I know exactly when my weight crazy began – it was the summer between 6th and 7th grade. I was 12-years-old and my dad, who had quit smoking, decided to take up jogging to get rid of his recent weight gain. Though I wasn’t fat per se, I was on the chubby side. I don’t recall what propelled me to say yes, though I vividly remember those early runs. New Orleans, where I grew up, can have 100 degree temperatures and 100% humidity on summer days, so we ran at 10 pm. At first, we ran from our house to the nearest lamp post, then walked to the next lamp post, and so on for a mile. In time, we ran more and walked less. Our first full mile run was cause for celebration! As our running distances stretched, our clothes got looser. We began to enter races and delighted in our physical accomplishments. We were both thrilled by the weight loss, which spilled over into healthier eating habits. This was all good stuff until……
I resumed 7th grade in the fall and the unexpected attention, comments, and looks that I got from friends, teachers and mere acquaintances threw me. “You look incredible!” “Wow!” “You look totally different…good for you!” and on and on. Of course I loved the compliments and attention. Who wouldn’t? But, at the same time, I wondered what was wrong with me before. Was I, in my pre-thin body, somehow flawed, bad and/or insufficient? I was still the same person inside though clearly that was not what people noticed and valued. I unconsciously developed the belief that I am literally “seen” and valued more when thin.
This confused association between thinness and my “being” and “being seen” became the basis for my obsession with my weight and body image for the next 40 years – my weight crazy. If I gained even five pounds I’d feel distressed and question my sense of self. I have stepped on a scale at least 15,000 times (once, or more, per day) and have literally lost years of my life obsessing about and beating myself up over my weight. Though self-acceptance has been a part of my spiritual journey for the past decade, this particular piece has been the most unrelenting.
My commitment to myself when I turned 50 was to stop squandering more years on weight crazy. The lunacy had to end. In fact, this decision and my efforts were the main reason I call my new venture “Embrace the Middle” – the literal middle. I began to work diligently towards self-acceptance in its entirety, being kinder to myself, and paying closer attention to those parts of my body that I genuinely like. It’s an ongoing process and practice but one that has gotten easier over time and results in happier days.
I still get on a scale most days, I still each sugar most days, and I still exercise most days. Am I happy when my weight is on the higher end or my clothes fit tight? Definitely not. But here’s what I no longer do: I no longer hate myself for it. I no longer equate the number on the scale with my being. And I no longer have the narcissistic belief that everyone who looks at me notices my weight.
If you are ready to take a small step towards body acceptance, try this: Notice every time you criticize your body. Just this practice alone will begin to create awareness of how often you do this and create space to begin to work towards acceptance. And instead of, or after, criticizing your body, extend it some gentle kindness. The kind of kindness you would extend a hurt child. If your experience has been anything like mine, your body is long overdue for some TLC.
Body image/acceptance is a tough road for many women. And, when we reach the middle, it becomes increasingly more difficult to meet society’s image of an acceptable body. But, for me, the middle also came with a much wider appreciation of what really matters and what I did and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life focused on. “Body confidence does not come from achieving the perfect body. It comes from embracing the one you’ve already got.” (author unknown)