How Dare I?

I maintained this week. I expected a huge gain, like 4 pounds, but I was exactly the same. The reason I expected a gain is because I wasn’t counting calories and exercising to exhaustion every day, which my previous 14 years of experience had led me to believe is the only way to not gain. My new world is exciting and delightful.

I had two “cheat days” last week, because Saturday one of my best friends got married and I ate whatever I wanted, including two pieces of cake – with lots of frosting (OMG I LOVE FROSTING). But no gain.

I eat so much now that I start thinking I should cut back. One of my biggest pleasures, that was denied to me for so many years of my life, is nuts. I may have a pistachio problem. I eat pistachios like candy, piles of them. The sorts of volume that I would have trembled in fear at just 6 months ago. They, clearly, are not a problem for me following the new method. I don’t even fast much, I skip breakfast a couple of days a week and that’s about it.

What all this tells me is that if I did decide I wanted to drop some pounds it would be easy because I currently feel the opposite of deprived. I feel so satisfied, so sated, that sometimes I think maybe I’m abusing my privilege, or getting away with something naughty, by eating so deliciously. How dare I enjoy my meals and eating experience so much without gaining weight and beating myself up mentally? How dare I be so happy when there are starving dieters in America?

And yet here I sit, perfectly happy with my body, not willing to cut back to drop some pounds because I love myself just the way that I am. What the hell, seriously, HOW DARE I?

That Inking Feeling, Part 2: Completed

MariaSince I’m posting again (I guess?), I went back to review my last few posts and realized I left you all hanging. I never posted a pic of the thigh piece I was getting this summer/fall. I mentioned it in my post about my difficult relationship with my thighs, and how much the ink helped me to mend that, in early August, but now that it’s done I thought I’d share the final product.

I do still intend to get the other one done, but I haven’t thought of a compelling idea, theme, or image yet. Having art that I love there helps a lot to counteract some of my negative feelings toward a part of my body that feels like it’s always been at war with me.

Anyway, her name is Maria.

That Inking Feeling

I’m getting a new tattoo. On my left thigh. It’s going to cover pretty much the whole front and side of that thigh. Last week I had my first session under the needle, in which the outline was completed. My next session is coming up soon, and there’ll probably be another session after that to get the whole thing finished with color and shading. I’m pretty excited about the new art, the piece makes me happy.

I thought really long about whether I was willing to post this publicly, because obviously body image issues can be difficult, and provoke strong reactions. But I stumbled onto something very powerful for me in my journey to body acceptance recently, and completely unintentionally. And I know I’m not the only person working on weight management who also struggles with body image and acceptance.

Today I want to talk about my thighs. I hate them. I’ve hated them my whole life.

It wasn’t, originally, an aesthetic thing. When I was a child, we were taken to church every Sunday. I had to wear a dress, of course, and my thighs rubbed together and chafed the whole time and I always ended up with a painful rash. Until a little later when I was maybe 9 or 10, and my mother gave me nylons to wear under my dress to be proper. This was even worse. The nylons weren’t big enough, but I squeezed into them anyway (I did a lot of trying to make things work when I was a child). When you squeeze into nylons (or pantyhose, as we called them then) that don’t fit you what happens is that the thin little threads that make up the fabric stretch apart and your fat oozes out into the tiny stretched-apart squares. And then that already-stressed and stretched skin rubs against each other and creates a massive, painful rash of epic proportions. So much hurt. So much trauma. I hated my thighs for being wrong. Because obviously if they were right this wouldn’t happen, nobody else had trouble wearing the correct items of clothing to be at a church.

I think that in this blog we’ve already touched on how unpleasant it was to grow up fat in the 80s. The fattest, biggest part of me has always been my thighs. My thighs have been why most pants don’t fit me. My mother would make me clothes when I was a small child, and I would get in trouble if they didn’t fit, and often they didn’t fit. I remember one jumpsuit in particular that she made, pulled up hard into my crotch because it didn’t fit, but I had to wear it anyway, because she had made it. Complaining about it not fitting or hurting was ungrateful. Clothes shopping was a similar fraught nightmare. I could be wrong in so many ways, usually because of how fat and hard to fit I was. My thighs were a visible, constant reminder of my wrong, hated body, the traitors that made so much of everything I tried not fit. I used to pray at night to Jesus to make me normal sized, I cried, entreating this beneficent, mysterious, omniscient presence that I learned about on Sundays to stop tormenting me and just let me be a normal sized person.

In high school I auditioned for and won the position of Drum Major of my high school marching band for my junior and senior years. At the end of my sophomore year my drum major uniform was ordered and received. I tried it on in a private changing area at the Band Room and found that while the jacket fit fine, the thighs were way too tight, they had betrayed me again, and would never fit into the uniform pants. I was so deeply embarrassed and ashamed that my fatness was a problem again, that I said nothing and told the uniform coordinator (one of the parents) that it was fine, then went home for the summer determined to lose some weight so it would be fine. Sadly, I had no idea how to do that whatsoever, other than to worry anxiously about it all summer and berate myself every time I ate. When autumn rolled around you’ll be astounded to know that the uniform still did not fit me. My mother took this opportunity to deliver a lecture dripping with disappointment, derision, and shame for my actions and my fat, disgusting body. Then she went to a uniform shop or tailor or something and had a pair of pants made for me that looked close enough to the uniform pants that I could wear them, and nobody was the wiser except me and her. She saved my bacon that time, but I despised the entire process and the whole episode overshadowed the summer and autumn of 1990 with anxiety, self-derision, and shame. For my stupid, ugly thighs in particular, and my stupid, fat body in general.

Transitioning into adulthood, my thighs have mostly just been a hassle. They rub together and chafe whenever left without some intervening material to smooth the way. Okay, there was a two week period in 2005 when they didn’t, when I was at my absolute lowest weight, and I could wear a dress or skirt without shorts underneath, but that didn’t last long as that was a flatly impossible weight for me to maintain long-term. Any time I wear a skirt or dress, I need to take action to prevent chafing. Originally it was bike shorts or similar, these days there are great products out there like slipshorts or anti-chafe gel. Also, as a grown-ass woman I can buy nylons or tights that fit and don’t hurt me now. But it’s a hassle, especially if it’s a super hot day, to wear another layer. But not wearing it isn’t an option. Hanging out in a swim-suit outside of water is a no-go, I’ll throw shorts on the minute I get out, not because of how they look but because of the irritating chafing and discomfort of my thighs rubbing together.

And, well, when I used to care about such things, they’re ugly. My thighs are wrinkly due to excess skin, plus I’ve always had cellulite (even at the youngest age I can remember), and they’ve always been big and chunky. I even had some of the skin removed after weight loss, so I have a scar seam up the inside of each thigh and one along the inner crease on each side, where they took a triangle of flesh out and stitched me back together. Age has been a balm to me regarding their appearance, but hasn’t done much for the hassle factor. Still, the cellulite is a constant – I used to (and still occasionally do) envy women with legs not sagging with wrinkly, wobbly, unwanted flesh.

Yes, they’re ugly, but I don’t feel the same way about my arms, and they also have excess skin, and they also have cellulite and are wrinkly and wobbly with it. They don’t bother me at all, because they haven’t been a giant, painful, traitorous hassle my whole life.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’ve never loved my thighs, I’ve never even liked them. At most I’ve come to a sullen detente with them over the years. My husband, for some reason, loves them, and tells me so often. Often when he’s driving, he’ll place his hand on my left thigh and say, “I love your legs!” This is a weird feeling for me, and I’ve tried to ask him to stop saying it, not because I want to patrol his feelings, but because having my stupid, ugly, difficult thighs pointed out to me regularly is uncomfortable. I’ve tried to demonstrate for him how it makes me feel with an analogy. I say, “When you say that you’re pointing out something I don’t like and don’t have any control over, it’s akin to me patting you on the head and saying, ‘I love your bald spot!’ every day. I can’t imagine that would do anything to make you dislike it any less. In fact, you might prefer if I would just not talk about it every day, right?” But alas, this hasn’t worked.

I mention all of this to say that last week brought something I had no idea was even possible. After I got home from my first tattoo session I took the bandaging off of the new tattoo outline and checked it out. I love it. I love the theme, I love the execution. It was an idea I’m very proud of. I brought a bunch of reference images to Stevie, my kickass tattoo artist, and she drew up a custom piece based on our conversation about what I liked about each image. But here’s what stopped me in my tracks. After my shower, after that first session, when she laid down the outline on my skin in black ink, while I was waiting for the tat to air dry, I passed by a mirror and caught a glimpse and my only thought, on seeing my hated, my utterly despised, thigh in the mirror, was, “That’s badass.”

And then out loud I said, “I have to get the other one done too.”

Lovely, shapely calves

I have enormous calves. I used to blame them on my weight, like everything else I didn’t like about my body – “Oh it’s just because I’m so fat, that’s why I can’t wear boots, shoe makers don’t make boots for fat legs, only for stick-thin legs.” And the only reason I even cared or noticed is because I desperately want to wear boots. I love boots, I love the style, the look, I know I’d wear them with flare. But for me, boot love is one that will go unrequited, because I have enormous calves.

But then, even at my gauntest, when I was so thin people murmured that I should eat a sammich, and I got dizzy just from standing up, I STILL couldn’t wear boots.  Maybe I could find a single pair at Macy’s, I could ask the salesperson if she had any for large calves, and she’d find me a single pair of plain black (always black) boots with a zipper up the inside and elasticated darts to accommodate excessive calves. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, though, they were the only pair in the shop that I could squeeze my gigantic girth into. My calves usually had a muffin top in these sad, fat-lady boots, which limited my skirt length options considerably.

And so then I figured it was the running. I took a little bit of pride in the fact that my calves were so muscled and burly because I ran 3-5 times a week. THAT must be why I had such outsized legs. It’s all the running! But then…well, I have friends who run even more, longer distances than me, and they have lovely shoemaker-approved calves and wear any kind of boots they like.  They have the longed-for ability I lack, to see a boot on a shelf at a shoe store, or a boot in a window, and just walk in and try it on. I can’t even imagine this power, I would probably go broke if I could just pull any boot I saw and liked up over my legs, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.

When I met my husband, one of the things that intrigued me immediately is that he’s a monster of a man. As a giantess of a woman, it takes a lot for a man to make me feel dainty and feminine.  I’ve come to the realization over many years that I’m built on a bigger scale than most other people – not just women, but men too. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, I towered over most potential dates when I was single. The man I now call my husband is an inch taller then me and built like an ox. He has big calloused hands that make mine look child-sized, I call them his monster-paws. His forearms rival Popeye’s – magnificent, vein-covered slabs of granite. His neck measurement actually made me gape when I heard it. He can pick me up and carry me if I’m incapacitated (he had to once when I was sick).  This is a man that used to win bar bets by lifting trucks off the ground. Or, as he says, “Mostly Ford Rangers, so it’s not all that big a deal.”

When I moaned to him, last year, about my enormous calves he scoffed and got a measuring tape to Show Me that my calves weren’t all that big and wrapped it around his leg. His scoff turned to incredulity when he saw that my measurement dwarfed his by almost 2 inches. (Hey, our Friday nights get pretty crazy around here!)

And now… now I am satisfied that the size of my calves is just another part of my genetic makeup. Obese or thin, fit or not, I will never wear high-fashion boots – even my favorite shoemaker who always provides amazing customer service, is unable to stretch his boots large enough to fit my calves. I finally accept that I will always be relegated to the one or two pairs of boots in the shop (always plain black…occasionally brown) with the elasticated darts.

This morning I woke up to a steaming mug of hot coffee on the nightstand. My husband headed out early to go to a car show with some pals, so I went for a nice long run. I’ve been amazed at how easy it’s been to slip back into my running routine after a couple of inconsistent years and back issues. Today I went 4.6 miles in an hour. That’s a 13-minute mile, a stately speed, or what I like to call the “…and the rest o’ yous” pace.

At the start of races – 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons, probably marathons and half-marathons as well – the organizers rank the participants from closest to farthest from the start line, so that the faster runners don’t have to fight their way through crowds of slow-pokes. They usually have people holding up signs to indicate where to stand, starting with something like “8 Min” at the front, and the runners line up in the area that best describes the kind of mile they run, you get  signs for “9 Min”, “10 Min”, “11 Min”, “12 Min”, and finally the last group, “…and the rest o’ yous!”