Friday, February 14, 2014

My Distorted Body Image

Three years ago, I was skinny.  I grew up thin, and don't recall feeling fat, or worrying about my weight.  I complained about being flat-chested, but I don't remember disliking my whole body (just my boobs - kind of funny, now - considering that now, I'm all about my boobs!).  My sister was the pretty one, but by the end of high school I no longer felt like that made me the ugly one.

I gained 50 pounds with my first pregnancy, and I hated how puffy and full my cheeks looked, especially since I had cut my hair super short in the first trimester.  Gradually the weight fell off, and I was thin when it came time to get pregnant again - and gain 50 pounds again.

I didn't work very hard to lose my second round of baby weight, but with breastfeeding and some walking, I lost my curves and fluff.  Then I got e-coli. After a month or two of being sick (and thinking, for most of that time, that it was just my Irritable Bowel Syndrome and/or a virus), I was a skinny size 4.

I remember seeing this photo online around that time, and loving it.  I totally identified with the woman pictured.

The beautiful Lizzi Miller is a plus-size model, whose 3-inch by 3-inch photo in Glamour sparked a tremendous positive response among women who felt empowered to see a normal sized woman, and see her as gorgeous.  This meant that we normal women felt able to see ourselves as gorgeous.

What got me, though, when I read more about Lizzi, was the realization that at a size 4, I could look at her at a size 12-14, and think, "That's what my body looks like."  

My tummy, after two children at the time, was just like Lizzi’s.  That's probably what I identified with the most.  Even so, I
overidentified, and I think that’s a clear indication that I had a pretty distorted body image.  I mean, I was relatively happy with my body.  But I wasn’t identifying with Lizzi because I thought she was beautiful and so was I.  I was identifying because I thought I looked like a size 12-14.  It took being tagged on Facebook in a picture a friend had taken to realize how thin I’d become:

November 22, 2010

I was shocked.  That was me?  I was that thin?!  Shazam!   Not much later, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  The night I wore my grandma’s awesome vintage dress to a friend’s Mad Men party, I was so bloated it was hard to get the dress zipped.  So I googled "why am I bloated" or "natural cures for bloating" or something and came across the symptoms for Celiac, and boom.  I just knew I had it.
November 2010.

My doctor agreed to a blood test for gluten antibodies, but he also sent me home with (another) handout on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  The blood test showed high gluten antibodies, and later the results of an endoscopy gave me the Celiac diagnosis, on December 27th, 2010.  

Within a few months, I was back at my top pregnancy weight, but without a bun in my oven this time.  
I'd been misdiagnosed with IBS in 1996.  So for fourteen years I had eaten like a college girl, without absorbing all of the good - or bad - from my food.  And at age 35, I had some ingrained eating habits working against me.  Between not realizing that I was absorbing fat and calories my body had dumped for years, and failing for a few weeks to renew a Synthroid prescription for my hypothyroidism (another autoimmune syndrome that loves fat), I gained weight on a gluten-free diet very quickly.*  In fact, most of the 50-pound gain happened in about a month.

At a size 14, I no longer identified with Lizzi.  Or with me.  I felt huge - way bigger than she could possibly be - no way were we the same size!  I looked in the mirror and I didn't know who that was, looking back.  She wasn't pregnant, but she was overweight - obese, by definition, in fact.  

I was
supposed to be healthier - no more diarrhea or gas cramps, more energy.  But instead I was at an unhealthy weight.  And I was really and truly pissed off about it.   I would create opportunities to explain my weight to people - like I wanted them to know that this wasn't really me.  I wasn't really fat - I was just in this crappy circumstance.

When my oldest son, Magoo, started first grade, I walked him to and from school most days for months - so about 15 miles of walking each week.  I didn't diet well.  I tried sometimes, but mostly I just thought about it.  I’m not much of a cook, and I was still adjusting to the fact that my husband and Magoo had become vegetarians.  Between trying to wrap my head around entrees that weren’t meat, and Googling everything I put in my mouth for gluten-containing ingredients, I wasn’t up for any fad diets with lots of restrictions.  I wasn’t even too keen on limiting portion sizes, or completely giving up sweets, either...  We eat relatively healthy, at least - organic foods, not as many processed foods as some.  I thought the exercise should help.  But the weight just stayed.

Then I got pregnant.  It was unplanned, and very, very welcome.  And in addition to getting the third child we so dearly wanted - I finally had a good reason to be fat!

Once I started to show, I didn't mind being overweight.  But I didn't want to gain another 50 pounds, so I tried to limit my binging on candy, and I tried to eat smaller portions.  Although my midwife assured me that my levels were nothing to be concerned about, when I had some ketones in my urine and read that ketosis might impact my baby’s IQ, I decided to relax.  I gained some weight, but not too much, at the end of my pregnancy.  I dropped it within a week or two of giving birth.  But no sooner had I put away my maternity clothes than I gained it all back.  

I now weigh, depending on whether I place the scale on the hardwood, cork, or tile, between 182.4 and 186.4.  I'm 5'3" with a medium frame.  The only non-maternity pants that fit (yes, I had to get the maternity clothes back out) are a size 16.  Actually, those jeans droop and sag half off of me, but my 14s are too tight...  

My 4s are in the attic.

Over the past year and a half I have vacillated between shame over my weight, and confidence that it's just where I am for now.  

When I was interviewed for a news piece on my NIP discrimination incident, I wished I was thin.  I knew, each month, that the speeches I delivered to the school board would be televised, and I often thought that if I'd just commit to a diet I could at least lose enough to be a size 14, or maybe even a 10 or 12 within a month or two.  But in terms of stress, that period of time was second only to the time surrounding my mother's death.  The weight stayed.

In fact, with all the stress, for months I didn't even bother to go buy make up, and most of the times that I gave speeches or attended meetings, I wasn't wearing any.

And I looked fine.  A lot of the time, I was okay with how I looked.

But I'm not okay with how I feel - physically.  

You see, it's hard to get up when I take a bath.  I'm so big for the bathtub, and I move awkwardly, like when I was pregnant.   This is a prime example of a moment that makes me realize: I need to ensure that this weight is not permanent.

I feel there's a connection between body image and nervousness to nurse in public.  I'd be much more loathe to bare my belly or my butt crack than my boobs.  So I've read more and more about body image.  And there's a great movement out there aimed against fat shaming, with the message of loving your body.

I do.  I love my body.  I had three natural births.  I am a badass.  I created (with a little help from my husband!) and grew three incredible, gorgeous children.  I have spent years nourishing them with my body.

I have sex and I love it.  It's good sex, and my fantastic husband loves me and makes me feel desired in whatever shape or size I am, whether I’m skinny or curvaceous.  

I love my body.

But I'm ready to feel healthier.  Stronger.  I want to get out of the bathtub without feeling like I’m about to slip and get very hurt.  I want to climb stairs without being winded.  I want to go surfing someday and be strong enough to actually catch a wave.   I want to feel like I’m taking care of my body enough that I don’t have to worry I’ll die before I can meet my grandchildren (many years from now).  And I don’t want to be too decrepit to help my sons with said grandchildren..

It's not fat shaming for me to want to be skinny again.  Aside from the whole e coli thing and the Celiac symptoms, in a way, I felt healthier when I was sick.   And I still have some really cute size 4 clothes in the attic that I'd like to get to wear again.  I don't much have cute clothes these days.  Other than some cool T-shirts, I think I hate just about all of my fat clothes.  It’s not as valid a reason to lose weight as my desire to be healthy, but I would like to like the clothes I wear.

So I am going to lose 5 pounds.

Not 50.  5.

I have a smart sister.  I don't know if she knows that.  She was the pretty one - I was the smart one.  Or so she thinks.  But she's really quite bright, and she told me that she lost weight by having a goal of 5 pounds.  Then another 5, then another 5, til she lost 20.  So I'll keep going once I hit my first goal, but for now, I will work towards losing 5 pounds.

And I am publicly declaring my goal, ‘cause that's how we stick to resolutions in this social media age, right?  

This post has been a long time coming.  I’ve become more interested in the connection between body image and NIP fears, thinking more about my own body image.  Thinking more about expanding the scope of this blog.

But I have been afraid that no one would be interested in anything besides the breastfeeding advocacy they came here for to begin with.  I have been afraid that if I posted this goal here, I would publicly fail.  I‘ve been afraid that if I posted it, I’d have to start.  Start limiting portions, start exercising.  Start taking care of myself.  

Robert Anthony said, “We fear the thing we want the most.”  I have to admit, I don’t know who Robert Anthony is (was?).  I Googled “fear quotes,” looking for a way to end this post!  And this one works.  

I want to change my eating habits.  I want to exercise.  I want to take care of myself.  And I know other people can relate to this - so I want my journey to be of interest to people who might find themselves here reading this.

So - here goes.  

I had a lovely Valentine’s Day, replete with several gluten-free, egg-free brownies (thank you, Adam!), chocolate covered strawberries, and before I came to bed I squirted too much Redi-Whip directly into my mouth.  I enjoyed getting my sugar on today.  And now it's time to say goodbye.

Tomorrow, I start losing 5 pounds. Update: You can read about my first week of choosing health here.

Do you think your body image may be distorted?
Have you made a commitment to self care?
If so, do you think you are motivated by how you look, or by how you feel?

Edit: I'm overwhelmed by the reception of this post! Several people have been inspired by my sister's idea to lose five pounds. If you'd like to join me, I've created a Facebook group for support and accountability. *Some people lose weight on a gluten-free diet.  I suspect this has to do with cutting carbs by cutting gluten.  Celiacs often have trouble gaining weight, and are able to do so as their intestines heal on a gluten-free diet.  
And as long as I’m writing about Celiac, I feel I should mention that many people are sensitive to gluten even without having Celiac.  If you have any health issues whatsoever, it may be worth going gluten-free for awhile to see if anything changes.  Gluten is bad mojo.


  1. I totally feel you on this. Before I had kids I was really fit. I worked out a lot and had even run a few long distance runs including a marathon. When I got pregnant with my first I was not a size 4 more like a size 8, but I was really strong and in great shape. I even did a 10k at 20 weeks pregnant. After my first I got back into running but not the way I used to. Then I got pregnant with my second had horrible nausea for the first half of my pregnancy and completely stopped working out. Once I had baby #2, I tried to get back to where I was. I had the double jogging stroller and ran when I could but it wasn't the same. Now if I'm lucky to squeeze in 2-3 workouts a week. But that's not enough. I know sit in 12-14 size pants and I wonder what happened to the girl I once knew. Between a really stressful full time job and raising 2 little ones I have become overweight and I hate it. I have a whole section of my closet for clothes I can't wear anymore. It's sad. Anyway, the point of my post is that I totally get how you feel.

    1. I hope you're able to think of ways in which you love and appreciate your body where you are right now, and that you can carve out even little bits of time for self care. I know how hard it is with small children to find any time for yourself. I have an exercise DVD and I'm committing to 10 minutes a day. Maybe I'll do more, but for now, I need to at least take baby steps. I wish you well!

  2. Your writing is beautiful. I, too, have been both underweight and overweight without trying, without credit or blame. In addition to the feeling of being acceptable at a thinner size, I like the way my body moves when it is smaller. What a puzzle. All I can say is I hope we love, love ourselves, do lots of self-care, and research anything that seems to be awry with our bodies (even if docs assure us it's nothing). Thanks for putting it all out there.

  3. Thank you. Thank you for being real and honest. I struggle with the very same things. I have 2 Little girls and live in fear l'll teach them to look at themselves as anything less than beautiful and remarkable. I'll take that 5lb challenge with you!!!

    1. I don't have girls, which I think would be even harder in this regard given our society's attitudes, but I do worry a lot about my boys and their physical well-being and their body images, and my impact on them. I hope you are kind to yourself and find things that you love about your body - & you can model loving your body for them!
      I started a group on Facebook if you'd like to join, for support & accountability:

  4. Thank you so much for posting this you said everything i feel and all i fear!
    I was not the skinny girl growing up but I lost my weight and was happy being healthier and yes smaller... my son is just a bit over one and I feel as if I'm going back to my bigger size and it bothers/scares me. I make up excuses like I'm planning baby #2 but I'm not comfortable in my body. I want to love it and be healthy again...I'm excited about losing 5 pounds I believe I can do it.
    Thank you again you are inspirational!

    1. Thank you! I'm finding myfitnesspal to be really educational & I recommend it - I am floored by how many calories I was taking in before. I thought I should be losing weight while breastfeeding but I realize now that bf is probably how I wasn't gaining weight!
      I love that others are inspired to lose 5 pounds. I hope everyone is equally inspired, even if uncomfortable in their bodies, to identify ways in which they *love* their bodies. If you love your body, that's all the more reason to take care of it, right? :)