Saturday, April 21, 2012

I'm not supposed to tell you this, but...


This post has been in my head for a long time, but I've actually been embarrassed to write it. Because if I actually said that I was overweight out loud, and not in the acceptable self-deprecating, "tell-me-I'm-not-fat!"way, I would completely embarrass myself. But there's just one little problem with that theory: everyone already knows what I look like. I can't hide that I'm overweight. You can see it when you look at me. It's not a surprise to anyone reading this who has seen a photo (but if you are surprised, I'm really sorry. Pick yourself up off the floor and let's still be friends). Weight is something I have really wanted to discuss on my blog, but I've always been afraid to do it. I've been thinking that talking about my weight and some of the issues that come along with it would point out the fact that there is something different about me, that it would single me out. I was concerned that people would read it and say, "Well, that's too bad for you, but that never happens to me." 

I read a quote recently by my main literary man, Mark Twain. He said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." That stuck with me, and I began pondering why I am here. Have I found my true purpose yet? When I started thinking about opening my blog up to talk about weight issues, especially my own, I realized that maybe one of the reasons I am here is because I have a big voice. I have tried for a long time to silence that voice because I thought that talking about my personal demons was wrong, or inappropriate, or embarrassing, or unacceptable. But then I thought, "Who else is going to say it if I don't?" I know this is a small blog. I'm not the Pioneer Woman. But if one day, one girl reads this and realizes that she isn't alone, or one guy realizes that getting picked on for his weight is total crap and therefore not acceptable, then I've done my job. The other thing that motivates me is something you hear a lot in various recovery circles: We are only as sick as our secrets. I believe this, and I know one thing: I am tired of being sick. 

It seems to me that there is an unspoken rule among overweight and obese people: we can't talk about the challenges and the ridicule we face for our size. There's also another unspoken rule: we can't talk about ourselves as sexy, beautiful, pretty, etc. without expecting some kind of backlash. Sure, People magazine can plaster their covers with photoshopped women and call them the most beautiful people in the world, but if a fat girl posts a photo of herself and says she loves who she is, that's just not okay. And excuse my language, but that's bullshit. 

I've realized over time that sometimes I feel like I need to shrink my personality. Since I may take up a little more physical space than some other people, I need to tone the rest of me down. I've spent a lot of time telling myself what I can't wear, can't say, can't do because I'm a size 18. What a total waste of time! I've been feeling like I need to apologize for who I am because of my size, and that's crazy. I have nothing to apologize for. And yet I am often in situations where I have to "explain" myself and defend myself. Like when I'm eating a meal, minding my own business, and someone feels the need to criticize it. Now, this happens regardless of what I'm eating. I know the assumption out there is that overweight and obese people do not eat healthy food, but that's absurd. I actually eat better than some of the thinner people I know and love in my life. Regardless, people around me often feel the need to share with me the idea that the food I am eating is "bad" or "evil". Or they would like to remind me that it has CARBS. OMG. 

To those people, I say, thanks for your input, but I did not ask for it. Please go talk to someone who understands the human body, and he or she will explain to you that eating something with carbohydrates (which, by the way, your body needs whole grain. It just does.) is not going to make or break your weight. Neither is one meal. Also, I don't believe in good or bad food. That's part of the disordered eating that I am trying to get away from, because believe me, it's still in my head. But at the end of the day, food is not a person. Food is not the enemy or your friend. It's just food. Chocolate is chocolate. It's neutral. It's not a behavior, so how is it good or bad? Does it add more value to my diet than an apple? Absolutely not. But eating it doesn't mean I've "been bad". It's just food. And even if you choose not to believe what I've just said about food being neutral, that's your choice. But keep it to yourself. I'm not going to come preach my recovery to you unless you start evangelizing about your carb-free, sugar-free, whatever is evil today-free diet and telling me I should do what you do. 

When I comment on moments like this to others, I get the sense that people don't get why it's a big deal. I'm supposed to just let it go. But it bothers me. What people may not get is that I do have an eating disorder, which comes with the added feature of the little voices in my head telling me all this crazy crap about food at pretty much every meal. Here's an example: Some people can just walk up to the counter at Panera and order a bagel. It's not quite that simple for me. I stand there, frozen, and berate myself for even considering all of those carbs. I'm silently counting calories. I'm planning how I am going to burn off that bagel. I am thinking that my desire for a bagel is what makes me a fat loser in the first place. And now that I'm in recovery, I have to stop myself from thinking like that. I have to tell myself that it's one meal. One food item. I will be fine. I can eat a bagel once in a while. I will not die of it. Then I buy the bagel and have a hard time actually eating it at all. That's what it's like to have an eating disorder. So when someone criticizes my food, those disordered voices in my head are saying, "YES! THAT'S WHAT WE'VE BEEN TELLING YOU!" And it makes the voice of recovery weaker, less audible. I have to fight against it. So if you think you are helping me by criticizing my food, you aren't. You aren't making me thinner. You aren't making me healthier. You are making my recovery process that much more difficult. So do me a favor, and keep it to yourself. 

Then there's the commentary about fat people. It occurs to me that fat prejudice is actually one of the last acceptable ones out there. I mean, if you start making fun of someone's race or gender, that's typically not cool. I'm pretty sure I had to watch a video on that at work. But if you whip out your iPhone app that allows you to take a picture of your face and make yourself look like a fat person (this really exists, by the way)...well, that's just hilarious, right? Well, maybe to you. But to the girl sitting across from you, wondering what's so funny about her fuller cheeks? No. People will say things like that in front of me (or do the opposite and make it obvious that they are avoiding it) and act like I couldn't possibly be picking up on the fact that I am overweight and they are, indeed, making fun of overweight people. Fat does not equal stupid, people. I'm intelligent and I can hear you. But whereas before I would have hated myself and my body because of your rude comments, now it's different. I feel bad for the person who says those things because clearly they are very insecure. 

I'm sorry that some people feel the need to compare themselves to me and think they are inherently better people because their body is smaller. I've done that. I'll admit it right now. I used to find people fatter than me and think, "Well, at least I'm not like that." But now I catch myself in that pattern and I realize that the girl I am looking at is a human being. She is beautiful in her own way and is human and worthy of respect and love. She has done nothing to deserve my judgement. Why should I use her to make myself feel somehow more beautiful? That's not what beauty is...that's ugliness. I want to contribute positive energy to this world, not to detract from someone else. And that starts right now. It starts with me recognizing my own behavior and being willing to change it, and it starts with me opening up and talking about things that not everyone wants to hear. 

I hope you will talk back, and I hope you will listen. 


18 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this. You've so eloquently put what exactly is in my head. <3

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    1. Thank you for reading! I am so glad it was meaningful to you. :)

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  2. Thank you! I completely agree with you. I've been really embarrassed because I gained a LOT of weight senior year. I moved out to Phoenix not just overweight, but obese for my height. Clothes didn't fit, and when I went shopping I discovered that maybe I could squeeeeeeeze in to my previous "large size," but ultimately I was two sizes above that. I'm still struggling to lose weight, and I'm struggling to find people who understand that and can be supportive. When I spoke up to a friend, she suggested that sometimes people have to learn to "accept their natural weight." I was devastated that I could share that I'm trying to be healthy and just be told to my face that it was pointless. I wasn't fighting to get to a size zero; I was fighting to get to a healthy weight.

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    1. I'm here for you! I know how tough it is to do that. I also know how strong you are and that you will get there. It's a long process but I think it's great that you're focusing on your health. I hope you find more supportive people as you continue your journey to being healthy. :)

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  3. So true. And so heartfelt, Ashley.

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  4. This post is awesome and so are you. Thank you for writing this. <3

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    1. Thank you, Sarah! :) I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. It means a lot to me.

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  5. "Why should I use her to make myself feel somehow more beautiful? That's not what beauty is...that's ugliness."

    This just gets me down to my core.

    I struggle with my weight, too, and I struggle with believing I have self worth when I feel like the shape of my body communicates that I don't. Which is absolutely ABSURD, I know. But WOW is it easy to hate yourself for not being the shape or size or tone or color of someone in a magazine or on a screen or even someone around me.

    Recently ran into a situation where I basically "overheard" a conversation via group text in which a couple of them were laughing at this woman ("fat woman" they called her) who had tripped crossing the street and was almost hit by a car. Now in WHAT scenario is THAT funny?? I was so absolutely INFURIATED that I texted that entire group and said, "So what EXACTLY does her weight have to do with anything?" and then of course one of the guys came back with, "Oh, hey, we were just joking. We'd never say that to her FACE." I wanted to throttle him. I wish I felt the kind of compassion you're talking about feeling towards people who make rude comments because it's really hard for me to feel much.

    I so, so appreciate you and this post. YOU inspire me to love my body exactly the way it is. And you're also inspiring me to change my language. I really, really like the idea of food as neutral and not "good" or "bad." I get so caught up with guilt in eating situations and I needed to hear this.

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    1. Your worth is unconditional, Elizabeth. :) I struggle with the same thing. We are surrounded by unrealistic standards of beauty and it's impossible to turn on the tv or open a magazine without feeling somehow less than.

      That is so infuriating. I would have wanted to slap him too. Don't get me wrong...I do get angry that people say those things. I guess at some point I had to ask myself where it comes from, and I think it comes from a really ugly and sad place. I pity them, because it's pathetic to use someone else to make yourself feel better or more powerful. I'm actually amazed that someone thinks it's funny for ANYONE to almost get hit by a car!

      Thank you. I am so glad that this made you think about loving your body as it is. That's such a wonderful compliment. It's so tough to change your language about food, and it's something I struggle with all the time. My dietician calls it the "food police". Of course there are foods that are more nutritious for you or will contribute more to an active lifestyle, but it doesn't make a food that doesn't a "bad" food. It just means that your body needs less of it. But there are so many things on the "bad" list that it's hard sometimes to find anything that's even approved other than certain fruits and vegetables (and sometimes not even then!). It's why I think we have to change the language for ourselves, because society will always be telling us that food is the enemy.

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  6. Finding happiness in your own skin, who you are right now, is a beautiful thing. Keep expressing yourself Ashley, all of yourself…you have an amazing voice, one that is meant to be heard my many. XOXO

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    1. Thank you, Joy! Thanks so much for all of your support and for reading! XOXO

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  7. Ashley, I am so proud of you, and it is such a gift to be able to language your feelings. Many of us feel as you do but do not have the ability to put it into words. People hang on white knuckled to whatever they perceive as making them the same as everyone else. So if they are an "acceptable" dress size, well - phew! - dodged that bullet. it is interesting that size is the visible, perceived, chink in the armor. I have been to cocktail parties and listened to the same catty crap (mean girls don't change, they just get older- and Botox!) and thought to myself "Really, you are going to discuss her weight? How about we talk about that addiction you have to cigarettes? Is the shit you are sucking in healthier than carbs? Or just how many martinis do you drink a day? Is that to numb you to the fact that every one in the room knows your husband sleeps around?" Fat is visible, so it is easy. And all the other things mentioned aren't - the interesting thing is these people see being overweight as a human failing, in line with all I just mentioned...we all do it. A few years ago, Oprah was determined to put normal sized people in all her fashion shoots in "O" magazine. She did it for numerous issues. Sales plummeted. What does that say about us? At the end of the day, she wants to sell magazines. We need to be be more cognizant when we vote with our pocketbook. Bravo, Ashley on acute self-awareness (the first sign of emotional intelligence) and the courage to use your voice (the sign of deep character). I love you.

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    1. I love you, Mom. Thanks so much for all of your support and kind words. :) I know I can always count on you to be there.

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  8. There is something genuine about sharing your journey...thanks for being so candid!!

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    1. Thank you very much for reading! :) I appreciate your support.

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  9. Absolutely gorgeous (just like you). I found you after you found me and I am so glad I did! Beautiful love, absolutely beautiful. :)

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    1. Amy! Thanks so much for reading this and stopping by. So glad you found my blog, and I am so happy you enjoyed this post. I love that we both have a common goal of encouraging people to love themselves. :)

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