|3rd or 4th birthday|
|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|
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|
- “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|
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|
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|
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|
“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)|
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|
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)|
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.