch.  I craved the attentions of a guy that were focused on me and not some other girl he was trying to woo.  I longed for true, mutual companionship.  Someone I could share my soul with, someone who knew me and wanted to be with me.

That didn’t happen until I was 23 and I was living in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  I had had to lose weight in order to go to Bosnia, so I lost about 40-50lbs and went from size 22-24 to size 16-18.  However, my weight loss had nothing to do with me – I did it to get a job, not for myself.

Me (23) with friends in Bosnia
While I was in Bosnia, I developed a close friendship with one of the Bosnian guys who worked with us, and he and I became inseparable.  Eventually, it turned into a romantic relationship and he met those needs I had identified.  He was my first kiss, my first boyfriend, my first real love.  He touched me and didn’t turn away in disgust.  He saw something in me that was beautiful.  He didn’t qualify any of his statements with “if you were thin” or
“if you’d lose weight” like so many people in my life had done previously.  He said he adored me.  He said he thought I was gorgeous.  He said he admired my strength, my heart.  He saw me.  I began to believe that perhaps I wasn’t as repulsive as I had thought I was.  It was a tremendous gift.
Me (23) and the lions of Budapest

That relationship didn’t last, however.  But it gave me a glimpse of what I was missing. I came back
Me (26) w/ friends in Kenya (in my current pair of skinny jeans)

from Bosnia more aware of my body, more appreciative of certain aspects of it, more confident in my looks.  But as time wore on, no one else seemed to notice what he had seen in me and so I slipped back in to my old ways.  Guy friends.  The wingman.  The advice-giver.  The thinker.  The independent one.

Oh, and size 24.
Me (27) and my buddies in 2003

And, so, I resigned myself to the idea that I would always be fat.  He had seen something in me while I was still heavy, so someone else would too at some point, if that was what was meant to be.  It was my way of weeding out the bad guys.  I did online dating and met a couple guys, and while I was wounded when people would be interested until they saw my picture (which is the cruelest part of online dating, in my humble opinion), I told myself that if that’s what they were looking for, I didn’t want them anyway.  I settled in this idea that this was who I was.  I refused to diet.  I was fairly sedentary.  I focused my time and energy on learning how to make the world a better place….for everyone else but me. 

Ten years later, here I am.  I’m 34 and 3 months ago, I decided enough was enough.  Almost 3 years ago, I met Jim, who saw me and loved me for who I was.  Someone else exists in the world who sees me.  He thinks I’m beautiful and sexy, even though I still have difficulty seeing it myself some days.  I know his love is not contingent upon me being any particular size.  I trust him; he is a safe place for me.  Finally, I can find safety outside of myself.  Because having to hold one’s guard up and carry all this weight around at the same time is exhausting.

We’ve created a good life together.  We love each other and we’re happy.  I’m happy.

Me (28) in Novi Sad, Serbia
As I live this new life, I have been given the space and confidence to think more about myself, do some healing, and figure all of this stuff out.  Summer 2010 saw me increasingly dissatisfied with my life and while I tried blaming others for it, I realized what I was dissatisfied with was myself.  As I sought to figure out what was causing it, I realized that I was tired of being fat.  I didn’t need it anymore.  The purposes it served when I was younger were no longer necessary.  My reasons and methods for keeping people at bay were turning on me, being detrimental instead of helpful.  And as soon as I recognized it and named it, my desire to blame others disappeared. 

In some ways, I feel like I’ve been hibernating in a cocoon of fat all these years.  That this external bit – this cocoon – isn’t really who I am.  It’s a fat suit that I’m forced to take off small bits at a time and with a great deal of effort.  What I was afraid of all those years ago are no longer threats.  I’ve learned that life is about taking risks, for yourself and for others. 

That’s why this time is different.  I am in control of this.  I made the decision.  No one made it for me.  I eat grapefruit, beets and turkey bacon because I want to, not because my mother or anyone else is forcing me. And if I fail, I have no one to blame but myself.

Me & my lovely Jim (2009)
I realized that in order to be successful, I had to go for the jugular, so to speak.  I had to get to the root of the issue:  shame.  The shame that I carried because of my weight, because of things I remember my parents saying, because of all the embarrassment I’ve endured due to my weight, because of my lack of confidence in my body – all of it had to be dealt with.  And what’s the best way to deal with shame?  To get it out in the open.  Shame feeds on hiding and fear, like a fire feeds on oxygen.  Take away the oxygen and the fire goes out.  Put things out in the open for all to see and eventually the shame dissipates.

And so I blog.  And I tell the whole world how much I weigh every week.  I take pictures.  And people call me courageous.  But it’s not courage.  Not really.

Is it easy for me?  No way.  But I have to do this because I refuse to be dictated by shame and fear any longer.  Instead of shame and fear, I want to be full of honor and dignity.  I want to be proud of all that I am, not just my intellect.  And no one can do that for me but me.


  1. This is so powerful, Jayme, and thank you so much for sharing your story. It's really difficult to lay out your past like this, especially when it's the birthplace of so much that you're dealing with presently.

    I teared up when you said "having to hold one's guard up and carry all this weight around at the same time is exhausting," because it's a feeling I know all too well. I'm so glad that there's a happy ending, though, and that you're doing this for yourself, which is definitely the right reason. I'm so glad that you write here, because I love seeing and hearing your progress - and not just related to the numbers on the scale. I'm rooting for you! ♥

  2. This is a powerful way to introduce your story, and you write it beautifully.

    I received numerous comments like this one from my mother: “If you lose this much weight, I’ll buy you that leather bomber jacket.” No matter how much our parents love us they can still stab us in the heart by expecting the same things that the rest of the world does.

  3. Jayme,

    You are an inspration! I only knew you from a distance in Seminary, but I always admired you. You have always been beautiful, smart and funny. I have always stuggled with acceptance and I am so thankful that you have been transparent. Your story has made a real impact on my life. I will pray for you as you continue your journey.

  4. Jayme - I'm not even sure how exactly I got to your blog but I'm really glad that I did! (some clicking around from other blogs I suppose :) I am embarking upon a similar journey and the words you wrote here remind me so much of myself. Our experiences are different - but we're similar is several ways. I hope you can take a moment to stop by and read my blog at

    My weight loss journey is only about 2 months old, and the blog one month. But it's my place for complete and total honesty. I'm your newest follower and wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. I look forward to reading your future posts!