42. A Waist of Tears

42. A Waist of Tears

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

A Waist of Tears

If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

~Jiddu Krishnamurti

I was a skinny child — looking as emaciated as those poster children we see in television ads for famine-ravaged countries. I was so thin, my ribs jutted out against my clothing. Everywhere I went, someone felt compelled to offer me food. Poor as we were, Mom was an amazing cook and could usually stretch what little we had into glorious, mouth-watering meals for our family of six. Dad often said she could take a sock, add some water and spices, and make it taste delicious. We never went hungry.

Being an active and somewhat neurotic child, I burned calories faster than I could absorb them. Apart from three square meals a day, I was a grazer. I would run into the house several times a day to grab a piece of bread with butter, a homemade doughnut, an apple, a handful of freshly picked berries earmarked for jam preserves — anything that happened to be easily accessible. No matter how much I ate, though, I never gained an ounce.

I was a fairly late bloomer, too. Most of my girlfriends were already strutting around in their first training bras while I still looked like a boy from the neck down. The only things that set me apart physically from my three brothers were my long braids and the dresses Mom made me wear.

When I finally entered puberty, you could still see my ribs, but at least I was starting to get a chest. Luckily, it was the 1960’s and thin was in. Girls of my generation aspired to look like Twiggy and Pattie Boyd, models who looked so frail that a leashed Chihuahua could have easily dragged them down a street. Suddenly, my body was something my peers envied. The skeletal jokes stopped. Instead, my svelte physique was all the rage.

By my early twenties I had stopped growing vertically, coming to a full stop at an unimpressive five feet, one and a half inches. I towered over Mom by a full three inches, but remained dwarfed by pretty much everyone else on the planet. It was then I began noticing a slight thickening in my hips and waist. My thighs developed tiny, almost imperceptible little dimples that I attributed to the contours of my mattress — until my husband and I invested in a new one. Then the blame went to those delightful single serving lemon pies I had for dessert after most dinners.

Middle-aged spreads appeared everywhere on women who were still loved by husbands, whose arms encircled them, their own bellies jutting out noticeably.

Eventually the pie calories over-inflated my buttocks. I gave them up and started taking evening walks. I bought new outfits, shoving the old ones to the back of my closet for “someday.”

Just as that someday arrived and I was able to squeeze back into my favorite pre-pastry jeans, I got pregnant. I gained 67 pounds, most of which remained long after delivery. By the time my son, David, was crawling, my closet had two sets of “someday” clothes that were four sizes apart, and I was still wearing some of my maternity tops to cover my stubborn, unsightly bulges.

Reality struck when I saw myself in pictures at my son’s first birthday party. My double chin and muffin top were glaringly evident as I held my baby on my lap to help him blow out his solitary candle. It was time to stop blaming my son for my “baby fat” and do something about my own self-neglect.

For the next two decades, I embarked on a series of fad diets. I counted calories, weighed food, avoided carbohydrates, resisted protein, subsisted on watery soup, shunned dairy products, and fasted. I lost weight, but it returned when I could no longer tolerate the side effects of headaches, rashes, dizziness, indigestion or fatigue.

During this time, I dodged the camera like a poacher hiding from game wardens. I agonized over my appearance, despising my reflection. I felt as if everything I wore draped me like a tent. Black became my favorite color. After all, it hides everything, right? Wrong! In my critical mind, I resembled a mutant rhino with a human face.

One day, before I was about to start yet another weight loss regimen, my husband threw a surprise birthday party for me. Thinking we would just be two couples enjoying a barbecue dinner by our hosts’ pool, I opted to wear baggy shorts and a floppy top. We were experiencing a blistering heat wave, but I hadn’t owned a bathing suit in years. I wouldn’t have worn one, anyway. It would have drawn even more attention to my physical flaws.

To my horror, forty people greeted us instead of two. I was mortified. I wore no make-up, was barelegged, and was sure my exposed arms jiggled with every warm hug I received. I embraced everyone self-consciously, wishing I could slink away, but as the guest of honor, that was impossible. Instead, I relaxed, reminding myself how blessed I was that these people were all there for me.

As my gaze drifted around the yard, I saw my son sneak up behind my friend Jean and push her, fully clothed, into the water. She surfaced, crawled out and tore after him, shrieking with good-natured laughter.

As Jean ran, I noticed that time had not been kind to her once slim body either. Small rolls of skin were visible through her saturated blouse. Her ample chest flopped about with every step, yet her appearance didn’t seem to phase her one bit. She was having fun.

Suddenly, I saw everyone around me with new perspective. Middle-aged spreads appeared everywhere on women who were still loved by husbands, whose arms encircled them, their own bellies jutting out noticeably. Female thighs, arms and chins that had once been firm and unblemished showed identical wear, tear, and weight gain to mine. Previously tiny derrieres were sagging, yet deep, defined laugh lines drew attention away from those imperfections. Everyone was simply living life with zest — and they were all here because they cared about me, and not what we all looked like.

A beach ball bounced softly off my head, and I saw my husband grinning at me from the pool. I stood up and did something I hadn’t done since my teenage days. I ran toward the pool’s edge, jumped as high as I could, and cannonballed into the water right next to him.

“All right, Mom!” I heard my son cry, just as my head went below the surface.

That night, I threw away that last stupid diet book. From then on, I made sensible choices — moderate food portions, water instead of soda, fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks, and some exercise. I also began smiling at cameras.

I didn’t lose a lot of weight, and I’m still heavier than I’d like to be, but I’m healthier and more relaxed. I’ve learned to accept myself the way those I love have always accepted me — flaws and all. Oh, and one more thing — I went out and bought a bathing suit!

~Marya Morin

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