75. Take Center Stage

75. Take Center Stage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Take Center Stage

We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.

~Roderick Thorp

I am a charter member of the “Clean Your Plate, Children in Europe are Starving Club.” As a first generation American, I heard that phrase constantly from my mother who emigrated from Bulgaria. I was led to believe that if I ate all my food, my distant cousins might somehow miraculously benefit. I needed little encouragement with the delicious cuisine served in my mother’s kitchen.

Looking back to those days in the fifties, our daily fare was what restaurants now claim to be gourmet selections: succulent Bulgarian entrees such as roasted lamb, stuffed cabbage, and stuffed peppers; phyllo pastry filled with cheese; and baklava dripping with honey and walnuts. My taste buds were awakened and refined at an early age.

In grade school my brown-paper-sack lunch was easy to find when they opened the lunch cupboard doors. It was the one with a large grease stain on it from the leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. No American peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me. My lunch was more like a juicy kielbasa.

In addition to developing a sophisticated palate, I also inherited Bulgarian genes, which meant I was short and a little stocky. As a teen, I often carried 10 to 12 pounds more than I should have. Spread over a mere five feet, there was not a lot of longitude to disperse the extra poundage. My thighs and hips attracted the extra calories and were a constant source of frustration to me as I saw my pear shape reflection in the mirror.

I probably first became conscious of my weight and the direct correlation it had to my self-esteem at age fourteen, my freshman year of high school. I don’t think anyone would have suspected that there was a lot of negative self-talk going on in my head, as I participated fully in every activity, had many friends and even made the cheerleading squad. Only I knew how much more enjoyable those activities were when my weight was lower.

I soon discovered I had a summer weight and a winter weight. As spring arrived, I could shed 5 to 10 pounds easily by browsing through the Sears catalog and visualizing myself wearing those cute pedal pushers. Living near Lake Michigan and going to the beach often, the thought of my thunder thighs in a bathing suit helped me say “no” to French fries or an extra helping of a delicious moussaka.

However, as the autumn days grew short and dark, I inevitably gained back the 10 pounds. I’d be hiding them behind bulky sweaters all winter. My yo-yo dieting cycle was firmly established.

Through the years I tried every weight loss program: Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig, Diet Center, Atkins, and Scarsdale. I was successful with each one, until I gained it all back.

Then, a few years ago, I had a revelation.

We were attending a Celebration of Life for a deceased family member and many of our old home movies were running. I saw my son’s first birthday party and smiled again at the sight of a tow-headed little boy putting his entire hand in the icing. Then I saw myself on the screen, and I was shocked. I saw a somewhat attractive young mother, not the fat woman I thought I was.

In that moment, I grieved for all the occasions when I wasted negative energy because of 10 pounds. A mere 10 pounds often kept me from fully enjoying an experience because I thought I should have been thinner.

Today, at age seventy-five, I am still weight conscious, but more for health reasons than appearance. I am now the one preparing the delicious Bulgarian cuisine for my friends and family. I am twenty-five pounds more than my high school weight but active with tennis, pickle ball and golf. I often think of that home movie and vow to not let any negative self-judgment creep in as I participate fully in these activities.

The lesson I learned from that movie was that no one is judging me more harshly than I am. In fact, they are probably not even noticing my weight. Wasn’t it Dr. Phil who said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what people think of you if you knew how little they do think of you. Most people are thinking of themselves.”

I grieved for all the occasions when I wasted negative energy because of 10 pounds.

I’m starting a new club. Not a “clean your plate” club, but a “clean your mind of negative self-image” club. I want to embrace myself as I am, so my daughters and granddaughters will follow my example, learning to love their bodies and not be led astray by the unrealistic expectations of society.

When my family looks back at the movies we are making today, I want them to see a woman enjoying life to the fullest, not one hiding in the background for fear the camera might capture her flabby arms.

What do you want your loved ones to see in the movies and memories they will watch in years to come? I hope it is you center stage, participating in life with a beautiful smile, laughter and joie de vivre.

~Violetta Armour

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