Wednesday, March 16, 2011

All The Weights Of My Life

I’m getting ready to go to Minnesota tomorrow where my family is gathering to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. I was going through old photos for my part of the PowerPoint presentation we’re making for my Dad and while looking at photos of me in puberty, I thought about how weight began to shape me.

When I was 11, I became aware of the social implications of being considered “big.” Formerly kind, carefree kids in my school turned into tyrants, berating the boy who’s stomach spilled over his belt or the girl who couldn’t climb the rope in gym class, like a larger kid’s weight was an impediment to a thin kid’s happiness.

I questioned how my own body fit into these societal rules during the first weigh-in of sixth grade. Remember those public weigh-ins where you’d stand in line in front of the nurse and her scale, getting weighed in turn? When I stepped on the scale, the nurse moved the big metal weight from 50 to 100. It made a loud “cachunk” sound when it settled in the groove, announcing to everyone in the hallway, “Lynn’s gone over 100!”

I was confused since the girl who weighed ahead of me didn’t need the 100 pound weight, and to me we looked like the same size. Realistically, there were probably only a few pounds separating us, but 100 was worlds apart from 99. Adding a third number to my weight wasn’t like adding a second digit to my age. Getting older was still OK. Getting bigger, not so much anymore. And while I was the same person I was five minutes before I got on the scale, I felt more conspicuous, like people would look at me differently now that I’d passed that monumental weight marker.

I looked at the girl next in line. She was clearly smaller and the nurse would have to move the big weight back to 50. I wondered if she’d say anything, whisper my weight to my friends during recess. I looked around at a few girls I thought were bigger than me and wondered, What if I weigh more than they do?

The rest of the year I paid close attention to how our playground culture defined people of all body sizes. No one was immune from the recess body gossip. Not the lunch ladies, teachers, or even other kids’ parents. I left sixth grade afraid of becoming a “big girl,” but there was little I could do to stop it before seventh grade.

It was a rough summer between sixth and seventh grade. Changes popped out of nowhere. I felt lopsided with a 33-inch inseam and squat, pudgy belly. I had no breasts to speak of, but I wore a bra anyway.

I assumed I’d grow up to look like my sister Debbie – a tall, thin pom-pom girl with right-sized hips and proportionate thighs. Instead, I inherited the long limbs, short torso, flat butt genes from my dad’s side of the family. I loved my relatives, but I didn’t want to look like Aunt Ragna.

The day of my seventh-grade physical, I stood shivering on the scale dressed in a t-shirt and waist-high white underwear. My mom sat in a chair while our family doctor stared at my chart over his wire-rim glasses. He tapped it slowly with his pen and looked grave. I expected him to say I had two weeks to live.

“Watch her weight,” he said instead.

I was 120 pounds.

This started me on a life-long yo-yo spiral of weight. Here’s a chart of my weight in adulthood. Looks like the Rocky Mountains.

This was me in 6th grade when I started worrying I was fat.


This was taken on my 16th birthday. I was waist deep in self-consciousness by then.


1987 on my 23rd birthday, a year before I lost 100 pounds the first time.


At 145 in 1994.
And, of course, me at my heaviest in 2004.



We walk a thin line talking about weight with children, particularly girls. Clearly I was not obese in 7th grade, but my weight was rightly a concern to my doctor. I just wish he and subsequently other adults in my life had had more adequate communication tools to relay their concern without shaming me. It was that uncertainty, that feeling of inadequacy that made me feel fat, ugly and not good enough when I weighed 150 pounds when I graduated from high school.

It’s taken me a long time to deal with some of the pain weight has caused me all my life, pain that for the most part was self-inflicted. It’s a journey I’m still on; this journey to full acceptance of myself at any weight. But it’s worth every step. Worth looking at every photo.

I’ll ask you the same question I asked on Facebook: When did you start thinking of your body as large/fat/unacceptable and how has that perception changed (or not) over the years?

20 comments:

Chubby McGee said...

It's one of the hardest things in the world right now: obesity in children. It is terrible for kids to be obese (with all the bullying and such). It's downright depressing.

It's funny that I read this post since I just finished telling my husband, yesterday, that I never looked at a nutritional label on a food box/bag until I was about 14...at Weight Watchers. I wonder what could have happened to me had my parents introduced me to that kind of stuff when I was little (as I do now with my four-year-old).

*big hugs* for all the stuff you've gone through in life. I know how hard it is (been there...still there).

Kelly said...

I'm so impressed with your weight loss.

My daughter is slightly overweight. How can I communicate with her without making her feel bad about herself or start her on a lifelong roller coaster? It's a tricky situation. I guess the really important thing is teaching her good eating habits. She does have grandparents that undermine everything I do.
She's 15. A fragile age. I guess I'll just get her outside to exercise with me and get her in the kitchen cooking with me so she can learn. I tell her she's beautiful but she needs to start a lifelong habit of exercising now.

Ugh, tricky situation.

Thanks for your honest post.

Jane said...

Lynn,
You hit all the milestones of my own weight struggles throughout my childhood, teen years, young adulthood, until now. In fact, I once wrote a post about my first weight loss group which some other girls and I formed when I was nine years old. We called ourselves the "Over 90 Club." That meant over 90 pounds. We wandered the playground together during the noon hour--a group with a common issue, but knowing nothing about how to deal with it.

Sometimes I think those types of experiences imprinted me with an identity as an overweight person--different from the "thin ones." I am so glad you have worked hard and achieved maintenance. I have been there before, and I'm headed there again. Somehow for me, the identity clings to me a bit like it's velcro. I'm working at that too. Your blog helps immensely.

I hope you enjoy Minnesota. I just returned from two weeks in Florida, and the weather seems to be getting better here (over 50 degrees today and sunny). It's been a long one.

Linda d. barker said...

Lynn,
How well you expressed what so many of us have felt! In high school I weighed 135 lbs . (5'7") but felt like a whale beside my smaller (really just shorter ) friends. Since my self esteem was already low, and I already felt huge and unworthy, I didn't nip those first few pounds as they began to creep on after high school. My highest was 211, currently I'm about 194. Still trying to deal with the insecurities that developed while in high school.
P.S. I am your age and I too remember the humiliating public weigh ins!!

Lori said...

Twins.

I remember early on hearing that I was chubby. I was enrolled in some kind of weight loss study - I remember that clearly. We had food at a table and there were those glass windows that we couldn't see through, but you know people were behind them watching what food we took from the pile.

I was about 160 pounds when I graduated high school. Not thin, chubby, but not whale like, which is how I felt and was treated. I have a lot of bitter memories from school to this day.

I played flute in 6th grade, too!

Chubby McGee said...

P.S. I'm still here in Blogland! I went private, but, if you'd still like to follow, I'll need your email addy to send you an invite. I thought I did it right this a.m., but...apparently not. :(

ChubbyMcGeeBlog@Gmail.com.

Lyn said...

Sixth grade. Fat thighs. I, too, was about 120 pounds, and I hated those weigh ins at school. I felt like a moose. And I felt fat from then on, even when I wasn't!a

Melissa_J said...

Lynn, thank you for posting this. You expressed so well my own feelings...but your description of the school weigh-in...WOW!!! I felt the very very same thing!

I was tall for my age, and, I was always the heaviest girl in my class..I wasn't even "fat", though I certainly thought I was, and I still do. Every day at school, I remember the dread of thinking: "Today might be the weigh in day". They always sprung it on us, a surprise, during phy ed class (already a burden for me) and I seriously dreaded every day of school, knowing one random day, that ugly scale would be in the gym as we filed in.... They would announce the weights to the record keeper, and everyone could hear. I still remember each of my weigh ins, exactly what each one was...and I am 43 years old...I remember how humiliating the process was. So, you really hit on a lot of things here, and I thank you. I mourn for our lost energy worrying about this...and then the inevitable consequences...shame, guilt, overeating, gaining weight..the cycle continues.

I've been working on food issues pretty much my whole life...right now, and I remember when I first felt "fat", which was kindergarten.

I've done okay as an adult, and I look normal on the outside. Inside, I still feel like the "stocky girl" I was described as.

I never comment on anyone's weight...or my own...around my own 12 year old daughter. She will step on the scale and announce the number like it is the temperature outside. I hope this continues.

A finer line is never walked then when you talk to a young girl or woman of any age about her weight. I always tell my husband...no comments about anyone's weight...EVER! I remember how my relatives would be prone to remark on a person's weight..."oh, she's picked up weight".."such a pretty face, too bad she's so overweight..."

Ughh!!!!

I too can tell you off the top of my head what I weighed at any time of my life. It seemed to define me. And the times I thought I was chubby, I wasn't..but those were the messages I got (and some over-interpetting by myself, for sure!!)

WEll, let's continue this journey. you help us all do that.

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking post for me Lynn-my family nickname was skinnly lynny all through my childhood. It wasn't until my junior or senior year in high school that I felt I wasn't as skinny as some of my friends. My parents always had a boat while I was growing up so living in a bathing suit was the norm for me and my friends.

College was when my weight began to creep up. My mom was successful with loosing weight when I was growing up in my teens with with WW, I always thought of her then eating tuna fish, kipper snacks, rye crisps (which I like now!) and things that seemed gross to me. It worked for her then and for all these years, she watches what she eats during the week and splurges a bit on the weekend (she hasn't been a member for 20+ years). I hope to know myself and be mindful of my eating one day just like her! Not sure just when that one day becomes a daily reality for me but I do look to find balance when I can. Making the time for me and planning is not conisistent, I have no one to blame but myself for this. I am blessed with a wonderful husband and children. Your blog gives me such inspiration, thank you for all that you do!

Anonymous said...

Could be my story...

debby said...

You know what impressed me the most? That weight chart. It took you 14 years to gain from 140 up to 300. And then only two years to lose that weight. Doesn't it make sense that it would take (us) the same amount of time to learn to live with (maintain) the smaller body? But we're usually so impatient with ourselves.

Wow. We didn't have those school weigh ins out here! But I still 'felt' fat. Fourth grade. I was already 'developing.' My dad called me 'Chubbers.' Ick. And just like you, I was not that fat. But I pretty much felt fat all the way through high school and beyond.

And I think I've written it on your blog before. But what made a big difference in my body perception in my early 20's probably, was Dolly Parton. She was happy with, even proud of, her body.

I had big ups and downs on my 'chart' like you did, but then I decided never to diet again, and kept all the weight on (except for a brief 'starvation diet) for over 20 years.

Good topic, Lynn.

val said...

You know how I seriously question the value of school at all. It's been incredibly freeing to opt out.

What the hell is it with school? The conforming, the judgments. I hate it.

I could not climb a rope either, at any weight. Some of us are just attached to earth, and that's not a bad thing, actually.

How many times I've been called upon to climb a rope so far in life after elementary school???

Zero!

And look at you--gorgeous at every weight. love you, V

Shelley said...

What is it about the 120 pound number that was so awful when we were younger? Like you and Lyn, that was when I was told I should lose weight. Today? If I got down that low, I'd look emaciated. How perceptions change...

You were a gorgeous kid! And your sweet smile and kind eyes are there in every picture, no matter what the weight.

Caron said...

Very eloquent. As stated by others, the childhood thing could have been my story.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, I remember those weigh-ins also. The end of 6th grade in 1979, I was 5'0" and weighed 90 lbs. I remember being horrified at how close to 100 I was. Then at my school physical beginning of 7th grade was 5'4" and weighed 110. I was horrified that I had gained 20 lbs. By the end of 7th grade, I was 5'8" and weighed 120. I felt like an amazon. Over the next couple of years, I grew to 5'10" and around 136. I would fluctuate between 129 at lowest and 140 at highest and felt so huge. When I think back to wearing size 5 and 7 clothes, it makes me sad to think I was so huge, when I was just really so tall! I stayed around 140 until I had my first child then gained up to 205 on delivery day. Lost most of it within a week but never got below 160 again. Thought I peaked at 230 with the second child at the age of 27. Lowest I got after that was 180..........now at 43, I weigh 296. It makes me sad to think that I never even felt thin, when I could have enjoyed the feeling.

Yours Truly said...

Hi, I passed by your blog while clicking "Next Blog" at the top of the page. Just wanted to congratulate u on your success. I think most people have those thoughts no matter how much they weigh.

DebraSY said...

Oh, Lynn. Weigh day. What a milestone for every fat girl. In my grade school it was annual. I think it was fifth grade when I crossed the 100 mark. It was humiliating. The nurse announced aloud and the secretary recorded it in the book. She didn't shout, but she didn't lower her voice either. "One hundred and Five." I heard it repeated behind me, over and over and over down the line. Gawd. That was awful.

It wasn't the first time I'd been aware of my size (and compared myself to others), but it was dramatic and horrible -- and administered by an adult, which made it all the worse. (I know that now in many schools they record BMIs and in certain districts they send letters home to parents. I pray they've learned to handled the weighing privately, and they use sensitive language.)

After that point, I recall years of struggling and struggling that never seemed good enough, and even though I never got over 132 pounds in high school (I gained the big pounds in my late 20s and early 30s), I felt like a whale. My mom pointed out that I was the fattest girl in my drama class. I'm pretty sure she thought she was being helpful. Sigh.

Gotta let it go.

NewMe said...

Lyn,

I started writing a response to your post and realized that I would rather blog about it. I'm not sure when it will be ready, but please drop by in the near future.

Debbie said...

Oh, my, I remember the humiliation of those weigh-ins as well. Did the school nurse have no clue? Happily, I can tell you that things have changed, at least here in Pennsylvania. I am a school nurse and we weigh the kids on digital scales that are turned away from curious eyes. I jot down the number & it is not shared verbally at all. The students do receive a health report card at home, which includes their height, weight, BMI & whether they passed their hearing, vision & scolisois screenings. That is for the family's eyes only. We try to be sensitive.

Anonymous said...

Oh my so many memories! School was a nightmare, especially as I `matured' earlier than many other girls in my year. And one classmate went on to be a member of the national gymastics team and another a top cross-country runner. You can imagine how tiny they were! My mother, with the best will as she had been an overweight teenager, would minutely monitor my weight and size. She sewed beautifully and made me so many outfits but they were all tainted for me with the information that styles had to be tailored to conceal my large butt, heavy legs etc (this was in the era of the mini and hot pants!) I will also never shake off the horror of getting last year's clothes out of storage every winter and summer and trying them on. I can still feel that finger poking me in the side, the tut-tutting when something was too small. All this from the age of around 10. I was also `discouraged' from eating `fattening ' food for my own good, while other family members were allowed them. The end result - any chance I got I ate anything I wanted and eventually weighing 273lbs, partly as a (childish)non-verbal message as an `adult'. Today I am pleased to say I am learning to maintain a 143lb loss. Past experience is not a free pass to carry on unhealthy behaviours. A much more adult response is to learn to treat myself with the respect and love I felt I didn't get as a child who didn't measure up! Literally!