55. Being Fat Set Me Free

55. Being Fat Set Me Free

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Being Fat Set Me Free

It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else’s eyes.

~Sally Field

For much of my adult life, I’ve had what many consider a fatal flaw. However, unlike others who can hide their flaws behind a shiny façade, mine is out there for the world to see. What’s my flaw? I’m fat. Some people feel that tells them everything they need to know.

Yet fatness describes nothing about me beyond physical appearance. My weight doesn’t demonstrate who I am: a mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, volunteer, author, artist, and musician. Some might suggest I am quite accomplished in my own right — something I was told by a woman I’d just met.

Here’s what she said: “Wow! You’ve had a really interesting life! You’re really accomplished, in spite of . . . you know.”

I could hear the pause where she caught herself, and I watched her eyes quickly shift from left to right. Her voice trailed off in a whisper as she realized she was about to approach a taboo subject.

“In spite of?” I asked politely.

Her eyes roamed up and down my body, settling on my ample midsection and behind. She looked tortured and embarrassed.

“You know,” she said again, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else than where she was at the moment.

I let her off the hook. I smiled and changed the subject.

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard before, and probably one I’ll hear again. In a society obsessed with how we look, there are many aspects of a woman’s appearance that are not okay, including being fat, wrinkled, old, unattractive, or gray-haired.

It’s no secret I’m fat. I see it in the mirror and feel it in the jiggle of my arms when I wave goodbye.

I haven’t always been this way, but with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis I’ve struggled with my weight most of my adult life. In my early twenties, I seemed to have a handle on it. I was active and ate very little.

One morning, I woke up feeling ill and my head was foggy. It was as if someone had flipped a switch. Suddenly I was chronically exhausted and constantly in pain. No matter how little I ate, the weight piled on. It took me the next several years to receive an accurate diagnosis. By then, the damage was done.

I was overweight by the time I was twenty-five. The size I wore slowly crept up from a 3 to a 24. I was constantly hungry, in pain, and exhausted, but it was my life.

Once, for a period in my early forties, a doctor prescribed a medication for migraine headaches. Something with the medication reacted with my body chemistry, and weight started dropping off quickly. Unfortunately, the medication also robbed me of my emotions, creativity, and intelligence — all of the things that made me who I was. While I loved that it made me skinny, I didn’t love anything else about it. I stopped taking the medication, and the weight immediately reappeared.

When I was that tiny size 3 in my early twenties, I did everything I could in pursuit of matching an unrealistic ideal. I exercised incessantly. I constantly dieted. I tanned, toned, plucked, and waxed. I wore body-conscious clothing and painful shoes with impossibly high heels. I had many superficial relationships based on looks and little substance. I wasn’t a happy or accomplished person.

Today things are different. I still cringe sometimes when I look in the mirror, and I still occasionally feel the need to explain myself to others. Sometimes, I also feel I have to be better, smarter, faster, stronger, and more talented than someone else half my size so people will accept me, but those are issues on which I am working.

The things I value most about myself have little to do with how I look or how much I weigh. Instead I value who I am — the mother, wife, artist, author, volunteer, and friend. Those are the aspects of my life that bring me joy. In many ways being fat has set me free to be that person.

I was headed in another direction until that switch flipped in my early twenties. I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to mold myself into what I felt I should be instead of who I wanted to be. I was becoming an object in order to please others — a pretty doll that sat on a shelf without an ounce of joy or an original thought.

Then the switch flipped and all that went away. It ceased to be attainable, and I could no longer accept the superficial as a way of life. Once the ideal of beauty to which I aspired truly became unobtainable, I was free to focus on what really mattered. It was a bucket of cold water waking me from a nightmare of my own creation. I was an intelligent woman who’d bought into something I was conditioned to believe. When it became clear I could not be that, no matter how hard I tried, I was free to become what I truly desired. Without the Hashimoto’s and weight gain, I’m not sure I ever would have gotten here from there.

I want to go back to that young girl I once was and wrap her in my arms. I want to take her chin in my hands, look deeply into her eyes, and tell her she doesn’t have to do this. She doesn’t have to be a physically idealized version of herself, because that will never make her happy or fulfill her.

Even with how happy and centered I am now, I would be lying if I said I’m always completely comfortable in my own skin. My conditioning about appearance runs deep, and I’m still not a huge fan of watching myself on video or seeing myself in photographs. I recognize my own biases that lead me to judge on the basis of appearance, but I also know from my own experience one must go a little deeper in pursuit of the real person who lies within.

We often make assumptions, no matter how incorrect they are, about what being fat must mean emotionally. Insecurity. Poor self-esteem. Gluttony. Sloth. Loneliness. Sloppiness. Poor self-control.

I’m here to tell you this: I may sometimes feel a twinge when I look in the mirror, but none of the adjectives above describe my emotional life. I have a different set of adjectives by which I describe myself. Vibrant. Compassionate. Passionate. Joyful. Funny. Fun. Honest. Talented. Creative. Loving. This is who I am, and it is who I choose to be.

Being fat set me free. It freed me from pursuing a physical ideal. It challenged me to be a woman of substance and to find my bliss in what truly matters. For that, I am grateful.

~Karen Frazier

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